Federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer says the General Motors plant in Oshawa should be kept open following a move from the automobile giant to shut down the assembly facility amid a global restructuring plan.
“This is an award-winning plant that has been recognized for its efficiency, its productivity. The workers here are recognized as being the best at what they do,” Scheer told reporters after meeting with workers outside the GM plant in Oshawa early Tuesday morning.
“We believe that there’s reason that as GM goes through this retooling — this restructuring, as they are calling it — that this plant should be kept open.”
GM announced on Monday it is shutting down five plants in North America, including one in Oshawa, to focus on its electric and autonomous vehicle programs.
Scheer said he made the trip from Ottawa to speak with GM on why the decision was made to shutter the plant and to seek options to somehow keep the facility up and running.
“One would think as you’re looking for places to keep jobs, as you’re rolling out a different product line, you’d want to do it in a place where they make cars and trucks the best you possibly can,” Scheer said.
“There’s also been significant investments here in the past few years — state-of-the-art wind tunnel, major upgrades to the facilities — so it’s part of the reason why we’re here today, is to get a better understanding (of what) the rationale for this decision is.”
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The Oshawa plant currently builds the Cadillac XTS, Chevrolet Impala, Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra. All are scheduled to be discontinued by the end of 2019.
GM said shifting consumer demand and the cost of operating facilities mean the plant is no longer financially viable. The company said it expects to save $6 billion by the end of 2020.
“There’s so many spinoff jobs, there’s so many parts manufacturers, suppliers, trucking companies, logistics companies, so this is going to have a big impact,” Scheer said.
Jerry Dias, president of Unifor, the union representing GM workers, is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday to discuss the plant closure in Oshawa. He expects the federal government to push GM on the company’s future in the Ontario community.
“I’m going to tell him he’s got to be more aggressive,” Dias said during an interview on Global’s The Morning Show on Tuesday.
“We can’t say: ‘Oh well. We’re just giving up on the No. 1 industry in the country, and what we’re going to do is give people an extra five weeks of (employment insurance).’ That doesn’t fly, and people don’t expect that. They want leadership today. They want leadership from our premier. They want leadership from our prime minister.”
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The union head said there’s no reason why GM can’t build its next generation of vehicles in Canada.
“First of all, GM is transforming to building autonomous and electric vehicles. They have to build them somewhere, and Oshawa is as good a place as any,” he said.
“They will say to you the highest quality work force, productive workforce, an incredible plant. They have a fairly new paint shop. They just invested $500 million on a new line so the question is choices. Where do they want to put the products?”
The City of Oshawa released a statement on Tuesday expressing their disappointment with the plant closure and the need to find solutions for workers.
“We are calling on GM to work with the City and all levels of government to identify new opportunities to transition Oshawa’s highly trained automotive workforce,” the city said.
“With its rich automotive history, demonstrated technological innovation and investments, as well as a highly skilled and trained workforce, Oshawa is the ideal location and well-positioned to drive GM’s new focus on electric and autonomous vehicle programs.”
Dave Ryan, the mayor of Pickering, also released a statement saying the job losses could be offset by the long talked about construction of an airport in the community east of Toronto.
“Durham Region and the Province of Ontario need a significant investment to attract economic investment and job creation,” the mayor said.
“As such, we encourage the Federal Government to release the Needs Assessment Study on the Pickering Federal Lands so that we can finally move forward on the proposed airport. The airport would create in excess of 10,000 jobs, which would help offset losses in our automotive sector.”
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Toronto Mayor John Tory said Tuesday the job losses will be felt across southern Ontario.
“I think our approach should be to make sure we apply every ounce of energy we have to trying to find ways to use innovation and to respond to the changes that are taking place in the world to see if we together, even including Toronto, the government of Ontario, the government of Canada, the private sector, General Motors, the unions, to see if we can find an innovative way to use and employ those people,” Tory said.
“We are blessed to have in Oshawa, 2,500 people, who work in that plant, who are very skilled people among the best at what they do in the world, and surely if we put our minds together we can find ways to address and respond to the innovative pressures that are coming from around the world and that affect us.”