'Deeply disappointed': Feds vow to help workers hit by GM plant closure
Published Monday, November 26, 2018 8:46AM EST
Last Updated Monday, November 26, 2018 7:03PM EST
OTTAWA – The federal government says it's looking at all options to mitigate the economic impacts of General Motors announcing the definite closure of its operations in Oshawa, Ont., and is vowing to help the thousands of Canadians who will be out a job.
"We are deeply disappointed. This is disappointing news. This is a critical sector for our economy. There are many suppliers, many academic institutions, many employees that rely on this sector," Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Navdeep Bains told reporters in the House of Commons foyer Monday morning.
The auto giant announced Monday that it will cease operations at the assembly plant by the end of 2019, as part of a global restructuring. Plants in the U.S. are also affected. This closure comes with indirect effects rippling across the southern Ontario auto industry and beyond.
Bains was not optimistic at the prospect of finding a way for the plant to stay open, saying that the company has made a decision based on global restructuring. The Liberals are now assessing all options to support the workers, he said, after being officially informed of the decision on Sunday.
"This is devastating for the workers… personally I am very, very hurt by this," Bains said, noting that he started his career in the auto sector. "We're going to continue to defend and support the automotive sector and the automotive workers."
Bains said GM told the federal government this closure had to do with changing consumer preferences, downplaying any connection to U.S. President Donald Trump's economic nationalism.
"We want to defend the automotive sector, the way we defended the aerospace sector, the way we work closely with the oil and gas sector," Bains said, vowing to work with the provincial and municipal governments to assist those who will lose their jobs.
"This is not a political issue, this is not about pointing fingers, this about working together for the automotive sector this have a working together for the auto workers," Bains said.
News that General Motors plans to close its operations in Oshawa, Ont. is drawing shocked reactions from across the political spectrum.
Trudeau vows to help, Tories want debate
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the federal government will do everything they can to help the families affected "get back on their feet." In a tweet reacting to the news, Trudeau said he spoke with GM CEO Mary Barra to express his “deep disappointment” over the closure.
“GM workers have been part of the heart and soul of Oshawa for generations,” Trudeau tweeted on Monday morning.
Speaking with reporters on his way to question period, Trudeau said his thoughts go out to all those affected, and vowed to do everything they can for the workers.
He then spent a good portion of question period fielding questions from the opposition about whether the federal government has a plan to save these jobs.
"We will be working together on this one in a way that is not political because we know that being there to support the workers in this region is what people expect of all of their orders of government," Trudeau said.
GM employs approximately 2,800 people in Oshawa — around 2,500 unionized and 300 salaried — down from a peak of 23,000 during the 1980s. Monday morning, workers at the plant in Oshawa, Ont. walked off the job.
Speaking from Vancouver, Finance Minister Bill Morneau said the government’s goal will be working to see the industry be successful in the future and to help those who relied on the jobs at GM to get by, with federal assistance.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer described GM’s apparent plans as "a devastating blow" for auto workers and marks an end of a long and proud tradition.
He said that his party will call for an emergency debate in the House of Commons "to press the Liberals for a plan on how they will respond to the thousands of people out of work and how they will protect remaining manufacturing jobs in Ontario," he said in a statement.
During a press conference on the closure on Monday afternoon in Toronto, Scheer said that his party would be calling for the debate "so parliamentarians can talk about what can be done. We don't want to give up today. We owe it to those workers and their families to explore every single possible option to save these jobs and to save this plant that is so important, so critical to the economy of southern Ontario and indeed to Canada."
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh called it "devastating news," and said that "clearly not enough has been done to protect these jobs," in a tweet.
The federal government loaned GM $10.8 billion in 2009, to help keep the company afloat as it stared down insolvency. A condition of that loan was that GM would not reduce its manufacturing operations in Canada for six years.
As part of last week’s fall economic update, the government announced new measures aimed at boosting Canadian businesses’ confidence and spur competitiveness in the short-term, in an attempt to mitigate the impacts of U.S. corporate tax cuts.
NDP industry critic Brian Masse seized on this.
"Last week, the Liberal government gave corporations like General Motors a $14 billion tax giveaway, Justin Trudeau said this would guarantee jobs remain in Canada. But today we’re seeing how much the Liberal government does not understand what working people are going through, with thousands of layoffs sending shockwaves to our manufacturing sector," Masse said.
He is calling for the government to implement a national auto strategy to protect the Canadian manufacturing industry from companies who uproot and leave thousands jobless.
Ford calls it 'absolutely devastating'
This issue led question period at Queens Park on Monday morning, when Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath asked Ontario Premier Doug Ford what he’s heard from the auto giant and how the thousands of impacted families will be supported. She also pushed for a plan to not let GM walk away from the Oshawa facility.
In response, Ford called the GM announcement "absolutely devastating" and vowed that his Progressive Conservative government would help them find training for new jobs. Ford said that the company has indicated that their decision is final and there is nothing governments can do.
"Basically the ship has already left the dock," Ford said.
Ford said he is authorizing Employment Ontario to deploy its Rapid Re-Employment and Training Services program. This program will coordinate the response with the region, inform impacted employees of the services available to them.
He is also calling on the federal government to extend employment insurance by five weeks, from 45 to 50 weeks
Premier Ford and Trudeau spoke Monday morning, and the pair discussed their concern over the closure and potential supply chain impacts. Ford said that they are on the same page on this issue.
"For those who work in the auto industry, I want you to know that today's news has nothing to do with the quality of the work you do. I will put the highly trained, professional autoworkers in Oshawa, or anywhere else in Ontario, up against anybody else in the world. It is disappointing that GM failed to see and build upon this competitive advantage. While the company is entitled to make its own business decisions, I am confident that history will prove them wrong," Ford said in a statement.
'Sad day for Oshawa'
MP Erin O’Toole, whose riding of Durham includes part of Oshawa, said Monday that the news came as a surprise, as Oshawa seemed to have a reputation for being one of the company’s most productive plants.
"It is a sad day for Oshawa," he told CTV’s Your Morning.
"We have to find out why, see what can be done and also stand with the families impacted."
Oshawa MPP Jennifer French told CTV News Channel that GM shuttering its operations would be "brutal" for the city, with effects of that decision rippling across southern Ontario.
"Oshawa has given so much to this company," the NDP MPP told CTV News Channel.
"It is not that GM built Oshawa – Oshawa built GM. We really did. We’ve invested so much. The least they could do is continue to invest in us."
Unifor said it had been told that GM has not allocated any work to Oshawa past December 2019.
"Based on commitments made during 2016 contract negotiations, Unifor does not accept this announcement and is immediately calling on GM to live up to the spirit of that agreement," the union said in a statement.
During a press conference in Oshawa, Unifor President Jerry Dias vowed that “they are not closing our damn plant without one hell of a fight."
Impact of tariffs?
One of the questions circling the GM plant closure announcement has been that of the potential impact of the tariffs on steel and aluminum.
Amid NAFTA talks in the spring, the U.S. announced the imposition of steel and aluminum tariffs on Canada, citing national security as a justification, and shortly after Canada announced its own dollar-for-dollar retaliatory tariffs on American-made steel, aluminum, and other goods.
O’Toole raised the ongoing trade action during question period, asking Trudeau if GM raised concerns with the federal government about the tariffs impacting competitiveness.
In response, Trudeau said that GM and other automakers were on-side with the NAFTA renegotiations, but acknowledged there is more work to be done to eliminate the tariffs.
Asked about this, Ford said that both Trudeau and Trump "have to take these tariffs away. They're hurting both countries."
With files from CTV News Toronto and The Canadian Press