Politi­cians prom­ise help for gm work­ers; stress sav­ing plant hope­less

Tillsonburg News - - ONTARIO NEWS - AnDy BlatCH­forD and SHawn Jef­forDS — with files from Paola Lorig­gio

provin­cial and fed­eral lead­ers alike con­ceded the fu­til­ity mon­day of try­ing to per­suade gen­eral mo­tors to keep its oshawa, ont., au­to­mo­tive plant run­ning be­yond 2019, and in­stead fo­cused on ways to ease the pain of more than 2,500 work­ers who stand to lose their jobs.

on­tario premier doug Ford in­sisted mon­day there was noth­ing his gov­ern­ment could do to talk gm into aban­don­ing its plan to shut­ter the fac­tory at the end of next year. Ford and law­mak­ers in ot­tawa vowed to work to­gether to help af­fected work­ers, their fam­i­lies and the city — which will lose its big­gest em­ployer.

“The first thing i said was, ‘What can we do?’ ” Ford said mon­day, re­call­ing his phone call sun­day with Travis Hester, the head of gm Canada. “He said, ‘The ship has al­ready left the dock.’ ”

The clo­sure of gm’s oshawa op­er­a­tion, just east of Toronto, would de­liver a ma­jor eco­nomic blow to the re­gion and will be felt at the on­tario and na­tional lev­els.

prime min­is­ter Justin Trudeau said he told gm’s global Ceo mary barra that he was deeply dis­ap­pointed about the clo­sure and in­sisted his gov­ern­ment would do ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble to help laid-off auto em­ploy­ees and their fam­i­lies.

“ob­vi­ously, our hearts go out to the work­ers in the re­gion af­fected,” Trudeau said dur­ing ques­tion pe­riod in the House of Com­mons, be­fore not­ing his gov­ern­ment has in­vested more than $5.6 bil­lion to help the auto in­dus­try.

over the years, bil­lions and bil­lions of pub­lic dol­lars have pro­vided help to the sec­tor, which fed­eral in­dus­try min­is­ter navdeep bains says sup­ports 500,000 di­rect and in­di­rect jobs across the coun­try.

in 2009, dur­ing the fi­nan­cial cri­sis, the fed­eral and on­tario gov­ern­ments spent a com­bined $13.7 bil­lion of tax­payer money to res­cue gm Canada and fel­low au­tomaker Chrysler Canada from po­ten­tial bank­ruptcy.

bains was asked mon­day by re­porters whether he thought the 2009 bailout was a mis­take now that one of the com­pa­nies is clos­ing a ma­jor op­er­a­tion. He said the 2009 de­ci­sion, made by the previous Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment, was made be­cause the sit­u­a­tion was “very dire.”

Fed­eral pro­grams re­main in place to sup­port the auto sec­tor. bains pointed out the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s an­nounce­ment last week that it would add an­other $800 mil­lion over five years to its strate­gic in­no­va­tion fund, which has pro­vided pub­lic money to com­pa­nies such as Toy­ota.

in its search for ways to help af­fected auto work­ers, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment de­clined to get into specifics — but in­sisted all op­tions are un­der con­sid­er­a­tion.

on­tario called on the fed­eral gov­ern­ment mon­day to ex­tend em­ploy­ment-in­sur­ance el­i­gi­bil­ity by five weeks to a max­i­mum of 50 weeks for work­ers af­fected by the clos­ing. Ford said the prov­ince will im­me­di­ately bol­ster em­ploy­ment help and re­train­ing mea­sures.

politi­cians from both the fed­eral and on­tario gov­ern­ments, who have fre­quently clashed in pub­lic, made ef­forts mon­day to show that when it comes to the gm mat­ter they have, so far, set aside their dif­fer­ences.

“This is not a po­lit­i­cal is­sue, this is not about point­ing fin­gers,” bains said. “This is about stand­ing up for the au­to­mo­tive sec­tor, this is about stand­ing up for the auto work­ers.”

Ford said he and his fed­eral coun­ter­parts would work hand in hand.

but op­po­si­tion politi­cians ap­plied pres­sure on both gov­ern­ments.

at the fed­eral level, Con­ser­va­tive leader an­drew scheer de­manded par­lia­ment hold an emer­gency de­bate on the mat­ter mon­day. scheer said the gov­ern­ing lib­er­als must im­me­di­ately ex­plain how they will help work­ers.

“What we’d like to know from this gov­ern­ment is, what is on the ta­ble? What is pos­si­ble?” scheer said in Toronto. “We do know that some of the rea­sons be­ing cited, be­ing talked about, are the ris­ing costs of en­ergy. We know that gm and other au­tomak­ers are af­fected by the lib­eral car­bon tax, so be­fore we even get to bailouts we could be look­ing at any num­ber of other ideas.”

at the provin­cial level, on­tario ndp leader an­drea Hor­wath ac­cused the Ford gov­ern­ment of giv­ing up on try­ing to keep the auto jobs from leav­ing oshawa. “i’ve never seen a gov­ern­ment roll over so quickly and throw in the towel on good jobs in this prov­ince,” Hor­wath said.

The union rep­re­sent­ing the oshawa auto work­ers says it will put up what it calls “the fight of our lives” to keep the plant open.

“They are not clos­ing our damn plant with­out one hell of a fight,” uni­for na­tional pres­i­dent Jerry dias said mon­day. “We are sick and tired of be­ing pushed around. and we’re not go­ing to be pushed around ... we de­serve re­spect.”

JuStin tang/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Fed­eral In­dus­try Min­is­ter Navdeep Bains speaks dur­ing a press con­fer­ence on Gen­eral Mo­tors’ de­ci­sion re­gard­ing the fu­ture of its au­to­mo­tive plant in Oshawa, on Par­lia­ment Hill in Ot­tawa on Mon­day.

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