The minivan is safe in Windsor, if you believe Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne. But is the auto sector as a whole safe in Ontario? We posed that question and others to Liberal leadership candidate Kathleen Wynne.
The two frontrunners in the Ontario Liberal leadership race both plan to bend the ear of high-ranking auto executives should they become premier.
Former Windsor West MPP Sandra Pupatello and current Don Valley West MPP Kathleen Wynne are running first and second in the race.
Both this week stressed the importance the auto industry has in Ontario and Windsor, in particular, where nearly 5,000 people work at Chrysler’s Windsor Assembly Plant.
Pupatello said Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne, for example, is "well aware of my views and expectations for Ontario."
"I do want to hear him talk about the commitment to the asset base he has here," Pupatello said. "I want to see [that at] the Windsor minivan van plant, for example, there is solid activity and discussion going on there that if they ever move from [building] that product, they’ll continue to use that assembly plant."
Monday at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Marchionne said he would not "negotiate ... on the air" a provincial investment in the auto industry.
He did said Chrysler will be looking for assistance "that will make sure this is the least costly solution to the problem Chrysler has in terms of replacing the minivan."
Wynne wouldn’t comment on potential auto sector assistance but did say "we’ve done it before."
"It’s a very important sector to us," she said.
Minister of Economic Development and Innovation, Brad Duguid, said last week the auto sector accounts for 20 per cent of Ontario's manufacturing base and 450,000 jobs.
Wynne said, as Duguid did last week, that automakers have "conversations going on with the government."
I’m not privy to that conversation, but my door is going to be open [if I’m premier]," Wynne said. "I’ll be very interested in sitting down with the sector and asking, ‘what are the conditions that need to be in place to see the industry go forward?’"
Wynne wants to "put conditions in place to help automotive and new manufacturing thrive."
Pupatello took a similar position.
"I’m excited about the idea that I may well be able to call [Marchionne] as premier and say, ‘it’s time to talk about the future,’" Pupatello said.
Pupatello said Ottawa’s recent renewal of the $250-million Automotive Innovation Fund "bodes well for us."
"There was a time when no one believed there was no way we’d get the federal government to participate with us in the sector," she said. "I’m excited for the potential of being premier and adding some juice to the conversation."
Pupatello also said she "believes in the advanced manufacturing sector" in general.
She and Wynne both said Ontario needs to promote the quality of its workforce.
"We don't want a right-to-work state. We don't want the kind of state like Tennessee or Georgia, which don't have the diversity that we have," Pupatello said. "That's why I'm back in hte race. That's why I want to win this election."