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What will Liberals do about U.S. Steel? They're not saying yet

Two Ontario MPPs are calling on the new Liberal government to help U.S. Steel pensioners and unseal a 2011 deal between the steel maker and the federal government. But the Liberals are keeping mum on what exactly they plan to do about that.
The Liberals are keeping mum on their U.S. Steel-related plans until they are officially sworn in as the federal government. Meanwhile, two MPPs have written to leader Justin Trudeau asking for action. (Tucker Wilson/CBC)

Two MPPs are calling on the new Liberal government to help U.S. Steel Canada (USSC) pensioners and to unseal a 2011 deal between the steel maker and the federal government. But the Liberals are keeping mum on what exactly they plan to do about that.

Some have seen a change in government as a chance to change the tide on the USSC issue, and local Liberal candidates campaigned on that. Hamilton's mayor, Fred Eisenberger, and the U.S. Steel unions are among the voices urging the new government to step in to help the community and thousands of workers and pensioners dependant on the outcome of the restructuring process.

Last week, Paul Miller, an NDP MPP for Hamilton East-Stoney Creek, and Dave Levac, Liberal MPP for Brant, put that hope in writing when they penned a joint letter to Liberal leader Justin Trudeau.

The pair asked Trudeau whether he would enforce rules to restore USSC's employee pension funds to solvency. Currently, there's a pension shortfall and some 20,000 retirees are without health benefits as USSC restructures.

They also called on Trudeau to make a 2011 deal public between U.S. Steel and the federal government. The matter is currently in court, but the union, city and Hamilton opposition MPs have long pushed for the details. 

But the Liberals were quiet on the issue on Monday, saying the party wouldn't say anything until cabinet ministers are appointed on Tuesday.

"The Liberal party can't respond today," said spokesperson Olivier Duchesneau. "We have cabinet formation tomorrow so there will be a minister responsible for that file."

Bob Bratina, former Hamilton mayor and Liberal MP-elect for Hamilton East-Stoney Creek, isn't available to talk about it either, Duchesneau said. Bratina has spoken about it in the past, he said, and those words still stand.

Bratina did speak on the issue on election night on Oct. 19. The first U.S. Steel-related action, he said, will be to "gather with people in Ottawa and find out where we can go with especially wanting to open up the so-called secret deal."

"We'll have to have legal advice on it, of course. But it's only fair to the pensioners and people in crisis right now to understand first of all what happened, and second to understand what remedies we can take to mitigate the hardships that have been created."

​Filomena Tassi, Liberal MP-elect for Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas, spoke on the issue to CBC News on Sunday.

"We need to see what the terms of the (2011 agreement) say," she said. "Then we can decide what steps we are going to take.

"In terms of the steelworkers and advocating for them, I'm going to advocate to the best of my ability."

As for the agreement, "we need to wait to see what the court is going to rule here and that may solve it," she said. "That may open it up. And take it from there."

USSC is currently restructuring under the Companies Creditors Arrangement Act. A judge recently ruled that USSC can suspend health-care benefits to pensioners and property taxes, and that it can sever from its U.S. parent company. 

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