Ontario Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne and Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak are offering contrasting views on how best to help the auto industry prosper in the province.
Wynne was in Windsor on Wednesday, touting the importance of Ontario's auto sector.
She promised her party would to continue to work with and invest in auto manufacturers and suppliers should it form the next government. Ontarians head to the polls June 12.
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"The auto sector is fundamental to this region but it’s also fundamental to Ontario,” Wynne said, speaking at Omega Tool, an auto parts supplier.
Omega was previously a recipient of $440,000 in provincial money. The grant was part of a $4.5-million expansion.
Dave Cecchin, president of Omega, said the grant helped create 10 “highly skilled jobs.”
“There is a direct connection between government and business … and the creation of jobs,” Wynne said.
Wynne claimed that the Liberal government’s $4.8-billion investment in GM and Chrysler during the 2008 recession saved 95,000 jobs.
"Our approach is to partner with industry to create jobs to help our auto sector compete," Wynne said.
Chrysler became 'political football'
Earlier this year, Chrysler LCC broke off talks with the province and Ottawa. The company was looking for financial assistance to help retool its Ontario plants, including the Windsor Assembly Plant in Windsor.
The talks ended not long after Hudak accused Chrysler of asking for "ransom."
"His comments are reckless. That undermined a strong discussion that was going on," Wynne claimed Wednesday.
Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne said at the time the issue had become "a political football."
After talks ended, Chrysler said it will "fund out of its own resources whatever capital requirements the Canadian operations require."
"At the end of the day, Chrysler said they are going to invest in the Windsor plant; they're going to invest in the Brampton plant,” Hudak said Wednesday while speaking in Cobourg. “That's a testament to the skill of our workers and the taxpayers save $700 million. Sounds like a good deal to me."
Wynne still promised to work with Chrysler and other suppliers.
"Our approach is to partner with industry to create jobs to help our auto sector compete. We are there for you," Wynne said to the auto sector. "He would say 'you’re on your own.'"
Hudak on Wednesday outlined how his own plan to help the auto industry compete.
“Lower taxes, more affordable energy, a focus on the skilled trades, that's how we're going to have a manufacturing comeback in the province of Ontario and I'm excited about it,” Hudak said. “I understand why companies are going to ask for handouts, because the Liberal government is in the handout business.
“The problem is, they tend to reward the well-connected, those who hire the fancy Liberal lobbyists and others get stuck paying the bills.”
Mayors call for strategy
Cecchin said the Liberals were “very pragmatic” in determining who gets government funding.
“You have to justify if you’re asking for support,” he said. “You have to make your case.”
When NDP Leader Andrea Horwath visited Windsor two weeks ago, she also said she would support government assistance for businesses.
"We prefer rewarding those companies that are actually creating jobs in Ontario. Create a job, you get a tax credit,” Horwath said. “It doesn’t make sense to throw money at companies with no strings attached.”
Horwath, who noted she is the daughter of an autoworker, said she spoke to Chrysler officials after those talks broke off.
She said on Wednesday that Hudak’s ransom comments “rocked the auto sector significantly.”
“It's quite clear that those good jobs belong in Ontario. We have the skilled workers. We have the capacity. But we also have to be making sure that we're providing the partnerships necessary to keep the investments here and grow the investments here,” Horwath said in Brampton, home to a Chrysler plant. “I believe that the government of this province needs to be very active in maintaining and expanding the opportunities in the auto sector.
“That does mean sitting down with these companies and getting a sense of what other jurisdictions are offering in terms of incentives. What [can] Ontario offer over and above our skilled workforce and our capacity to put out excellent product?”
Also Wednesday, the Auto Mayors of Ontario, a group of 17 mayors with auto industry plants in their jurisdictions, wrote an open letter to all party leaders.
"We call on Ontario’s political leaders to formally state their strategy and plan for maintaining and expanding the automotive industry," the letter read in part.
"Historically, Ontario has a strong history of partnering with business and labour to boost its auto industry's competitiveness. This partnership has succeeded in positioning Ontario's industry as leading North American auto production in nine of the last ten years, employing well over 400,000 Ontarians, and pumping nearly $13 billion into our economy annually," the mayors' letter said.