A chemical industry’s dirtiest secret may be its role in the poisoning of millions of Canadians, but it also plays a vital role in helping the economy.
“We’re one of the fastest-growing industries in Canada and we need to be competitive,” said Andrew McDonough, the head of the Canadian Chemical Industry Association.
The association represents chemical companies, chemical makers and manufacturers of petrochemicals, chemicals and chemicals-related equipment.
According to a 2016 report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, chemical industry employment in the country has increased by nearly 4,000 per cent since 2001, as the economy boomed.
And it’s the job of a lot of them.
According a recent report by CIBC World Markets, the chemical industry employs roughly 6.4 million people, or 2.5 per cent of the workforce.
That number includes almost half of Canada’s manufacturing jobs, which were largely created in the 1990s.
“They’re responsible for about a third of our GDP,” said McDonoh, the CEO of Canada Chemical Works, a Toronto-based company that has more than 2,400 employees.
“And it’s a huge industry, so we’re definitely an economic engine, and we’re a manufacturing powerhouse.”
Canada is home to more than 3.5 million jobs in the chemical sector, according to a 2015 report by Statistics Canada.
The manufacturing industry accounts for about two-thirds of all jobs in Canada, but with only a tiny portion of the total jobs, it’s often overlooked.
“If you’re looking at the jobs that people are looking for in the industry, they’re probably looking for a lower-paying job,” said Michael Boulton, the executive director of the University of Toronto’s Institute for the Study of Globalization.
“A lot of the jobs in this industry, the manufacturing jobs that are coming into Canada are low-wage jobs.
And so there’s a lot going on in terms of the supply chain and the manufacturing.”
But it’s not just the manufacturing that’s under fire.
According the Institute for Policy Research, the chemicals industry is the second-largest employer in the province of Ontario, with nearly half of the overall manufacturing workforce.
And the chemicals sector is growing at a faster rate than the rest of the economy in Ontario.
According Statistics Canada, the amount of chemicals manufactured in Canada in 2017 was $1.7 trillion, a figure that includes chemicals, pesticides and fertilizers.
That means roughly 40 per cent more chemicals were produced in the U.S. than in Canada.
According Boulson, the Canadian chemical industry is not just responsible for the industrial revolution, it is responsible for more jobs in Ontario than the U, S. and even Europe.
“There’s a whole sector that’s been created by the manufacturing industry that’s really not reflected in the other sectors,” he said.
The biggest source of employment in Ontario, however, is in the chemicals manufacturing sector, where the number of jobs in 2016 was about 7,000, while the number in manufacturing in the region was about 6,000.
According CSE’s analysis of the 2016 census data, there are almost 2,500 chemicals manufacturing jobs in a region encompassing the cities of Mississauga, Brampton and London.
Ontario’s manufacturing sector employs more people than any other industry in Canada except the oil and gas industry.
But the chemicals that make up the industry are among the most toxic chemicals, which is why Ontario’s chemical industry has been struggling to attract and retain talent.
According in a 2015 CSE report, the industry employs more than 40,000 people, with more than a third being in the manufacturing sector.
In terms of toxic chemicals being released into the environment, it ranked second in the world in the last 10 years.
According data compiled by the World Health Organization (WHO), chemicals like bisphenol A, which can cause birth defects and reproductive problems, and trichloroethylene, which causes birth defects, were the leading causes of death in children under five in Ontario in 2015.
“Ontario’s chemical industries are very well-known for the high levels of exposure to these chemicals, and there’s an element of surprise when you look at the figures,” said Boultson.
“In fact, when you get into the chemical industries’ own history, it goes back to the 1940s.
That was the peak of the industrial era.”
That’s also when companies like Sperry were making the chemical in a massive, multi-billion dollar manufacturing plant in Brampton.
By the time the plant was shut down in 2012, the company was already a multinational corporation with a global reach, and was worth $13 billion.
It closed in 2013, but continued to produce its products in Canada until 2016, when it closed its Brampton plant and went to work in Toronto.
In the wake of that closure, the Ontario government passed legislation requiring the company to clean up