Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced on Thursday that his government is committing $40-million over three years for the auto sector, with a focus on modernization and innovation.
The first phase of the new plan, called Driving Prosperity, includes $10-million for auto modernization, $3.2-million for online learning and $19-million for new internships and training opportunities.
The money is part of a 10-year plan for strengthening the auto sector’s competitiveness, which comes as General Motors Co. plans to shut down a plant in Oshawa, Ont., at the end of the year – a move that will see 2,600 workers lose their jobs.
"We’re going to help the industry,” Mr. Ford said during the announcement at a manufacturing plant in Woodbridge, Ont.
“We’re taking immediate action to build a competitive business climate to drive innovation and support our talented work force."
Economic Development Minister Todd Smith said part of the plan is aimed at workers such as those at GM, who can be retrained and still work in the auto sector.
“We want to give those auto workers an opportunity to get trained quickly,” Mr. Smith said. “Micro-credentialling is part of our plan, so they can get up to speed and not just continue jobs in the current wave of auto sector jobs, but in the automobile sector of the future," he added, referring to the process of earning certifications for specific skills.
A micro-credentials pilot will focus on targeted retraining for highly specific skills. The province will also modernize apprenticeship training, with the goal of making it more responsive to auto-sector needs.
The funding also includes a portion to be matched by private sector.
An automotive modernization program to help parts suppliers become more innovative will make $10-million available to small and medium-sized suppliers, which can each qualify for up to $100,000 as long as the company itself matches the funds.
Flavio Volpe, president of Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association, said the announcement mirrors what suppliers have been asking of the government for years.
“The supply sector isn’t asking for hundreds of millions of dollars," he said. “What’s important is as long as the automakers stay here, and make cars here, and buy parts from us, we’ve got a very healthy and efficient business.
“I think it’s a good first step. This is the kind of stuff we’ve been asking for years. I’m happy somebody listened.”
The announcement came hours before Sting performed songs from his new musical, which playing in Toronto, for GM workers.
Speaking in Oshawa, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Mr. Ford’s announcement does not reflect a broad strategy for helping auto-sector workers.
“It’s not going to make a big difference. And it’s unfortunate, because he’s walked away from a really important industry in Ontario, and it’s people like the ones we see today here in Oshawa who are going to feel the pain,” Ms. Horwath said.
Taking questions from reporters, Mr. Ford also criticized the strategy of Unifor, Canada’s largest private-sector union, which has called for a boycott of GM vehicles made in Mexico as part of its campaign to save the GM Oshawa assembly plant. The union recently bought a Super Bowl ad against GM.
“Keep in mind GM still has close to 5,000 people employed here in Ontario. So why attack General Motors, you know? … I wouldn’t do it,” Mr. Ford said.
In response to Mr. Ford’s comments on Thursday about union’s campaign, Unifor president Jerry Dias said the Premier should resign “for lack of courage.”
“Here’s a person that talks about creating jobs in Ontario, yet he doesn’t have the guts to fight the ones that we have here," Mr. Dias said.
With a report from The Canadian Press