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Steelworkers to Trudeau: Where are the feds on the Stelco deal?

Representatives from United Steelworkers locals 1005 and 8782 are in Ottawa Tuesday to ask Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to be part of negotiating the possible Stelco sale.

Union reps are in Ottawa to ask PM to be "at the table" as Stelco terms are worked out

Union presidents Bill Ferguson and Gary Howe, in front of a march in January 2016, represent thousands of active and retired steelworkers affected by the sale of the former Stelco plants in Lake Erie and Hamilton to U.S. Steel in 2007. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

Representatives from United Steelworkers locals 1005 and 8782 are in Ottawa Tuesday to ask Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to be part of negotiating the possible Stelco sale.

"How come the federal government is absolutely nowhere to be seen?" said Bill Ferguson, who represents active and retired steelworkers at the Lake Erie Stelco plant. 

"We want the feds at the table, talking to us about what they intend, not hiding and waiting for the deal to be cut and then turning around and dropping on the table what they want to happen," Ferguson said. 

Mulcair: Trudeau 'missing in action'

NDP leader Tom Mulcair called Trudeau "missing in action" in question period Tuesday, asking about the federal government's distance from the process of selling Stelco to Bedrock.

NDP leader Tom Mulcair called Prime Minister Justin Trudeau 'missing in action' on the proposed Stelco deal that affects pensioners. 0:49

Trudeau said his government is "engaged" in the process and that "we're focused on working with them to try and develop solutions."

But Ferguson, representing Lake Erie workers, said that the federal government, especially industry minister Navdeep Bains, hasn't come near the process, telling the unions that the matter is before the courts.

Ferguson is frustrated by that answer.

"The province is saying that the feds are not involved, the feds are saying that they can't get involved but in the meantime there are things going on that are directly in the purview of the federal government," Ferguson said.

MP Scott Duvall, himself a retired steelworker and also the NDP pension critic, raised a follow-up question to Bains.

MP Scott Duvall pushed Minister Navdeep Bains on Tuesday in Question Period about the federal government's absence from negotiations on a sale of Stelco. 2:41

The federal government could have some say in a couple of areas in the proposed sale of Stelco. The company is formally asking a judge this week for permission to enter into a sale agreement with Bedrock Industries.

The federal government would play a role if the deal progresses, in approving foreign investment in a Canadian company, for one. And part of the deal is developing the current brownfield lands not being used as part of Stelco in Hamilton, on the waterfront. 

If the federal government wants those to be part of the Hamilton Port Authority— a federal body — the locals want to know about it.

Liberals backed away from promise to open 'secret deal'

Though the Liberal government slammed the Conservatives' handling of the sale of the company to U.S. Steel, the Trudeau government said last spring it wouldn't open up the "secret deal" struck between the previous federal administration and U.S. Steel.

New signs bearing the Stelco name popped up on the Hamilton Works site formerly known as U.S. Steel Canada earlier this month. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

Ferguson said he doesn't want a repeat of that mess.

Transcript of exchanges on Stelco questions

Mulcair: "During the last election this Prime Minister promised that if elected he would help protect the workers and pensioners of insolvent U.S. Steel.

Yet here we are in the midst of an historic purchase agreement of U.S. Steel where pension and benefit cuts are on the line and the Prime Minister is missing in action.

What does the Prime Minister intend to do for a retired Stelco worker who spent 40 years in a blast furnace and stands to lose his health benefits?"

Trudeau: "We understand how difficult the situation is for many workers across this country and indeed, the workers at the Stelco plant, and that's why we're focused on working with them to try and develop solutions. We are engaged. We are aware of this challenge. And it is one that we are working with them on."

NDP pensions critic and Hamilton Mountain MP Scott Duvall raised a follow-up question. 

Duvall: "Mr. Speaker, I wonder if the Prime Minister really knows what is going on with U.S. Steel from his answer he gave earlier. During the campaign, Liberals promised U.S. Steel employees and retirees that employers must honour commitments and quote "pensioners must be included in any consultation and planning process" 

Yet today, the United Steelworkers are forced to come to Ottawa to once again ask this government to come to the table.

The impending sale of US Steel gives no guarantees that pensions, health benefits and wages will be protected.

Hamiltonians are asking "what is wrong with this government"?  With the United Steelworkers in the room, why is the government refusing to help the 20,000 plus who stand to be hurt by this deal?"

Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains: "As [Duvall] knows, our government recognizes Canadian steel producers to be world-class and that is why we're engaged on this file. It is very important to our manufacturing sector and our innovation agenda going forward. 

The member knows the proceedings are still before the courts, but I hope for a fair and successful resolution and we are committed to the region and we are committed to the sector. We're very much engaged, Mr. Speaker."

Bains said he's "working very closely" with the Liberal MPs who represent Hamilton and Burlington. 

Hamilton Centre MP David Christopherson responded to Bains' comments.

"No, no, you're not doing it," he said. 

The speaker of the house chastised Christopherson.

"The member for Hamilton Centre will come to order."