Unifor head says industry on the cusp of rebuilding, plays down Trump concerns
In this Aug. 24, 2016 file photo Unifor President Jerry Dias speaks during the Unifor Convention in Ottawa. (Justin Tang / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Aleksandra Sagan, The Canadian Press
Published Friday, February 17, 2017 1:49PM EST
Last Updated Friday, February 17, 2017 3:39PM EST
TORONTO -- Canada's auto industry shouldn't be concerned with the protectionist rhetoric coming from the White House, says the head of the union representing auto workers at the so-called Detroit Big Three.
"We are at the cusp of building the industry again," Unifor president Jerry Dias said in an interview.
"We can do this, as long as the governments don't screw it up."
Some of that growth comes from the union's recent collective bargaining, which finagled about $1.5 billion total of investment into Canadian operations from Ford, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler.
All three automakers said Thursday they have not wavered from those commitments, despite the protectionist rhetoric by President Donald Trump.
Mark Buzzell, head of the Ford's Canadian operations, said his company will still inject $700 million into its Ontario facilities.
Meanwhile, Stephen Carlisle, president and managing director of GM Canada, said his company is implementing projects across its Ontario operations in Oshawa, St. Catharines and Woodstock with its promised $554 million investment.
And Fiat Chrysler said it remains committed to its $325 million of funding in Brampton, Ont., and $6.4 million in Toronto operations.
"You have no idea how proud I am when I listened to the Canadian heads of Ford, General Motors and Chrysler saying that they are living up to their commitment regardless of what Trump is saying," Dias said Friday in a speech before the Automotive News Canada Congress.
"It's a symbol that the industry is turning the corner. It's here to stay."
Dias said a shift in policy by Ottawa has also helped the industry, including the Liberal's recent decision to change the automotive innovation fund from repayable loans to grants.
The federal government announced Thursday $17 million in funding for Lakeshore, Ont.-based Astrex, an auto parts manufacturer, to create a facility for building parts that reduce fuel consumption and lower carbon emissions, and $1.2 million for Ottawa-based GBatteries Energy Canada to develop long-lasting batteries for electric cars.
Dias said he isn't worried Trump's protectionist talk will jeopardize continued investment. Trump has called for automakers to build plants in America to create jobs at home.
"He's got bigger fish to fry than good old Canada," Dias said in an interview, noting that Mexico has a disproportionate amount of investment compared with how many cars are purchased in the country.
Dias said he and Trump agree on one thing and one thing only: Unfair trade agreements have hurt workers.
"When he says that NAFTA's been a disaster, he's right."
Any tweaks to the agreement are likely to make things more beneficial for Canada, he said, which should see a number of jobs in the country that reflects the amount of cars sold within its borders.
"The bottom line is that we're going to have to go back to the days of the auto pact."