It’s an uncommon sight to see Unifor President Jerry Dias telling reporters and his 6,300 unionized workers who build cars for Ford that it’s a great day for auto manufacturing in Ontario.
But that’s what Dias did on Tuesday as he outlined some of the details that emerged from Unifor’s high-level contract talks with the Ford Motor Company of Canada.
Dias was clearly thrilled to be the first to speak publicly about the tentative $1.95-billion deal between Unifor, Ford and the federal and provincial governments to manufacture five electric car models at Ford’s Oakville plant, beginning in 2025.
The deal, to be ratified on Sunday, also involves production of 6.8-litre engines at a Ford plant in Windsor and the assembly of electric batteries at the Oakville plant, using lithium from Quebec, nickel from Sudbury and aluminum from Quebec and British Columbia.
On the face of it, there’s a lot to like. Not that many years ago, Canada was one of the top car and truck manufacturers in the world but outsourcing production to countries with cheaper labour has shuttered plants and reduced shifts.
If we’re to believe Dias, Canadian auto manufacturing took a dramatic detour from the abyss to a suddenly prosperous future with this investment by industry and government. For now, though, we must take his word on it as the federal and provincial governments have yet to spell out details of their role.
Much depends on that — including what kind of value Canadian taxpayers will get for the hundreds of millions of dollars that governments are reportedly prepared to invest in the project. Until that’s known, we’ll offer only one cheer.
So far, Ottawa and Queen’s Park are keeping mum. Premier Doug Ford would say only that he deeply understands the importance the auto industry to Ontario’s economy and that his government is committed to supporting the manufacturing of electric cars and batteries.
That’s more than a bit ironic, since the premier was decidedly not supportive of the industry when he took office in 2018. One of his first decisions was to cancel a Liberal government rebate program worth up to $14,000 for anyone who purchased an electric vehicles. EV sales promptly plummeted in Ontario, from 3 per cent of all sales to just 1 per cent (they recovered a bit last year when the federal government brought in a $5,000 rebate).
Now that Ford is apparently a convert to the value of electric vehicles, his government should revisit its decision on rebates. Encouraging sales makes sense for the environment, and if e-vehicles are going to be manufactured in Ontario it will make sense for the economy as well.
The Star’s Heather Scoffield, in breaking the story of Ford Canada’s decision to build e-vehicles in Oakville, reported that Ottawa is willing to invest $500 million in the project. That’s a big number, but many questions remain.
Is it enough of an investment and the right kind? Taxpayers deserve to know how their money going to be spent, and what guarantees Ford is making for long-term production in Ontario, in both Oakville and Windsor. In short, is this the best deal for the people of Ontario and Canada?
But a major commitment to manufacturing the vehicles of the future must surely be the right direction for Ontario’s auto industry. Instead of lurching from crisis to crisis, fearing more plant closures, it offers the possibility of production and jobs for many years to come.
Indeed, Dias said he now sees a future for today’s Oakville workforce, a third of whom have been there six years or less. Once the plant is retooled to build EVs, he said, “our members should be able to retire with their pension from Ford Motor Company.”
That’s an encouraging vision during a time of bleak economic news, particularly in Ontario’s manufacturing heartland. We’ll be looking to Wednesday’s Throne Speech for more details on investments in green technology and manufacturing that so many Canadians have been calling for.