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Report On Business Auto-bailout money at peril in early stock sale, Auditor-General says

In this Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013, file photo, a buyer moves between rows of Ram pickup trucks and Dart sedans at a Dodge dealership in Littleton, Colo.

David Zalubowski/AP

About $4-billion of bailout money that helped rescue Chrysler Group LLC and General Motors Co. in 2009 will never be recovered if the federal and Ontario governments sell their remaining shares in GM soon.

That amount is less than the $6.6-billion the governments estimated they would have to write off when they put first put the loans on their books, according to an examination of the bailouts conducted by the Auditor-General of Canada in the first audit of the Canadian loans undertaken by any government agency.

The Auditor-General's report said the two governments have recovered $5.4-billion of the $13.7-billion they contributed to the bailouts that saved the two Detroit auto makers.

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They still hold preferred and common shares worth about $4.3-billion based on the closing price of $32.23 (U.S.) of GM shares on the New York Stock Exchange Tuesday, which leaves $4-billion (Canadian) as the potential final cost. The final cost will change depending on how much the governments receive for their 110 million common shares.

There is $1.15-billion loaned to Chrysler that will almost certainly never be recovered. Since the bailout, Chrysler has merged with Fiat to form Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. Sergio Marchionne, who is chief executive officer of both Chrysler and Fiat, said in Toronto earlier this year that repaying that debt is not the responsiblity of the restructured company, but of Old Carco LLC, which holds the Chrysler assets that were left in bankruptcy protection.

The governments have already sold some of the common shares in GM they were given in return for the loans, and both have said they plan to sell more in order to reduce their deficits.

The Auditor-General gave the bailout a generally passing grade considering that the "restructuring involved complex transactions, high uncertainty and tight time frames during its development and execution."

It noted, however, that Industry Canada did not insist on detailed information on how the two companies used the funds, which means the federal department "does not know to what extent the federal government's financial assistance contributed to the viability of Chrysler Canada and GM Canada."

Paul Boothe, who led the government negotiating team as associate deputy minister of Industry Canada during the bailouts said it's clear what would have happened had Canada and Ontario not joined in the U.S.-led bailout that totalled $80-billion.

"I'm absolutely certain that if we had not provided our assistance, there would be no GM or Chrysler Canada," Mr. Boothe said.

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The governments extracted production commitments from the two auto makers. Chrysler was required to retain 20 per cent of its North American production in Canada until 2011 and GM 16 per cent through 2016.

Chrysler is reinvesting in its Windsor, Ont. minivan plant, but there are questions about the future of another plant in Brampton, Ont. after it walked away earlier this year from negotiations with Ottawa and Ontario on new loans to reinvest in Canada.

GM Canada has not allocated new vehicles to its Oshawa, Ont. assembly plants, leading to fears that production will cease in that city later this decade.

Jerry Dias, president of Unifor, which represents 3,720 workers at the Oshawa plants, said Ottawa and Ontario should hang on to their shares of GM and use whatever leverage that creates to force the auto maker to reinvest in Oshawa.

The report said about $4-billion of the $10.85-billion that went to GM was earmarked to restore the financial health of the auto maker's Canadian pension plans. The pension plans are back in a deficit position, however, as of the latest actuarial report effective Sept. 1, 2013.

The combined deficit in the plans stood at $3.7-billion on a wind-up basis as of that date.

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