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Canadian manufacturing is not dead and members of the Ryerson community are noticing — some louder than others.

Two groups of protesters stormed the afternoon panel of the Revitalizing Canadian Manufacturing Conference, held Nov. 10 at the Ted Rogers school. Carrying signs reading “50 Billion in Dirty Oil = RBC” and “Environmental Rights Abuse,” they accused speaker Gordon Nixon, president and CEO of the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), of investing in non-sustainable companies in the Alberta tar sands.

Several audience members called for the removal of the protesters, who were escorted out of the auditorium by security.

Nixon dismissed the claims of “abuse”and “dirty oil.”

“I’m not sure that the people in the beginning of the meeting, although passionate, are reasonable,” he said. “We do have to find a balance between production, industry and environment.”

A Ryerson business student, who identified herself only as Taylor, asked Nixon to give her examples of RBC’s environmental initiatives. She said she saw RBC as being a company that is trying to be environmental, even if activity in the tar sands can’t stop.

“Virtually every person in this room is an investor in the oil industry. It’s hard not to be,” said Nixon.

The event aimed to discuss Canada’s manufacturing sector during the recession, but many of the speakers dismissed statements that the industry is struggling.

“The theory that we should be giving up on this sector because it’s driven by low-cost labour as opposed to innovation and technology, I think, is incorrect,” said Nixon. “

This is not about smokestack industry and Atari video games,” said Jim DeWilde, executive in residence at the Rogers school and keynote speaker for the conference. He stressed there are major changes going on globally with manufacturing infrastructure and design. He said “Canadians have no competitive disadvantage.”

DeWilde also applauded Ryerson as a “critical part of new Ontario.”

“Ryerson has a reputation as people who are innovative, entrepreneurial and collaborate with each other,” said DeWilde, emphasizing that manufacturing isn’t separate from design and the more the school’s programs can do with this kind of thinking, the better.

But he also condemned the industry for not providing enough opportunities for new graduates.

“That’s where we’re letting you down.

These are the key years.”

Around 200 people registered for the whole-day event, including the president of the Ryerson Commerce Society, Naeem Hassan, and Muzzamil Ahmed, a 2008 business management graduate. Ahmed applauded the choice of speakers, which he said would provide “more knowledge from different sources.”

Buzz Hargrove, past president of the Canadian Auto Workers Union and distinguished professor in residence at the Rogers School, moderated the conference along with Ken Jones, dean of the Rogers school.

He said he hopes the dialogue will continue among students after the conference is over.

“It’s their future we’re talking about,” Hargrove said.

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