TPP will deliver another blow to Hamilton's steel industry, NDP says

On a day when 20,000 U.S. Steel pensioners are at risk of losing their health benefits, local NDP politicians are calling the new Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal another hit to Hamilton's steel industry.

Steelworkers are already waiting on a court decision Friday to hear if they lose pension health-care benefits

Andrea Horwath, Ontario NDP leader, says the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is another hit to Hamilton's steel industry. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

On a day when 20,000 U.S. Steel pensioners are at risk of losing their health benefits, local NDP politicians are calling the new Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal another hit to Hamilton's steel industry.

Steelworkers, pensioners and the city are already anxiously awaiting a judge's decision Friday about whether U.S. Steel Canada can sever from its parent company and get a reprieve from paying some pensioner health benefits and local property taxes.

The TPP is yet another hit against steel jobs, said Andrea Horwath, Hamilton Centre MPP and provincial NDP leader. And it has particularly painful timing.

"Stephen Harper has created even more uncertainty about the steel production in this city," Horwath said.

He sold out steelworkers, she said, by bending on the auto sector part of the deal, which involves 12 Pacific Rim countries.

If the TPP is ratified, a 6.1-per-cent levy on auto imports will be phased out over five years.

Cars would be allowed into Canada without tariffs as long as they have 45 per cent content from the TPP, lower than the 62.5 per cent threshold under the North America Free Trade Agreement. 

Harper recently pledged $1 billion in new funding over 10 years to help the auto sector deal with the change.

If elected, he said, his government would put the money in the Automotive Innovation Fund, which was originally created in the 2008 federal budget with $250 million over five years to help firms conduct large-scale research and development initiatives by providing automotive plants with repayable loans. 

The fund was renewed in 2013 with $250 million more but is set to expire in 2017-2018.

Under the revised fund, a company could receive a grant that would not have to be repaid if it, for example, establishes a new assembly line or a research and development wing that would create jobs. 

"We believe that this deal offers enormous benefits for the automobile sector," Harper told CBC News this week

"In fact, I would go to the other extreme, which is if we were outside this deal, that would be devastating to the sector."

But Horwath said Harper is "abandoning the auto sector."

Horwath and the federal candidates linked the TPP to the secret deal between the feds and U.S. Steel when the company bought Stelco in 2007.

The United Steelworkers Union tried to have the deal released, but in the end, a portion of one page was released. A judge recently ordered that the deal stay sealed.

"Secret deals seem to be a Conservative government specialty," she said.

Scott Duvall, Hamilton Mountain NDP candidate, said he's "spitting mad" – both about the TPP and the U.S. Steel Canada situation.

"Stephen Harper has shafted our community one more time," he said.

Meanwhile, U.S. Steel Canada is seeking an extension of its Companies Creditors' Arrangement Act (CCAA) bankruptcy protection. U.S. Steel Corp. wants to be cut loose from the future financial responsibilities of the Canadian operation. The judge expects to release a decision Friday.

The steelmaker is also asking to stop paying health benefits to roughly 20,000 pensioners and about $6 million per year in city taxes. It  has $40 million in pension benefit obligations before the end of this year that it says it can't afford.


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