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Cars are loaded onto trucks at Ford's Oakville, Ont., assembly plant on Sept. 8, 2020.

Glenn LOWSON/The Globe and Mail

Ontario Premier Doug Ford vowed to support a federal government effort to attract electric-vehicle manufacturing to Ford Motor Co.'s plant in Oakville, Ont., where unionized workers with Unifor are locked in contract talks – but would not say how much money Queen’s Park would chip in.

Ottawa is reportedly considering being part of a $500-million investment to help the company build electric vehicles, offering a lifeline to the large facility west of Toronto. The proposal is expected to include money from Queen’s Park. But speaking to reporters on Monday, the Premier declined to commit to a dollar amount, with the talks continuing.

However, he said he spoke to Ford Canada’s CEO, Dean Stoneley, late last week in order to push the automaker to use Ontario-made batteries in whatever cars it produces at the plant, something he said would save millions in shipping as well as create Ontario jobs.

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“That’s my big ask to Ford,” the Premier said, without providing details. “And hopefully these negotiations will go well tonight with Unifor, and we’re here to support both Ford and Unifor to get this past the finish line. But we’ll be in there for the investment.”

Ford Motor Co. and Unifor, which represents 6,300 workers in Oakville and Windsor, Ont., are in last-ditch talks on Monday at a hotel in Toronto to reach a deal and avert a strike at midnight.

Natalie Clancy, a spokeswoman for Unifor, said she expects talks will continue up until the deadline. “Hopefully, we’ll have something to announce tonight” – either a settlement, deadline extension or a strike, Ms. Clancy said.

Unifor on Sept. 8 named Ford as the target of its bargaining and possible strike action amid questions over the Oakville plant’s future. The bargaining will set a pattern for ensuing talks with the other two Detroit-based automakers, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and General Motors Co.

Ford’s Oakville factory makes the Edge SUV and Lincoln Nautilus, but no replacements have been named when production of those two cars ends in 2023, Unifor and U.S. consultancy AutoForecast Solutions have said. This throws into question the future of Ford’s only Canadian auto-assembly plant, which opened in 1953 and employs 4,250 union members.

Unifor said it is targeting Ford in a bid to save the plant and preserve auto jobs, which have declined in number in recent years as car makers shift production to lower-cost regions including Mexico and the Southern United States.

Ford declined to provide an update on the bargaining issues and did not immediately respond to questions on the future of the Oakville plant and the vehicles made there.

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“We look forward to negotiating an agreement with Unifor that will help lead Ford of Canada, our employees and our communities into the future,” said Rose Pao, a Ford spokeswoman. “The details about how we do that will be discussed at the bargaining table, not in the media.”

Unionized production workers at Ford make $21 to $36 an hour, and skilled tradespeople are paid $42.

Unifor represents 1,700 workers at Ford’s two engine plants in Windsor and another 350 at parts-distribution centres and offices.

The Toronto Star reported on Monday that the federal government might spend $500-million to help Ford build electric vehicles at the Oakville plant, with a contribution from the Ontario government. Citing an unnamed source, the Star said the move is intended to save the plant.

A source familiar with the situation told The Globe and Mail that the potential $500-million would represent funding from both Ottawa and the province. The Globe is not identifying the source because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

Unifor’s Ms. Clancy declined to comment on the report. Unifor national president Jerry Dias was in negotiations with Ford on Monday and could not be reached. A spokesman for Navdeep Bains, the federal Industry Minister, would not specifically comment on the report of taxpayer help for Ford.

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“Developing domestic manufacturing in electric vehicles and batteries would secure more good-paying jobs for Canadian workers and more opportunities for Canadian businesses,” John Power said. “It would position Canada’s auto industry as a global leader in a growing market and help us meet our climate ambitions.”

The federal and Ontario governments in 2013 gave Ford a combined $143-million to retool the Oakville plant. Ford said at the time that the taxpayer money would help pay for an $800-million upgrade that would allow it to make new models.

In 2017, the federal and Ontario governments each gave Ford $102-million to help the company establish a research and development centre in Ottawa, with branches in Waterloo, Ont., and Oakville. Ford said then that it was making a $1.2-billion investment and hiring 295 engineers to develop autonomous and connected vehicles.

With reports from Sean Silcoff

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