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The Canadian government’s pitch was always that Canada’s auto plants didn’t have the cheapest labour but the best-quality workers. Canada’s auto sector would win with innovation and build those high-tech, eco-friendly cars of the future. But when General Motors decided to restructure, notably to put new focus on electric cars, the work didn’t go to Oshawa. Instead, GM decided to shut that plant down.

The Liberals in Ottawa can argue, as they did, that the Oshawa plant’s closing was part of a global restructuring that hit plants all over, and that’s true. But that doesn’t fully answer the political question they face: Are they steering Canada’s industry safely through those global winds?

Remember, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberals told us that was an important thing to do.

Open this photo in gallery:

Workers leave the General Motors car assembly plant in Oshawa, Ont., on Nov. 26, 2018.Fred Lum

Mr. Trudeau changed the title of the Industry Minister to the Innovation Minister, and from the get-go his Innovation Minister, Navdeep Bains, insisted that Canada’s future economy had to hang on to well-paying jobs in the auto and aerospace industries. In his second week on the job, Mr. Bains told The Globe and Mail that innovation would be key to keeping auto assembly lines in Canada. “We have to say, in the global supply chain, where does Canada position itself?” he said.

But Bombardier Inc. announced it was going to cut more than 3,000 jobs in Canada. And now GM is planning to close the Oshawa plant that was once almost synonymous with Canadian auto manufacturing.

Related: What GM’s Oshawa plant closure – and four others in North America – says about the auto industry

Read more: GM to close 5 North American factories, including Oshawa, in a bid to cut $6-billion globally

Opinion: What just happened with the Oshawa plant closing? Trump happened, it appears

It sure looks like the government’s industrial strategy is full of holes. At least the innovation-to-save-industry rhetoric has been beaten up.

When GM decided to restructure to “accelerate its transformation to the future,” as the company put it in a statement, and focus on “advanced technologies” and “next-generation battery-electric architectures,” it apparently did not see that Canadian plant as part of the future.

It’s true that GM’s restructuring was global; six other plants will be hit, including four in the United States. Two were in counties that U.S. President Donald Trump carried in the 2016 presidential election, in the crucial electoral battleground states of Ohio and Michigan. So it isn’t a win for “Make America Great Again,” either.

It’s also true that the Oshawa plant has been in danger of being idled for three years, because GM hadn’t allocated any vehicle production to the plant after 2019. And GM’s restructuring was partly about taking money out of the business while business is bad.

It’s also debatable whether the government should have an industrial strategy to entice auto makers with incentives – which in Canada’s case includes funding research and development – especially since past bailouts haven’t led to any loyalty.

But the Liberals said they had a strategy. So when a plant closes, they have to expect questions about whether the strategy is effective. Does spending money to promote automotive innovation really keep an assembly line open?

Either way, Mr. Trudeau is now politically vulnerable.

There’s the potential loss of roughly 2,500 jobs, and even though in cold economic terms that isn’t a big part of the national economy, there are also as many as 10,000 jobs that could be affected among the plant’s suppliers. After the closing of a symbolic plant, there will be tens of thousands in the auto sector wondering if they might be next. And they live in critical battleground ridings in Southern Ontario that the Liberals cannot afford to lose.

For the moment, however, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer seems determined to save Mr. Trudeau from political embarrassment. He was handed an obvious political opportunity – a chance to criticize the Prime Minister for letting the iconic manufacturing plant be shuttered and to complain that the Liberals haven’t done enough to make Canada competitive. Instead, Mr. Scheer blamed the plant closure on carbon taxes, made a comment about deficits and bumbled through a news conference without making much of a point.

Yet Mr. Trudeau’s Liberals should still be worried. They plan to head into the 2019 election campaign taking credit for a relatively strong economy – telling Canadians, as Finance Minister Bill Morneau does, that “the plan is working.” But the plan was supposed to include an industrial strategy to keep those auto and aerospace jobs in Canada – and its credibility has taken a lot of hits.

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