Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Worried about foreign workers, Conservatives demand details of $15B Honda EV deal | CBC News

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Conservative MPs are pushing Ottawa to release details of its agreement with Honda Canada to build a sprawling electric vehicle operation in southern Ontario — disclosure they say is necessary to ensure Canadians get all the jobs in the multi-billion-dollar project.

The push for transparency comes after Canada’s Building Trades Union (CBTU) wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier this month asking him to intervene on another EV project, the NextStar plant in Windsor, Ont. that’s backed by Chrysler parent company Stellantis and Korean firm LG.

The union said foreign workers are displacing Canadian labourers at the NextStar construction site while 180 local millwrights and ironworkers are unemployed and available to perform the necessary work.

“Canadian workers are now being replaced by international workers at an increasing pace, on work that was previously assigned to Canadian workers,” wrote Sean Strickland, CBTU’s executive director, in an April 10 letter to Trudeau. 

WATCH | PM commits to working to ensure most jobs from Honda deal go to Canadians

PM commits to working to ensure most jobs from Honda deal go to Canadians

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tells the Canada’s Building Trades Unions annual conference that his government has been ‘pushing on the plants’ to ensure that construction, installation and maintenance work is conducted by Canadians ‘as much as is humanly possible.’

“Canadian workers are being sidelined without consequence. This is a slap in the face to Canadian workers and utterly unacceptable from LG and Stellantis, particularly when their shareholders stand to benefit from more than $15 billion in generous tax incentives from the Government of Canada.”

At the House of Commons’ government operations committee Monday, Conservative MP Rick Perkins pounced on the union’s letter, saying the federal government shouldn’t allow taxpayer-subsidized projects to employ foreign nationals.

Perkins said that, after reviewing the NextStar contract, he found Ottawa did not secure enough protections for Canadian construction workers who will build the plant.

“‘Hire Canadian workers’ … It doesn’t say that. It would have been pretty simple to put that in the contract — hire Canadian workers only. How much are Canadians going to have to pay to employ these foreign replacement workers while 180 people are sitting unemployed in Windsor?” Perkins said.

Perkins said he doesn’t want to see a repeat of this situation at the Honda site in Alliston, Ont., which, after $5 billion in joint funding from the federal and provincial governments last week, will start construction soon.

Perkins, the party’s industry critic, said he wants MPs to review the contract to verify that the federal and provincial governments secured a commitment to hire Canadian workers before handing over public funds.

“Release the Honda information. Transparency is the best disinfectant. What else are they hiding?” Perkins said. “Make it public. I don’t trust the government.”

Two attempts to force the government to produce the documents — there were separate motions at the industry and government operations committees — failed to get enough support Monday.

Liberal MP Irek Kusmierczyk said the government opposes releasing the Honda contract because it contains sensitive business information that could jeopardize Canada’s attempts to secure other EV plants.

70 foreigners working at NextStar job site

There are about 70 foreigners working at the NextStar job site, according to government data. That’s a relatively small number compared to the 2,000 Canadian construction workers who are working alongside them to get the Windsor plant up and running.

That plant, when fully operational, will employ about 2,500 Canadian manufacturing workers to build EV batteries, the government and the plant’s owners have said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, and Ontario Premier Doug Ford, centre, work along the vehicle assembly line before at an event announcing plans for a Honda electric vehicle battery plant in Alliston, Ont., on Thursday, April 25, 2024.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, and Ontario Premier Doug Ford, centre, work along the vehicle assembly line before at an event announcing plans for a Honda electric vehicle battery plant in Alliston, Ont., on Thursday, April 25, 2024. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Speaking at a CBTU conference in Gatineau, Que. on Monday, Trudeau assured Strickland in a fireside chat that he would “absolutely” ensure that construction jobs go to Canadians.

Strickland said his union “still has issues” with NextStar.

“We need your support to make sure they make good on their promises to Canadians. It’s not about animosity towards a foreign worker,” he said.

