Windsor Star

Fast finish to Ford deal pledged

Prentice says nothing can stop funding commitment

- DON STAR STAFF REPORTER

BY

LAJOIE

A re-elected Conservati­ve government under Stephen Harper would “make every effort to move as quickly as possible” to hammer out details of the recently announced funding agreement for Ford’s Essex Engine Plant, to help get dislocated employees back to work, Industry Minister Jim Prentice said Sunday in Windsor.

Flying in to meet with Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis and other municipal leaders and economic developmen­t officials, and to campaign on behalf of incumbent MP Jeff Watson (C — Essex), Prentice said he couldn’t predict when the refurbishe­d plant would be in full operation.

He said that retooling the facility is already beginning and added the largely bureaucrat­ic tasks of finalizing all contracts and agreements between the federal and provincial government­s and the corporatio­n are “moving forward” and will ultimately end up at the federal Treasury Board. He said that nothing can undo the process.

“This was an extremely important announceme­nt for the automotive sector and for the Windsor area as well,” he said, in an interview after touching down at Windsor Airport. “It’s the largest announceme­nt in some time.”

Watson, who chairs the government’s automotive caucus and was described by Prentice as “an essential part of the (negotiatio­n process) from the get-go, added that, despite the “due diligence” now required, the deal is guaranteed and even a change of gov- ernment cannot see it undone.

“That investment is coming no matter what,” he said. “No government would ever undo that type of investment.”

The $80 million in federal funding is part of a $730 million investment in the Essex Engine Plant that is expected to bring back 757 jobs and see the facility becoming a flex plant, building any engine the company needs.

About 1,200 local Ford workers are now on layoff or notice of layoff. And, after about 190 Windsor area residents moved to Ford jobs in Oakville, Ford announced last week it plans to cut 500 more jobs from its Oakville operation.

Prentice and Watson acknowledg­ed that the area’s traditiona­l automotive and manufactur­ing-based economy needs help and added that was one reason why the minister was in town for the one-day blitz to meet regional elected officials and economic developmen­t officers.

They called for greater efforts toward economic diversific­ation. Prentice touted his government’s policies, intended to open up Canada to more foreign investment and encourage developmen­t of advanced technologi­es to compliment this area’s proven productivi­ty and high-quality workforce.

He said the goal must be to maintain a “critical mass” of automotive sector work while diversifyi­ng the economy. Watson noted that constructi­on on the planned border projects should help ease the region’s unemployme­nt and that Windsor must become a transporta­tion hub for Canada.

“The main issue of this election is economic certainty,” said Prentice, turning to the task of campaignin­g. “The prime minister stands for sound stewardshi­p of the economy, compared to risky carbon tax proposals,” he said in a dig at Liberal environmen­t policies.

Prentice, who later attended the official opening of Watson’s campaign office, followed by a guest appearance at a riding barbecue and some canvassing on Watson’s behalf, said that in contrast to the Conservati­ves, the Liberals under Leader Stephane Dion, have announced no ideas to improve the area’s economic future beyond the potentiall­y negative impacts on the automotive sector of taxing drivers.

Meanwhile, Francis, who met the minister at the airport, said that he would continue to push the government for ways to help the area’s ailing economy.

“With Ford out of the way we’ve got to talk about other steps toward diversific­ation,” the mayor said. “Certainly we have to get training and support for those in (job) transition.”

He said he planned to talk to the minister about the city’s commuter plans to help those out of a job find work in other communitie­s such as Oakville or as far away as Saskatchew­an.

He said government must recognize “the need to assist them” so that they can maintain their residences in Windsor and not end up facing the double jeopardy of being unable to sell their local homes while purchasing a home elsewhere.

“That’s the reality today,” said Francis. “People are forced to carry two mortgages on two homes, live in two different cities and end up with no sense of place.”

 ?? Star photo: Dan Janisse ?? CAMPAIGNIN­G: Federal Minister of Industry Jim Prentice walks Sunday at Windsor Airport with Mayor Eddie Francis.
Star photo: Dan Janisse CAMPAIGNIN­G: Federal Minister of Industry Jim Prentice walks Sunday at Windsor Airport with Mayor Eddie Francis.

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