It should also be noted it was Bernier’s own Conservative party that created the Automotive Innovation Fund in 2008. Granted, when the Conservatives governed the fund, which had a total of $250 million available over five years, the money was given out as taxable loans.
While Bernier might be against loans and grants — he prefers lower corporate taxes — there’s little denying the AIF and other financial assistance the Conservatives provided during the 2008-2009 recession helped save General Motors and Chrysler in Canada.
The Conservative federal government loaned the two automakers $13.7-billion to stay afloat. Similar financial aide was provided in the United States at the time.
Now, with a Liberal majority government in charge, the rules of the AIF were tweaked this year to allow for non-repayble grants. And it didn’t take long for automakers to start cashing in. On Jan. 9, the very day the changes were announced, Honda said it would spend nearly $500 million upgrading its Alliston, Ont., factory.
Navdeep Bains, minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, then spent the next few weeks handing out grants to parts suppliers. He was still at it on Feb. 17 during the Canadian International Auto Show in Toronto.
The grants are something the industry and even auto czar Ray Tanguay, who was hired in part by a Conservative federal government along with the Ontario Liberal government, has wanted for years.
Tanguay said the new AIF format gives him “something to sell” when he’s trying to persuade automakers and parts suppliers to expand and invest in Canada.
Only if Bernier becomes head of the party in May, and then his party wins the federal election in 2019, will we know for certain if he is serious about removing one of the most popular tools Tanguay uses to lure auto investment to Canada.