Tar­iff threat looms large in the heart of Canada’s auto in­dus­try

Cape Breton Post - - CANADA -

Mike Malott has sur­vived mas­sive tur­moil dur­ing his nearly 20 years as an au­to­mo­tive worker here in the heart of the Cana­dian in­dus­try — but now that his liveli­hood is in the crosshairs of a United States pres­i­dent who ap­pears hell-bent on re­strict­ing cross­bor­der trade, he is fright­ened.

The 43-year-old assem­bly line worker and other res­i­dents of this South­west­ern On­tario city have been on edge for months dur­ing strained North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment ne­go­ti­a­tions that have in­cluded in­tense scru­tiny of auto pro­duc­tion in Canada, the U.S. and Mex­ico.

But Trump’s post-G7 Twit­ter tirade about im­pos­ing a 25 per cent tar­iff on auto im­ports from Canada could have po­ten­tially dev­as­tat­ing con­se­quences for the in­te­grated sup­ply chain that has been built over decades and cause job losses on both sides of the bor­der.

Some fear the penal­ties could drive the city’s auto plants, in­clud­ing the Fiat Chrysler Au­to­mo­tive fac­tory where Malott has spent the ma­jor­ity of his ca­reer, out of Wind­sor and the coun­try al­to­gether.

“I can’t even imag­ine what the city would look like with­out Chrysler in it,’’ Malott said in an in­ter­view on Tuesday at the sub­ur­ban Wind­sor home he shares with his wife, three chil­dren and a choco­late lab.

“This city would be­come a ghost town.’’

Malott is one of the roughly 6,000 peo­ple em­ployed at the assem­bly plant, the largest man­u­fac­tur­ing work­place in Canada, ac­cord­ing to a 2017 re­port from the Au­to­mo­tive Pol­icy Re­search Cen­tre at McMaster Uni­ver­sity in Hamil­ton.

He wor­ries he’d have dif­fi­culty find­ing an equiv­a­lent job in the city with his skill set if he were to lose his job at the assem­bly plant, which typ­i­cally pays up­wards of $30 an hour.

“If I don’t have a Chrysler job, I don’t have what I have to­day.’’

Wind­sor would be the epi­cen­tre of a tar­iff fall­out that could im­pact On­tario’s en­tire eco­nom­i­cally im­por­tant man­u­fac­tur­ing base and re­ver­ber­ate across the coun­try. Canada’s auto sec­tor, the coun­try’s lead­ing ex­porter, de­liv­ers roughly $80 bil­lion in eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity an­nu­ally. It em­ploys some 500,000 Cana­di­ans through di­rect and in­di­rect jobs.

The city has long been syn­ony­mous with the auto in­dus­try — dur­ing the early 20th cen­tury, Ford, Gen­eral Mo­tors and Chrysler all had oper­a­tions here.

But the in­dus­try was dec­i­mated in the wake of 2008’s Great Re­ces­sion, which saw both the On­tario and Fed­eral gov­ern­ment in 2009 step in to con­trib­ute $10.6 bil­lion to Chrysler Canada and GM Canada to keep them afloat.

GM closed its re­main­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing plant in Wind­sor in 2010, end­ing its 90-year-re­la­tion­ship in the city. Ford still has two en­gine plants in Wind­sor, em­ploy­ing roughly 2,330 peo­ple be­tween them — far from the as many as six plants the au­tomaker had at one point.

But the city still wears its au­to­mo­tive cre­den­tials with pride. Posted out­side of the FCA Wind­sor assem­bly plant is a sign that reads: “Made. Right. Here. Chrysler Paci­fica. Wind­sor Proud.’’

The sec­tor’s health, how­ever, re­mains heav­ily re­liant on the United States.

Canada ex­ported some $63 bil­lion worth of au­to­mo­biles in 2016, 96 per cent of which was to the U.S., ac­cord­ing to Statis­tics Canada and the U.S. Cen­sus Bureau. On top of that, the coun­try ex­ported roughly $21 bil­lion in auto parts in 2016 — 90 per cent of which was shipped south of the bor­der, ac­cord­ing to the APRC.

Ev­ery Cana­dian auto assem­bly job cre­ates nine spinoff jobs — rang­ing from parts sup­pli­ers to restau­rants — ac­cord­ing to the Cana­dian Ve­hi­cle Man­u­fac­tur­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion.


FCA worker Mike Malott talks with his daugh­ter Jada in their Wind­sor, Ont., home on Tuesday.

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