Monday , July 4 2022

Trudeau vows to help GM workers 'back on their feet' as the automaker stands firm on Oshawa closure


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today the federal government will do what it can to help laid-off GM workers in Oshawa "get back on their feet," while federal Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains said Ottawa is ready to assist those workers in any way they can.

But both federal and provincial governments are signaling there's little they can do now to save a key component of the Canadian's operations as executives pursue a global shakeup in response to slumping sales.

"I talked to the president of GM last night. The first thing I said is," What can we do? What do we have to do? "Ontario Premier Doug Ford told reporters this morning. "And he said, 'The ship has already left the dock.'"

Union officials address the GM plan to close several plants, including the assembly plant in Oshawa, Ont. Unifor has already said it will not take the closure as a 'foregone conclusion.' 0:00

Both Bains and Premier Ford seemed resigned to the plant's closure Monday. When asked if there was anything the federal government could do to convince the Detroit-based automaker to shift production of another vehicle to the factory, Bains said the closure is part of a larger "global reorganization plan" that will see similar facilities in Michigan and Ohio close.

Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Navdeep Bains listens to a question during a press conference on General Motors' decision regarding the future of its automotive plant in Oshawa, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, Nov. 26, 2018. (Justin Tang / Canadian Press)

"We're willing to engage and work with them but they've been clear about their position," Bains, the lead's government on the automotive file, told reporters in the foyer of the House of Commons this morning. "We're very, very disappointed with the news … Personally, I'm very, very hurt by this. To see this plant is close and devastating."

GM confirmed Monday that it would close its Oshawa plant in 2019, throwing about 3,000 unionized people out of work.

The plant makes the Chevrolet Impala, an eleven-popular vehicle that has seen its sales crater in recent years, consumer tastes shifted away from small and medium-sized sedans to larger vehicles such as pickup trucks and sport-utility vehicles.

While Premier Ford said it seems GM can not be convinced at this point to save the plant, federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said the House of Commons should immediately call an emergency debate to flush out possible options to rescue the plant.

"This announcement is only a few hours old and I do not want to give up the fight today. I do not want to say, on day one of this announcement, 'OK. That's it,'" Scheer told reporters in Toronto . "Surely to goodness we can find something to point to protect these jobs."

Scheer did not offer any concrete suggestions of his own to help workers now facing unemployment in a year's time.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said the House of Commons should engage in an emergency debate to discuss possible options to save the GM plant in Oshawa, Ont. (Sean Kilpatrick / Canadian Press)

"What options are the government looking to save these jobs? I want to have this emergency debate tonight so we can talk about what can be done," Scheer said. "We owe it to those workers to explore every single possible option to save these jobs and save this plant that is so important, so critical to the economy of southern Ontario and, indeed, Canada."

Ford said Monday that Ottawa should focus on extending Employment Insurance (EI) to support laid-off workers and commit to funding new training to deploy affected workers elsewhere. Bains said "all options are on the table" for GM employees.

Trudeau said he spoke CEO of GM, Mary Barra, to express his "deep disappointment" with the closure. Trudeau has met with Barra a number of times since assuming office. She is a board member on the Canada-United States Council for Advancement of Women Entrepreneurs and Business Leaders, a council co-developed by Trudeau and U.S. President Donald Trump.

Jerry Dias, president of Unifor – the union that represents workers at the plant – said the union would fight tooth and nail to bring another product to the plant to preserve jobs.

"Unifor does not accept the closure of the plant as a foregone conclusion," Dias said in a statement. "Oshawa has been in this situation before with no product on the horizon and we were able to successfully make the case for continued operations. We will fight vigorously again to maintain these good self-paying jobs."

They are not closing our damn plant without one hell of a fight. We're sick and tired of GM shipping all our jobs to Mexico.– Unifor National President Jerry Dias

In a speech to workers at Unifor 222 local in Oshawa Monday afternoon, Dias went further – promising a "very aggressive" response.

"They are not closing our damn plant without one hell of a fight. We're sick and tired of GM shipping all our jobs to Mexico. Look at what they've done to the manufacturing footprint in this country," Dias said.

Dias said he would be flying to Ottawa Tuesday to meet with Trudeau. The labor leader has a friendly relationship with the federal Liberal government – he worked closely with Ottawa as he renegotiated NAFTA with the U.S. and Mexico.

"We're going to say to the government," We're going to have to use every trick and every tool and power of the government to make sure GM understands they're not betraying this country again, "Dias said . "We're not going to let General Motors jerk us around. We're not going to take it sitting down."

Beyond Oshawa, GM is also planning to close its operation in Lordstown, Ohio – which makes the Chevrolet Cruze compact – the Detroit-Hamtramck plant, where the Chevrolet Volt, Buick LaCrosse and Cadillac CT6 are produced, and two other transmission plants in the U.S.

While the Oshawa operation is a shell of its former self after decades of cuts, Bains conceded the closure will be "incredibly devastating" to the local community.

The closure will reverberate far beyond those municipal borders, as many other Canadian auto parts suppliers feed the plant in southern Ontario.

Bains said the government remains committed to supporting the larger automotive sector, which employs 500,000 Canadians directly and indirectly. He said companies in the industrial and technology sectors could continue to tap the Strategic Innovation Fund for government support.

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