The Oshawa’s General Motors car assembly plant in Oshawa, Ont., Monday Nov 26 , 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Eduardo Lima

The Oshawa’s General Motors car assembly plant in Oshawa, Ont., Monday Nov 26 , 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Eduardo Lima

Politicians promise help for GM workers; stress that saving plant hopeless

General Motors will close its production plant in Oshawa, Ont., along with four facilities in the U.S. as part of a global reorganization that will see the company focus on electric and autonomous vehicle programs.

Provincial and federal leaders alike conceded the futility Monday of trying to persuade General Motors to keep its Oshawa, Ont., automotive plant running beyond 2019, and instead focused on ways to ease the pain of more than 2,500 workers who stand to lose their jobs.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford insisted Monday there was nothing his government could do to talk GM into abandoning its plan to shutter the factory at the end of next year. Ford and lawmakers in Ottawa vowed to work together to help affected workers, their families and the city — which will lose its biggest employer.

“The first thing I said was, ‘What can we do?’,” Ford said Monday, recalling his phone call Sunday with the head of GM Canada. “He said, ‘The ship has already left the dock.’ “

Ford added: “To say we’re disappointed is an understatement.”

The closure of GM’s Oshawa operation, just east of Toronto, would deliver a major economic blow to the region and will be felt at the Ontario and national levels. In addition to the Oshawa plant, the automaker announced Monday it was planning to close four other plants in the United States and two overseas by the end of 2019 as part of a global restructuring that will see the company cut costs and focus more on autonomous and electric vehicles.

Read more: GM to close Oshawa plant, four U.S. plants in massive reorganization push

In a Twitter post Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he told GM CEO Mary Barra that he was deeply disappointed about the closure and said his government would do everything possible to help affected auto workers and their families.

“Obviously, our hearts go out to the workers in the region affected,” Trudeau said during question period in the House of Commons, before arguing his government has invested more than $5.6 billion to support the auto industry.

Federal Industry Minister Navdeep Bains and a cabinet colleague, Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, said Ottawa was looking at how to help workers affected by the closure. They declined to get into specifics — but insisted all options are under consideration.

“We’re very disappointed and very surprised by GM’s announcement that we learned about only yesterday,” Duclos told reporters Monday in French. “It’s an announcement that’s disappointing because, obviously, it touches, (it) affects thousands of families in a cruel manner.”

Ontario called on the federal government Monday to extend employment-insurance eligibility by five weeks to a maximum of 50 weeks for workers affected by the closing. Ford said the province will immediately bolster employment help and retraining measures.

“I support the people out there and we’re going to do everything we can to make sure they get back on their feet,” Ford said.

Politicians from both the federal and Ontario governments, who have frequently clashed in public, made efforts Monday to show that when it comes to the GM matter they have, so far, set aside their differences.

“This is not a political issue, this is not about pointing fingers,” Bains said. ”This is about standing up for the automotive sector, this is about standing up for the auto workers.”

Ford said he and his federal counterparts would work hand in hand.

But opposition politicians applied pressure on both governments.

At the federal level, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer demanded Parliament hold an emergency debate on the matter Monday. Scheer said the governing Liberals must immediately explain how they will help workers and protect other manufacturing jobs in Ontario.

“What we’d like to know from this government is, what is on the table? What is possible?” Scheer said in Toronto.

“We do know that some of the reasons being cited, being talked about, are the rising costs of energy. We know that GM and other automakers are affected by the Liberal carbon tax, so before we even get to bailouts we could be looking at any number of other ideas.”

Read more: General Motors to close Oshawa plant, affecting thousands of jobs: source

The Conservatives have launched regular attacks against the Trudeau government’s incoming carbon-tax plan. On Monday, Tory MP Pierre Poilievre urged the Liberals to put it on hold, following the GM announcement.

The federal NDP urged the Liberals to create a national auto strategy to ensure product lines and manufacturing processes meet the changing needs of the industry. The party also criticized the Trudeau government’s announcement last week that it plans to provide $14 billion worth of tax incentives for corporations over the next half-decade.

“We can’t afford billions in tax giveaways to these large companies when those same companies are pulling up stakes and leaving people out of work,” NDP MP Guy Caron said during question period.

