TORONTO - Gm’s announcement to shutter its plant in Oshawa has left everyone dumbfounded.
Not only for the fact that 2,500 workers will find themselves without employment in 2020, but also because, taking into account those employed in the goods and services supply chain, tens of thousands of others will also lose their jobs.
This is a mortal blow for the city of Oshawa which, for a century, has identified itself with GM. It is a brutal reality for the men and women who work at the plant and for the automaker.
Just as bad for the city itself; its future is severely compromised. Not to mention the disaster it represents for Ontario. GM’s justification in abandoning Oshawa and four other North American plants is that it needs the capital to develop new technologies such as electronic and-self driven vehicles.
It is not pleading poverty or financial strains - quite the contrary. In recent years the net return on investments has been measured in the healthy billions of dollars.
The decision left Canadians stupefied and incredulous, if for no other reason than they might have expected a little recognition and appreciation for the bailout of 2009. GM and Chrysler received $13.7 billions at virtually no rate of interest in return for shares in the company.
The Minister of Finance, Joe Oliver, hastly lost (gave away) $2,5 billion of it in buying back the shares at a discounted price.
Had he kept them for the Canadian public, Canada might have sway around the GM corporate table and saved Oshawa.
The auto industry, in Canada as elsewhere, is a branch-plant economy, hence susceptible to company decisions influenced by factors elsewhere and taken outside our borders.
In this regard, GM’s decision manifests the contractual weakness of both Canada and Ontario. The wishy-washy response by Prime Minister Trudeau was disheartening.
That of Premier Ford downright reprehensible: he threw in the towel with a fatalistic shrug of the shoulder, saying that there was nothing to be done. He just doesn’t understand.
In response to journalists’ questions about what to do with the assembly- line workers, he contented himself by remarking that GM had promised to hire more engineers at the Tech Centre. Workers in the plant will have applauded this consolation prize.
True, the decision pertains to GM, but it its implications are all felt in Ontario. Doug Ford responds with silence.
At least President Trump threatened to make life di.cult for GM if it were to proceed with its plans to shutter the factories in the USA.
It seems only yesterday that, with great fanfare in Sarnia, the Premier, looking southward to the USA boasted: “Ontario is Open for Business”.
He was flanked by his Minister for Economic Development, Jim Wilson, soon to submit his resignation for yet unproven sexual assault allegations.
After six months in office, Doug Ford’s industrial strategy to stimulate the Ontario economy has settled on the dismantling of social programmes establish by the previous government, effecting tabula rasa in every quarter.
As if by coincidence, almost contemporaneous to the Sarnia announcement, Tenneco, in Owen Sound, announced that it would close its auto parts factory in 2020, laying o. some 500 workers. GM, like the other auto assemblers world-wide is in a state of transition. Last week, Fiat- Chrysler announced a five-billion- euro investment in Italy directed to the development of electric vehicles.
It should have been an easy decision for GM to explore the existing facilities at the Canadian Technical Centre in Markham and the Automotive centre for Excellence in Oshawa as possible solutions to the saving of the assembly plant in the city.
In this new and emerging market of electric and self-driving cars, consumer preference for SUV and light trucks, the market will require Research and Development as well as assembly lines.
Governments, if they recognize responsibility, might well look to training for re-entry into the workplace for well paying jobs to replace the ones from where they were restructured out.
Rather than scapegoating those who work for minimum wage by scaling back that one dollar of raise the Law had already provisioned for them.