TORONTO — The Ontario government and Unifor traded barbs Thursday during events surrounding the Canadian International AutoShow over the handling of General Motors’ decision to close the automaker’s Oshawa plant.
Both Todd Smith, Ontario’s minister of economic development, job creation and trade, and Jerry Dias, the national president of Unifor, took verbal shots at each other that illustrated how at war with one another they are.
Smith accused Unifor of causing problems with their commercials attacking GM and said the union is not helping matters.
“The Unifor message hasn’t been helpful, not just for General Motors but the auto industry in Ontario,” Smith told Automotive New Canada at the Automotive News Canada Congress in Toronto. “We would really like to have a better partner with Unifor so we’re looking after those affected employees in Oshawa. We’re committed with training colleges and universities and the rapid response team that is on the ground there to help with re-training with some of the programs we’re putting in place like the microcredentialing pilot for affected workers and some of the other programs.
“There’s opportunities for those workers, but we need Unifor to come to the table and work with us so we can look after those employees and find them employment elsewhere.”
Smith and Premier Doug Ford on Thursday laid out a $40-million plan to encourage investment, retraining and more in the province’s auto industry.
“The only thing that Todd Smith and others are looking to do right now is cover their political backside…I don’t know how the government can say they have the plan to create jobs, but have no plans to save the ones that are already here, and herein lays the problem,” Dias said.
Dias, who was supposed to speak at the Congress but attended a rally in Oshawa headed by music legend Sting to protest GM’s decision, blasted the Ontario government for not trying to help the workers who stand to potentially lose their jobs.
“You’d think Doug Ford would have been in Oshawa today with the workers,” Dias told Automotive News Canada in a phone interview when apprised of what Smith said. “Instead, he tried to create a diversion in Woodbridge and he made a non-announcement.
“The media that were here today in Oshawa were all laughing because (Ford) didn’t fool a soul. That was a diversion and he looked stupid.”
Dias accused the Ford government of “throwing in the towel right from day one” in standing up to GM.
“They are a government that lacks any sort of courage,” Dias said. “Let’s take their arguments to the next natural progression. Here’s a government that is saying they are going to put procedures in place to help attract investment, yet 14,000 jobs are going to leave Ontario and they are not lifting one finger. So it’s pretty difficult for them to argue with any conviction that they have a plan. What they did was roll out the red carpet for General Motors to leave.”
Dias was suggesting the loss of about 2,600 jobs at GM Oshawa will translate to 14,000 in total when indirect jobs are included.
Dias said the new head of GM Canada told Ford on Nov. 25, 2018 that GM was going to make the announcement of closing the Oshawa plant and Ford tried in vain to stop that.
“The facts are that the Premier and government are probably the only people that hope GM leaves Oshawa,” Dias said. “Why? Because if GM stays they’ll look completely stupid
“So I’m fascinated about how this is a government that fancies themselves as [working] for working-class people, but don’t lift a finger to defend them. So here we get Sting, who arguably has no skin in the game at all, does a benefit performance in Oshawa and starts criticizing GM’s decision.
“The Ford government has never once criticized GM’s decision. You know why? Because they believe in GM’s right to close the Oshawa complex more than they believe in the rights of Ontario workers to have good-paying jobs. And that’s the problem. They are looking so stupid.”
General Motors Canada took to Twitter to urge calm and cooperation Thursday.
“Great to have @OfficialSting in Oshawa today. We agree that community-based efforts are important,” the company said on its official Twitter page. “GM is asking Unifor to discuss how we can support Oshawa workers including $50-$60k lump sums, new car vouchers & paid retraining programs”