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City council joins efforts to save GM plant

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

The new Oshawa city council is adding its name to the list of those who are not willing to accept the fate of the General Motors assembly plant’s planned closure.

At council’s first meeting, Ward 3 regional councillor Bob Chapman brought forward a motion requesting that the presidents of General Motors, General Motors Canada and Unifor meet with Mayor Dan Carter.

“It goes without saying that [the company’s plan] is a disappointment,” said Chapman.

“We know, especially folks who have lived in Oshawa all of our lives, that General Motors has been a big part of this city and its growth, and that having the assembly plant is important for our community and important for the workers. But not just the workers in General Motors, we have all those subsidiary companies in Durham Region and beyond that supply to General Motors.”

To Chapman, the local workforce in Oshawa has proven itself time after time.

“We’ve hear all the time, and we’ve heard in all the years gone by, of all the quality awards the workforce in Oshawa at the assembly plant has won, and all the innovative things that have been done at the assembly plant to continue production.”

Part of the reasoning given for the local plant closure is that General Motors will be focusing more resources to “electric and autonomous vehicles.”

“Electric vehicles need to be assembled and guess what, we have a successful assembly plant and an amazing workforce right here in Oshawa and around Durham Region,” Chapman added.

Ward 5 regional councillor Brian Nicholson said the city has “done our share, we’ve made the investment in the company.”

“We’ve seen numerous investments by the citizens and taxpayers of Oshawa, Ontario and the federal government, including the bailout, which literally saved the company,” he observed.

He referenced a statement made by Oshawa MPP Jennifer French that it wasn’t General Motors that made Oshawa, but Oshawa made General Motors.

“The workers in the city, generation after generation, have given their sweat, their effort, and their blood…they’ve strived tremendously to create the product that General Motors is now known to sell,” said Nicholson. He added that GM “has to understand that Oshawa is not going to roll over and play dead, we are not going to walk away.”

“You can’t simply walk away from 100 years of investment in the company, pocket your money and leave. I don’t recall anybody suggesting many years ago, decades ago, that we were going to invest in General Motors in order to create new jobs and invest in Mexico,” he said.

The Ward 5 rep says the Canada-U.S. Automotive Products Agreement, which expired in 2001, was a perfect example of protecting local workers and the interests of the country.

“At one time, if you wanted to sell a car in this country, you had to build the equivalent amount of cars in this country. It is time that this council, and governments at all levels, go back to that arrangement.”

Ward 5 city councillor John Gray said the first rule of economic development is “preserve what you got.”

However, he warned the city should not put all its eggs in the General Motors-basket.

“While I’m an optimist at heart, I want to see General Motors stay here, I want to find that way or hook to get them to stay here…[but] if we pursue this strategy only, we could be in jeopardy of missing out,” he said.

The province needs to make the transportation of goods and services more efficient to make Ontario more attractive and feasible for companies such as General Motors, Ward 1 regional councillor John Neal believes.

“The Stevenson Road overpass was put in place by the property taxpayers, not the province,” Neal said. “We saved the province a chunk of money buy having it in place years before the province wanted to do it because we wanted to keep General Motors here.”

He called for the removal of tolls on the 412 and future 418 as a way to fix the 401 corridor in southern Ontario.

Carter said he was “quite taken back” by the announcement, but the importance of the assembly plant has been clear in numerous meetings since then.

He called Oshawa’s facility the most innovative in the General Motors family and local workers “should have the chance to bid, secure and build the next generation of automobiles.”