“We will be there to support you every step of the way. We need to make sure there are as many Canadian workers as possible — if not almost all Canadian workers — doing the construction and maintenance and installation,” Trudeau said.

WATCH | ‘Release the contracts’: Conservative MP calls for transparency on EV deals

‘Release the contracts’: Conservative MP calls for transparency on EV deals

Nova Scotia Conservative MP Rick Perkins calls for the release of information on recent EV deals in Canada, including how many foreign workers will be involved in building these plants. This comes days after the federal and Ontario governments announced a deal with Honda to build 4 new EV plants in Ontario.

A spokesperson for International Trade Minister Mary Ng told CBC News that she met with the leadership of LG Energy Solutions in South Korea last week and “raised the issue of using foreign workers for jobs at their NextStar plant.”

“LGES reiterated its commitment to ensuring the plant’s 2,500 full-time jobs are filled with Canadian workers,” the spokesperson said.

“As confirmed by NextStar, less than four per cent of the workforce on the site currently are temporary foreign workers. Our government is committed to maximizing Canadian jobs and Canadian workers.”

WATCH | Liberal MP says Conservatives ‘are playing games’ with Honda EV deal

Liberal MP says Conservatives ‘are playing games’ with Honda EV deal

Ontario Liberal MP Irek Kusmierczyk tells a parliamentary committee that ‘we should not be playing games with people’s jobs.’ Conservatives MPs at the committee were pushing for details about recent EV deals made public.

Kusmierczyk, who represents Windsor in the Commons, said the government is working with NextStar to ensure as many construction jobs as possible go to Canadian labourers.

“We want to maximize Canadian workers at every turn and every opportunity,” he said, adding Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne also has been in contact with NextStar’s president and has insisted that Canadians take priority.

Kusmierczyk said there are some tasks that require specialized foreign workers from Korea who have decades of experience with building structures like the NextStar plant.

Koreans are installing specialized equipment and are engaged in “knowledge transfer.”

“Canada does not have the expertise of building battery plants. We’re trying to build a brand new industry here in Canada so it stands to reason that there will be workers from Korea,” Kusmierczyk said. “Korea — they’re a world leader in battery technology.”

WATCH | ‘Historic’ Honda EV investment will boost economy for generations, says Trudeau 

Ontario gave Honda $2.5B in tax incentives to secure EV deal. Is it worth it?

Jean Marc Leclerc, Honda Canada’s president and CEO, says the $2.5B incentive Ontario gave from the investment tax credit helped secure the deal because it is ‘guaranteed support.’ Vic Fedeli, the province’s economic development minister, says the deal will create a ‘significant’ number of manufacturing jobs at multiple sites in Ontario.

Kusmierczyk said the Conservatives are trying to downplay a “good news story” because the Liberal government has secured some $50 billion in investments to revitalize the once-dormant Canadian auto industry.

“Eight years ago, under the Conservative government, 300,000 manufacturing jobs were lost in Canada. The Liberal government is building the electric vehicle heartland of North America right here in this community,” he said.

“We should not be playing games with peoples’ jobs. We should not be playing games with working class communities like mine that have gone through hell,” he said.

Honda has stressed that it wants to use as many local labourers as possible at its forthcoming EV battery plant and the other sites it has planned in Ontario.

WATCH | Ontario gave Honda $2.5B in tax incentives to secure EV deal. Is it worth it? 

‘Historic’ Honda EV investment will boost economy for generations, says Trudeau

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau praised Honda’s $15-billion EV investment as an example of ‘Canada building the kinds of solutions the world needs’ before taking aim at his rivals, and suggested the announcement would not have happened under a Conservative government.

In an interview with CBC’s Rosemary Barton Live, Honda Canada’s president said he’s “very aware of what went on” at NextStar with some jobs going to foreign nationals.

“For sure, this is not something that we want to entertain,” Jean Marc Leclerc said.

Leclerc said he wants to craft some sort of “memorandum of understanding” with Canada’s Building Trades Union to reiterate Honda’s commitment that “Canadians will have these construction jobs.”

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