On­tario takes hit as GM looks to fu­ture

St. Thomas Times-Journal - - COMMENT - – Peter Epp

Cana­di­ans have been en­thu­si­as­tic part­ners with the Detroit-based au­to­mo­bile in­dus­try for more than a cen­tury, pro­vid­ing in­no­va­tion, fi­nan­cial cap­i­tal, govern­ment sup­port and labour.

Com­pa­nies such as Ford Mo­tor Co. orig­i­nally es­tab­lished op­er­a­tions in Wind­sor to gain ac­cess to the Cana­dian mar­ket and the British Em­pire. Other com­pa­nies fol­lowed, in­clud­ing Gen­eral Mo­tors and Chrysler. Oth­ers, such as Hud­son, Packard, Stude­baker and Amer­i­can Mo­tors, even­tu­ally es­tab­lished man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­i­ties as well.

But the largest in­dus­trial foot­print in On­tario was by far GM’s, which dur­ing the last cen­tury has op­er­ated at var­i­ous times in Wind­sor, Inger­soll, Oshawa and St. Catharines. The jewel in the GM Canada crown al­ways hs been Oshawa, where up­ward of 40,000 peo­ple once were em­ployed.

So, news that GM will close its Oshawa op­er­a­tions is dis­heart­en­ing on sev­eral lev­els. About 2,500 peo­ple will lose their jobs at the end of 2019, but also GM’s cen­tury-old re­la­tion­ship with that city and with On­tario will be sev­ered. GM will still build ve­hi­cles at its Cami plant at Inger­soll, and still man­u­fac­ture en­gines and trans­mis­sions in St. Catharines, but its pres­ence in On­tario will be sub­stan­tially re­duced. On­tario will be poorer for it, but so will Gen­eral Mo­tors.

GM’s prob­lem is the same one fac­ing the auto in­dus­try as the in­dus­try be­gins to shift from tra­di­tional ve­hi­cles to ve­hi­cles that are self-driv­ing and elec­tric.

The tra­di­tional sedan on which GM’s for­tunes were built, has fallen out of favour with the pub­lic. Oshawa builds such sedans for GM, as does four other plants in the U.S. that also are to be closed.

That’s not to say Oshawa can’t be part of GM’s fu­ture. In­deed, it should be part of Gen­eral Mo­tor’s fu­ture.

But there is an­other fac­tor in play, and that’s Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s tar­iffs and his overt na­tion­al­ism. One an­a­lyst sug­gests the steel tar­iff alone is cost­ing GM Canada as much as $1 bil­lion a year.

But the cost of Trump’s na­tion­al­ism? That’s more dif­fi­cult to cal­cu­late.

Yet, the pres­i­dent’s threats were enough for Ford to stop build­ing a plant in Mex­ico in 2017.

It’s quite pos­si­ble GM, when plan­ning its fu­ture, was care­ful to con­sider Trump’s re­sponse should the Oshawa plant be al­lowed to sur­vive.

Trump and his tar­iffs, as well as slump­ing sales and a fu­ture yet to be de­fined, have been enough to doom GM’s once-for­mi­da­ble pres­ence in On­tario.

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