It's not every day that a business executive from a global multinational company shows up at an election campaign event in Ontario.
But the latest announcement from South Korean industrial giant Samsung Group was about much more than a couple hundred new jobs for southwestern Ontario.
Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty is staking his political future on transforming Ontario into the leading manufacturer of green-energy components in North America. He wants wind and solar power to do what the Auto Pact did in the 1960s: create tens of thousands of jobs in a province whose manufacturing heartland was hard hit by the economic recession.
At a campaign stop in London, Ont., on Thursday, Mr. McGuinty was accompanied by Cheol Woo Lee, a senior executive vice-president at Samsung based in the company's Mississauga office.
The company is opening a new plant in London that will make solar components and create 200 jobs in a city with an unemployment rate of more than 9 per cent, one of the highest in Canada. The news came on Day 2 of the campaign for the provincial election – before Samsung has even chosen a site for the proposed plant.
"We came here to do business," Mr. Lee told reporters, "so we don't want to be involved in political affairs and the election campaign."
But there he was in a chemistry lab at the University of Western Ontario, standing alongside the politician seeking a third straight term on Oct. 6. There was nothing subtle about Mr. McGuinty's message. Under his leadership, the province would move forward. Under his chief rival, Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak, it would move backward.
"In order to get that plant and maintain our momentum when it comes to driving hard on the clean energy front ... we're going to need an Ontario Liberal government," Mr. McGuinty said. "The opposition opposes our plan for green energy. They oppose our plan to create thousands of jobs."
The governing Liberals signed the $7-billion deal with Samsung in January, 2010, as part of its goal to create 50,000 new jobs by luring investors with the promise of generous long-term contracts that include a guaranteed revenue stream. The Samsung deal alone is supposed to produce 16,000 direct and indirect jobs.
But Mr. McGuinty has come under fire for luring the company to the province with incentive payments over and above the revenue his government pays green-energy companies.
Mr. Hudak has complained that Samsung is getting a sweetheart deal because the company gets preferential access to the province's electricity transmission grid. He has vowed to rip it up if he becomes the next premier of Ontario.
Mr. McGuinty challenged Mr. Hudak to come to London, and tell employees directly that he would kill the very jobs just announced on Thursday.
"He can meet with employees, shake their hands, and look them in the eyes and tell them, 'I'm killing your jobs. I'm killing your future. Sorry about that,'" Mr. McGuinty said.
There is a good chance that both Mr. McGuinty and Mr. Hudak will be spending a lot of time during the campaign in London, which is shaping up to be a major battleground.
The Liberals easily won all four ridings in the London area in 2007 but in this year's federal election, they were all but shut out, with the Tories nabbing three seats and the New Democrats one.