I've seen a few references to this story in the lefty blogs, and it's certainly one worth hearing about. Apparently, Toyota is building a new plant in Ontario rather than in the American south. Toyota cites two reasons for favoring Ontario, despite promises of larger subsidies and tax breaks from southern states. First, Ontario has better educated workers, so Toyota expects to save money on training. Second, Canada's single-payer health care system means Toyota won't have to pay for health insurance for the full time workers.
The main lesson the lefties have been drawing from this is that spending money on education and health care can be good for your economy, despite requiring higher taxes. This is almost certainly true, and is a good supplement to all the moral arguments in favor of providing everyone with good education and health care. I hope that aspect of the issue continues to be widely discussed.
However, I would also like to point out another lesson of this story, one on which I will disagree with some of my fellow liberals. I've mentioned in previous posts my enthusiasm for free trade. This story highlights one of the reasons I do not think the "fair trade" some of my fellow leftists endorse is a necessary or desirable alternative to simply making trade as free as possible. Many leftists fear that free trade will encourage some kind of race to the bottom, with businesses moving all operations to countries with the least regulations and fewest public services (and so lowest taxes). This does not actually seem to be what happens. To a great extent, wages are (relatively) high in the wealthy countries because there are so many advantages to doing business in a country with a functional infrastructure, political stability, and healthy and educated people that in quite a lot of industries it is worth the cost of paying more for workers in those countries. Conversely, wages are extremely low in poor countries largely because most industries could not afford to both pay high wages and deal with all the massive inconveniences of operating in a third world country. Freeing up trade won't change those facts; it will just mean more specialization (those industries better suited to rich countries will be more concentrated in rich countries, and conversely) and so more productivity all around as countries focus more on what they're good at (which is the whole point of trade, of course).
Of course, other factors do operate (I am somewhat inclined to believe Adam Smith's conspiracy theories about how and why wages tend to be kept lower than they would be in a truly free market), but those factors have nothing to do with how much free trade is allowed, and restricting free trade does nothing to address those factors (indeed, Adam Smith argued that the larger, more complex, and freer the marketplace, the harder it is for those conspiracies to influence wages).
I should add that when I say I advocate straight up free trade, not tied to labor restrictions or environmental restrictions or anything like that, I do mean it in both directions. Many "free trade" agreements not only fail to include provisions to increase labor and environmental standards, they include provisions to restrict those standards. I object to both ways of tying free trade to unrelated issues, and the latter ties are probably overall the more damaging.