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Aaron Wudrick: There are smarter ways to strengthen Canada than with corporate welfare


In a recent Hub dispatch on reactions to the federal and Ontario governments’ $13-billion subsidy to Volkswagen to build a massive electric vehicle battery factory in St. Thomas, Ont., several conservative voices expressed support on the basis that it would help strengthen the local community.

Ontario Labour Minister Monte McNaughton suggested that supporting the announcement means being “pro-good jobs. Jobs where you can raise a family. Jobs with a retirement plan, or pension, and benefits. Jobs that build communities. Like auto jobs”.

Similarly, former federal and provincial Conservative staffer Mitch Heimpel observed that the announcement means “a significant imprint from that company on the community. These larger manufacturers do more than just employ people. There’s a whole culture that gets created around it.” He argued that conservatives should care “just as much about the social fabric and small communities as the free market”.

Like Mitch, I grew up in Kitchener, about an hour’s drive from St. Thomas. The downtown neighbourhood where I lived was gritty but friendly. Most of my friends’ parents worked blue-collar jobs at places like Budd Automotive and Schneider’s Meats. The latter’s factory was so close to my high school that the smell of bacon filled the air, taunting us during football practice. Most of these employers died off or moved away over the years, and the lost jobs caused real pain to many families and the broader community. So I certainly agree with those, like Mitch and Minister McNaughton, who argue that being focused on creating good jobs and strong communities are things that conservatives—all policymakers, really—should be seized with.

There is a danger, however, in romanticizing the past and assuming that the conditions which once gave rise to plentiful blue-collar work can be easily recreated on the back of government largesse. Far from laying a sustainable, long-term foundation for these communities, substituting political intervention for market processes risks setting them up for future devastation by binding their fate to the need for perpetual taxpayer subsidies.

Historically, businesses that served as the “backbone” of a town did so because there was mutual interdependence, a reciprocating circle of virtuous benefit between the employer, employees, and by extension, the broader community. In many sectors, including manufacturing, the economics of this arrangement started to break down in recent decades, when companies began to realize that, between automation and offshoring, they could cut their costs dramatically. Suddenly, many employers needed their community a lot less than the community needed them.

Injecting corporate welfare into this equation only serves to mask the underlying problem: companies that come to town because they are receiving a massive subsidy, as Volkswagen is doing in St. Thomas, aren’t coming because they care about the local community. They’re coming because of the spigot of guaranteed cash flowing from Ottawa and Queen’s Park.

What happens when the tap turns off? Defenders of the Volkswagen deal insist that, ultimately, this “investment” will pay for itself. What they don’t want to talk about is that the historical record suggests otherwise, that more often than not, similar “incentives” have only led to perpetual economic hostage-taking situations. In recent decades we’ve seen countless instances where companies like Bombardier or big automakers have not-so-subtly implied that “jobs are at risk” if the government doesn’t pony up yet another handout.

We shouldn’t kid ourselves. The last thing Canada needs is even more businesses reliant on corporate welfare. You could argue that any company which builds public subsidies into its business model is not a “business” at all, but a kind of ersatz quasi-Crown corporation—part-private, part-public Franken-entities, dependent on the success of their lobbyists for survival.

It’s also a mistake to assume that helping struggling communities requires a wholesale abandonment of market economics. Conservatives tend to be pro-market not because it’s important to worship something called a “market” for its own sake, but because they believe there is value in being attuned to important signals—such as prices—that only markets can produce. In this way, conservative support for markets merely reflects a recognition that there are limits to the ability of even well-intentioned experts to design and manage economies.

But rejecting corporate welfare as bad policy doesn’t have to mean that conservatives just throw up their hands and do nothing. There are many other useful ways to advance the broader goal of creating good jobs and strong communities.

First, conservatives must resist the temptation to secure instant headline-grabbing “success stories”, and instead focus on policies that build incremental, long-term resilience. Creating an environment where economic dynamism will thrive insulates communities from the pain of failure by ensuring that new businesses will be certain to rise in their place. It avoids putting all of a community’s economic eggs in a single employer’s basket. Reforms in this area might include policies that make it easier to start a business; easier to declare bankruptcy; and simpler, lower taxes.

Second, rather than getting into subsidy bidding wars where Canada must expend vast public resources in order to attract manufacturing that could be located anywhere, conservatives should advocate for a focus on sectors where we have a natural advantage that cannot be easily matched by competitors, sectors such as agriculture, critical minerals, and forestry.

Third, conservatives should get behind a push to develop the legal and physical infrastructure to make Canada a more attractive destination for investment. There are many things governments can do to help businesses and their future employees that don’t involve sending them taxpayer dollars, such as streamlining regulatory processes; building infrastructure like ports, roads, transit, and bridges; or reforming our health and education systems.

Finally, when it comes to “strong communities”, conservatives should consider whether plentiful jobs alone will reverse the difficult challenges confronting communities that are currently struggling. A new factory setting up shop in town is not a magic bullet that will reverse alarming trends in family breakdown, substance abuse, and a growing sense of alienation, especially amongst younger Canadians.

Which way the lines of causality run with these challenges is a fair question for debate, but it’s worth noting that even Canada’s largest and most economically vibrant cities still suffer from these challenges.

Conservatives are right to worry about ensuring there are good jobs for regular people. And they are right to focus on building strong communities. But they must resist the false god of corporate welfare that offers only temporary, artificial illusions in place of real long-term resilience.