At the provincial level, Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath accused the Ford government of giving up on trying to keep the auto jobs from leaving Oshawa.

“In 14 years of being in this house I’ve never seen a government roll over so quickly and throw in the towel on good jobs in this province,” Horwath said.

Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser called the closure the “worst economic catastrophe” to hit the province since the recession of 2008.

The union representing the Oshawa auto workers says it will put up what it calls “the fight of our lives” to keep the plant open.

“They are not closing our damn plant without one hell of a fight,” Unifor national president Jerry Dias said Monday. “We are sick and tired of being pushed around. And we’re not going to be pushed around… we deserve respect.”

— with files from Paola Loriggio in Toronto

Andy Blatchford and Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Dancers from the Sts’ailes First Nation perform the eagle dance at a welcome banner dedication ceremony on Thursday, June 10. “Ey Swayel” is a Halq̓eméylem term translated as ‘a good day.’ (Adam Louis/Observer)
VIDEO: ‘A good day’ for Agassiz school as Sts’ailes welcome banner is dedicated

Banner hangs above the school’s entrance, welcoming students, staff and visitors

Kalyn Head, seen here on June 4, 2021, will be running 100 kilometres for her “birthday marathon” fundraiser on July 23. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Chilliwack woman’s 100-km birthday marathon to benefit Special Olympics B.C.

Kalyn Head hopes run raises awareness, advocates for inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities

RCMP investigating June 15, 2021 crash. (Black Press file)
Chilliwack RCMP say crash into median led to impaired driver investigation

Chrysler 300 driver allegedly collided with tree on Spadina median in June 15 incident

UFV athletes were honoured for their strength and perseverance during the pandemic. (UFV photo)
Fraser Valley athletes recognized in year without sports

UFV Cascades athletes honoured for strength shown during the pandemic

Abbotsford council has given permission for Chilliwack to use the JAMES wastewater treatment plant for the disposal of trucked liquid waste until the end of September.
Chilliwack gets exemption to Abbotsford bylaw prohibiting liquid waste from other cities

Process in place until September while new facility under construction in Chilliwack

A small pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins pass by close to shore in Campbell River June 16, 2021. Still capture from video courtesy of Kimberly Hart
VIDEO: Dolphin sunset captured from Vancouver Island shore

Spectacular setting for view of travelling pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins

Police are asking for public assistance in locating Anthony Graham who has been charged with the murders of Kamloops brothers Carlo and Erick Fryer. (RCMP photo)
2 charged, suspect at large in killings of B.C. brothers linked to gang activity: RCMP

Kamloops brothers Erick and Carlo Fryer were found deceased in May on a remote Okanagan road

Albert Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney unveil an opening sign after speaking about the Open for Summer Plan and next steps in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta 1st province in Canada to lift all COVID-19 public health restrictions

70.2% of eligible citizens 12 and older in the province have received a dose of the vaccine

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Fraser Health registered nurse Ramn Manan draws a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine into a syringe at a walk-up vaccination clinic at Bear Creek Park, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, May 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Honour our fathers’ with COVID-19 vaccine protection, B.C. urges

109 new cases Friday, 75 per cent of 12 and up immunized

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is seen during a joint news conference following the EU-Canada Summit, in Brussels, Belgium, Tuesday June 15, 2021. Trudeau says Canada is on track now to have 68 million doses delivered by the end of July, which is more than enough to fully vaccinate all 33.2 million Canadians over the age of 12. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Vaccine deliveries enough to fully vaccinate all eligible Canadians by end of July

Three in four eligible Canadians now have their first dose, nearly one in five fully vaccinated.

A search is underway for a 75-year-old fisherman who went missing near Port Angeles Thursday evening. (Courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard)
Search continues for angler missing between Port Angeles and Victoria

Canadian, U.S. Coast Guard searching for 75-year-old man reported missing Thursday evening

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam listens to a question during a news conference, in Ottawa, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases attributed to the highly contagious Delta variant grew in Canada this week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s public health agency reports spike in confirmed cases of Delta variant

More than 2,000 cases of the variant confirmed across all 10 provinces and in one territory

Most Read