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  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

Prime Minister kicks off Canada Day in tomato capital

by Sylene Argent

Highbury Canco CEO and co-owner Sam Diab was planning a company barbeque for Canada Day, to not only recognize the nation’s 151st birthday, but to also celebrate the company’s fourth anniversary.

  It was a pleasant surprise to the local business man to get a call informing him Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wanted to pay a visit to the local food processing facility on Canada Day, which grew the event from a simple luncheon to a block party with live music that shut down a portion of Erie Street, in Leamington.

  Hundreds of individuals gathered before the large staircase leading up to the Highbury facility to hear Diab and Trudeau speak about a tour of the facility the Prime Minister took earlier that morning.

  “Over the past four years, so many of you have put your heart and soul into this company and its success,” Diab said to the crowd, thanking the Highbury team.

  Having met the Prime Minister that morning, Diab said, “I can tell you this: everything you see and hear is spot on.” He said the energy and enthusiasm, the sincerity seen in that hour or so, that is the type of personality wanted in a leader.

  Trudeau said it was an incredible pleasure to celebrate Canada Day in Leamington. Yes, he said, there was a big celebration in Ottawa, which he broadcasted to from Leamington with the crowd cheering in the background, but he was happy to visit Leamington and make a few other Canadian stops that day instead.

  He thanked everyone for wearing their red and white and for stepping up as they do on Canada Day with family and friends. “But, also thank you for all the work you do, all the focus we have, and the way Canadians consistently stand up for each other. The way we are there for our neighbours. This is who we are. We are there for each other in times of difficulty. In times of opportunity. We lean on each other and we stand strong and that’s what we do from coast-to-coast-to-coast. So, thank you for that.

“There is so much to be proud of as a country, but the thing we always have to be most proud of is Canadians ourselves. The way we step up, the way we lean on each other, the way we are creative and optimistic about the future; the way we look at challenges as opportunities to grow, to build, to be there for each other. That’s the message we are celebrating on Canada Day.”

 Trudeau then went through the crowd to greet all those in attendance.

  The most important thing, Diab said of the tour of Highbury, was getting the Prime Minister to meet the employees. He also wanted to let Trudeau know about the many products manufactured there and that it is an all-year operation.

  Diab said there were a few topics of conversation talked about with the Prime Minister, one of which was the trade environment. “We certainly made it clear we support him and the actions he is taking, but that we really need closure. We need to move forward,” he said with either the “free trade agreement and the environment we enjoyed for a long time,” or work on the next steps. “I think we’ll survive in either environment.” What is difficult is that, “We are in between right now.”

  Diab said he understands it is a tough situation as far as trade uncertainty is concerned. He believes the best outcome would be open and free trade, “As we have had and as we have enjoyed for a long time.”

  Trudeau, he said, was very sincere and very interested in what they had to say.

  Steel tariffs on products going into the US will affect its can and lid prices as they will be more expensive, he suspected. Longer term, time will tell, he said, noting Highbury exports a lot of products into the States, and a lot of raw materials that go into products are brought in from the US.

  “This facility was build on a cross-border situation. It was built for open and free trade. It also has survived many, many decades in more of a kind of a closed-border, protectionist environment as well. So, I think time will tell…We will figure it out.”   

  Over the past four years, Highbury has doubled in size, Diab said, noting there are around 550 employees and will likely grow to 600 full time employees by the fall. “I think the culture of our facility and our company is very entrepreneurial,” he said of the company’s success. A lot of the success is also due to the attitude of the employees, he added.

  Diab said he was surprised the Prime Minister wanted to spend Canada Day at the facility, but “If the interest was in coming out to see a successful food manufacturing facility, I’m not surprised he chose us. Our company has done really well and our people are accountable for that, they have done a great job.”


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