Windsor

Ontario currently without a 'car czar' auto adviser as tariff threats loom

CBC News has learned the 'car czar' is no more. Ray Tanguay, a former Toyota Canada executive who was appointed to help the industry and advise governments, is no longer in the role. It's unclear if he will be replaced.

Province, feds appointed Ray Tanguay in 2015, but he's been out of the role since March

Ray Tanguay, former chair of Toyota Canada and automotive advisor to the federal and Ontario governments, is no longer the 'car czar.' But it's unclear if either level of government plan on replacing him. (Kate Dubinski/CBC News)

It was a position designed to champion Ontario's auto industry — so important a sector, that the Wynne Liberals teamed up with the Conservative federal government to create the so-called "car czar" position in 2015.

They chose Ray Tanguay, a former executive with Toyota Canada, to help the industry expand and thrive, as well as to advise both levels of government. 

But now, CBC News has learned the car czar is no more.

Tanguay's advisory role with the province ended in late March under the Liberals, and it's unclear if Ontario's Conservative government under Premier Doug Ford will be replacing him.

"The government has not been up front with us about who they are considering," said Waterloo MPP Catherine Fife, who is the NDP's critic for economic development.

"We do need someone who knows the industry who is willing to navigate through the various stakeholders and who brings a calmness to a very volatile situation."

NDP critic for economic development Catherine Fife said she has not received a clear response from the Ford government on whether the position will be filled. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

"A car czar is an individual who can really give insight to politicians with reference to how the auto industry could be affected — whether it be through tariffs, design, or productivity — but give them an idea of what the importance is of jobs in our community," said Dino Chiodo, national auto director for Unifor. 

Chiodo, who once represented thousand of workers at the Windsor Assembly Plant, said the advisory position is critically important to the sustainability of the sector. He said the car czar's recommendations for the future are what would keep the industry profitable, and losing the position sends a clear message. 

"When you take an individual like Tanguay out of the system … it really speaks to the fact that you don't think that the auto industry is important, that you don't believe that the jobs are necessarily required, or you think you have the expertise to deal with it."

Unclear if a replacement will be chosen

In an emailed statement to CBC, a spokesperson for Ontario's Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade said the government is "thankful" for Tanguay's years of service. When asked if Tanguay would be replaced, the ministry responded with this:

"The government is focused on supporting Ontario's automotive industry ... The Minister is committed to working with the Government of Canada, Ontario businesses and Ontario's U.S. partners, to advance our shared priorities of protecting and creating jobs and supporting a business environment that spurs innovation and growth."

The federal Ministry of Innovation, Science and Economic Development did not respond to CBC's requests regarding Tanguay's replacement at the time this article was published. It's unclear if the federal level of government is committed to the advisory role. 

Navigating tariff-threatened waters

Fife said she is concerned about the position being lost as U.S. President Donald Trump's tariff threats loom over the industry that accounts for "one fifth of Ontario's GDP." 

"I think we can all agree that the situation with regards to the tariffs that Mr. Trump is threatening Ontario and Canada with is an incredibly volatile situation and the automotive sector — as everyone knows — is a huge job creator for this country," she said. 

Although Chiodo believes the position is an important one, especially during a Trump administration, he said the car czar has to "have teeth" when it comes to making actual change that could benefit the sector. 

"The reality is they called him a 'car czar' but all he was doing was giving advice. You still have to rely on the politicians receiving that advice to act on what his opinions are and what he believes should be done," he said. 

Workers arrive for their shift at the Chrysler (FCA) assembly Plant in Windsor, Ont., on Tuesday, June 12, 2018. (Geoff Robins/Canadian Press)

In January of this year, Tanguay released a automotive advisory report, which outlined "actions for the future" that would look to sustain the industry in a "period of unprecedented disruption," with an expectation that legislative bodies would understand and potentially take action. 

Those recommendations included promoting technology in manufacturing, fostering the talent to support that technology and investing in infrastructure. The goals were designed to give Canada an edge, or at least stay relevant, against global competitors. 

Some of those recommendations could unfold in the coming months or years, said Peter Frise, director of the Centre for Automotive Research and Education at the University of Windsor. But outside influences can be a factor when it comes to seeing change in a more immediate sense.

"Canada doesn't exist in isolation in these matters, so developments in the United Sates can certainly change how things go on or how things happen in Canada and what makes sense to implement," said Frise. 

"Just because a recommendation was made some months ago, changing events elsewhere in the world can make that recommendation not valid anymore." 

About the Author

Kaitie Fraser

Reporter/Editor

Kaitie Fraser is a reporter at CBC Windsor. Email Kaitie.Fraser@cbc.ca

With file from Nathan Swinn