Malcolm Jolley: Picpoul de Pinet: The crisp, hard-to-find white wine that’s worth the effort to obtain


Picpoul de Pinet is three things. It’s the name of a crisp French white wine, the single grape variety it’s made from, and the place where it’s grown and produced. Pronounced ‘peek-pool’, Picpoul hails from the Languedoc, historically the Pays d’Oc, or home of the Occidentals. For the purposes of wine production, the Languedoc can be geographically defined as the lands west of the Rhône River, east of the Corbières Mountains that climb north and northwesterly up from the Mediterranean shore.

At nine o’clock in the morning last week, I found myself facing 24 bottles of Appellation d’origins protégée Picpoul de Pinet. They were lined up on a table in the medieval vaulted ceiling function room of the Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins du Languedoc, in the heart of the pretty cathedral town of Narbonne.

I am confident that the collection of bottles was the most Picpoul I had ever seen, not just in one place but likely in total. Picpoul de Pinet is hard to find on this side of the Atlantic. This is a shame because it’s a fun people-pleasing wine with an interesting story.

The bottles were part of a tasting, which I attended along with a few dozen members of the international wine press as the guest of the Conseil, or CIVL, a consortium of producers and other trade professionals that promote Languedoc wine. My flight, accommodation, and general well-being were looked after by CIVL, though I received no, nor agreed to any, editorial direction.

The row of two dozen bottles of Picpoul de Pinet was actually one of the smaller arrays of wine offered for tasting that morning. For instance, Corbières, a much bigger region, which makes white, rosé, and red wines, offered 73 bottles to taste. In all, there were 171 wines, from just five of the Languedoc’s dozen-odd appellations to test before noon. Yes, everyone was spitting, and the buckets had to be emptied regularly by a small cadre of sommeliers.

Overwhelmed by numbers and choice, the 24 slender bottles of Picpoul seemed like a manageable place to start. And not just for reasons of quantity: Picpoul is a consistently crisp and refreshing wine. One origin story for the name of the grape, though not enthusiastically encouraged by its makers, is that it means “lip stinger”. If one was going to have wine for breakfast, or at least as a first thing in the morning mouthwash, then it seemed like a good place to start.

Going back over my notes from the tasting, every wine had some quality of citrus fruit, most often dominated by lemon, and occasionally accompanied by green apple or a touch of white flower. A defining characteristic of Picpoul is that it retains high acidity, even though it is a late-ripening, warm-climate wine. The wines consistently, as the French say, brought water to the mouth.

20 of the 24 wines were from 2022, and the rest from 2021. Picpoul is made without much fuss and is made to be drunk young. Apart from the occasional experiment (see below), the Picpouliers (which is what the vigneron of the region call themselves) prefer stainless steel to wood. Like Muscadet from the Loire, producers who wish to add some complexity will keep their wines on their lees. Still, in Picpoul, simplicity is considered a virtue.

The Picpoul de Pinet region is small, with only 24 producers and just 1,400 hectares, or about 3,600 acres, with mostly sandy soil under vines. AOP production is limited to a coastal zone between the town of Pézenas and the port of Sète. The littoral is not on the Mediterranean proper but rather the L’Étange de Thau, which is the largest of the inland saltwater lagoons that characterize France’s Western Mediterranean shore.

The English wine writer Andrew Jefford lives nearby to the Picpoul zone and has made no secret of his fondness for the wine. He has written that one of the metaphysical pleasures drawn from a glass of it is the knowledge that all the terroir that could make it has been used up; there will be no more.

In fact, there will soon be less. A planned new route for a Train de Grand Vitesse (a.k.a. TGV) from Paris to Perpignan is planned to dissect the region from east to west, further limiting the production area. On top of which, Picpoul is one of the varieties of grapes blended into the locally made Noilly Prat Vermouth.

Another reason that Picpoul de Pinet is hard to find in Canada and the U.S. is the British. The United Kingdom imports and consumes a full 64 percent of all the Picpoul produced. British tourists began to holiday in the Languedoc in the 1980s and began to enjoy it with the local seafood at resort town restaurants. The story goes that one of them happened to be a wine buyer for a large supermarket chain who took a large order of what had been an obscure wine. One is more likely to find Picpoul on a store shelf or wine list in London than Paris.

The waters of the L’Étange de Thau are the main area of production for the Mediterranean oyster, and their beds can be seen from the shore vineyards and vice-versa. Smaller and saltier than their Atlantic cousins, they are said to be Picpoul’s perfect match. In-depth research undertaken by The Hub confirms that this is not false. But it might also suggest that Picpoul with any meaty white-fleshed seafood, like crudo, shrimp, or squid is also very good. 

In a side room from the main tasting, I attended a seminar held by Katrina Muller MW, a local oenologist and winemaker originally from Chile. We were served some older vintage Picpoul, part of a program managed by the Syndicate AOP Picpoul de Pinet to encourage Picpouliers to experiment with wines meant to age a little. Wines that were three to five years old, and left longer on lees, showed honeyed notes, more apple, and sometimes the mediterranean herbal characteristic known as “garrigue“.

Like many lesser-known French wines, Picpoul de Pinet is easier to find in Quebec than elsewhere, but the occasional bottle gets off a boat before the St. Lawrence or makes it west of the Ottawa River. At retail, Picpoul should be between $15 to $25 in most cases, and correspondingly in the affordable zone of a wine list. In an ideal world, every French restaurant would have a Picpoul de Pinet by the glass. If you come by any, I recommend you give it a try, if only pour encourager les autres.