Thousands of R.I. Jobs Depend on Canada Trade ; Politics

Article excerpt

Benjamin "Barry" Hinckley III, the Republican candidate challenging Democratic U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, recently criticized Whitehouse's vote in support of President Obama's decision to delay approval of the Keystone XL pipeline between Canada and Texas.

The $7.6-billion pipeline would bring crude oil from oil sand deposits in Canada to American refineries and, supporters say, create thousands of private-sector jobs.

In a March 12 news release, Hinckley said the pipeline would not cost taxpayers anything and would "strengthen economic ties with our ally Canada."

"According to Hinckley, the impact is not just on Midwestern construction jobs but also on jobs right here in Rhode Island," the news release said. "More than 27,000 Rhode Island jobs depend on trade with Canada, and Rhode Island sells more to Canada than to the state's next six largest export markets combined."

The debate over the Keystone pipeline extends from Alberta to Washington, D.C. But one question hits close to home: Does Rhode Island really have 27,000 jobs that depend on trade with Canada?

We asked Hinckley what he based that statement on, and his campaign's executive director referred us to a fact sheet from the Canadian government. The document's first sentence states that "27,600 jobs in Rhode Island depend on Canada-U.S. trade."

The document also features a photo of Governor Chafee and Patrick G. Binns, Canada's consul general to New England, and mentions two Rhode Island businesses owned by Canadian firms: Ocean State Power, in Burrillville, owned by the TransCanada Corp., and TD Bank, a subsidiary of the Toronto-Dominion Bank, which has four Rhode Island branches.

And it states, "In 2010, bilateral trade flows worth $1.4 billion and 27,600 state jobs created by that trade helped to promote strong ties between Rhode Island and Canada. The state's largest foreign market was Canada, which purchased about 30 percent of Rhode Island's world-wide exports, more than the state's next six largest foreign trading partners (Mexico, Germany, Turkey, China, Singapore and the United Kingdom) combined. The tourism account added another $36 million to local economies on both sides of the border."

So, Hinckley's news release quoted the Canadian government document almost verbatim.

But we wondered where the jobs number actually came from.

We contacted Hani Nasser, deputy spokesman for the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C., who said that every couple of years the Canadian government hires economists and trade experts to produce a study of U.S.-Canada trade. He said updated figures will come out in a few weeks, but he provided the latest study, which was published in 2010 and uses 2008 data.

The 22-page study reports that total U.S. trade with Canada "generated U.S. output worth $470 billion in 2008."

So what about jobs? "We estimate that 8 million net U.S. jobs, or 4.4 percent of total U.S. employment in 2008, depend on trade with Canada," the study says.

What about Rhode Island jobs? A table provides a state-by-state breakdown, attributing 27,648 Rhode Island jobs to trade with Canada in 2008. "These jobs include those directly involved in export to and imports from Canada, as well as supporting jobs in states with little or no direct trade with Canada," the report says. …