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Holding onto hope for the future

Green Jobs Oshawa held a rally outside of the GM assembly plant to push the idea of public ownership of the facility, and converting it into a manufacturing hub for electric vehicles. (Photo by Dave Flaherty)

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

The last vehicle is rolling off the production line at Oshawa’s GM assembly plant this week, but there is a local contingent who believe auto manufacturing still has a future in the city.

Green Jobs Oshawa held a rally directly across from the assembly plant on Wednesday, Dec. 18 – the day production was scheduled to wrap up.

The organization is a coalition of workers, community leaders, environmentalists, labour and social justice advocates

Since the company and Unifor came to a final agreement for the shuttering of the plant in May, Green Jobs Oshawa has been pushing for public ownership of the plant, with the hope of converting it into a manufacturing hub for electric vehicles and other sustainable products.

Speaking to media, Tony Leah of Green Jobs Oshawa, also a member of Unifor Local 222, said General Motors hasn’t shown any interest in their plans as of yet.

He also noted some disappointment as Jerry Dias, national president of Unifor, wasn’t present for the rally.

“He’s not doing enough to support the vision we are proposing,” Leah said of Dias, who was at the plant a few days prior.

Oshawa MPP Jennifer French said the event was “a chance for Green Jobs Oshawa to rally and say there is a next chapter and to call on the province and call on the feds to be a part of what that [next chapter] can be.”

“It’s a brutal time for the community [but] we have a huge facility, we have a skilled workforce, so there’s potential,” French added.

However, French said she has more faith in the community than the Ford government to move things forward.

“If the government looked and saw the potential…electric vehicles are the future, why can’t we look to make that happen here,” she said.

Mayor Dan Carter believes should Green Jobs Oshawa’s vision come true, it would be a “wonderful story” for the city following the heartbreak surrounding the plant’s closure.

Carter added the federal government has to take a long look at how Canada will compete in the global manufacturing market, and he plans to travel to Ottawa soon to share that message with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other party leaders.

Ward 5 city councillor and former mayor John Gray was in attendance at the rally.

He recalled how the provincial and federal governments had bailed out GM during the recession of 2008-09, but sold off any shares in the company soon after.

Gray believes this wiped out any bargaining position they would have had to stop the closure.

“If we still had representatives on the board, I don’t know if this particular decision would have been made,” he explained.

Gray said there are some in the local union who believe there may be a “turnaround” in a few years, and some sort of assembly work will return to the city.

While he doesn’t believe Oshawa will ever see the glory days of GM again, the veteran councillor said he wants to have a positive outlook and is hopeful auto manufacturing will return in some shape or form one day.