Roll out Canadian red carpet for automakers, say experts

Industry leaders gathered in the border city for an automotive summit designed to help lay the foundation for this country’s planned auto strategy.
A conference held in Windsor this week gave those in attendance their chance to share ideas on how Canada and Ontario can shape an auto strategy that will attract and maintain investment in that sector. (M. Spencer Green/Associated Press)

Before automakers reinvest in Canada with new production, governments here need to create a new generation of skilled workers, say several auto insiders visiting Windsor on Wednesday.

Industry leaders, unions, academics and politicians gathered in the border city for an automotive summit designed to help lay the foundation for this country's auto strategy.

Other countries have taken a lead role in attracting new investment, said Ray Tanguay, a former Toyota executive who is advising the federal and Ontario governments on auto matters.

He repeatedly held up Mexico as a prime example of how that country's government aggressively seeks out companies and works with them to set up shop. 

"It's a one-stop shop over there," he said, referring to the welcome mat put down by the Mexican government. "In our case, we negotiate, in [Mexico's] case they facilitate. We have to change that mindset. When those investors come here, we have to facilitate. We have to give them a concierge service."

Government assistance

Tanguay said the responsibility does not rest solely with the government. He urges companies to invest in workers and their facilities, but stressed the importance of eliminating investment barriers.

"Government has a role to play to try to facilitate investment, making sure that you make the environment as conducive [as you can] to business," he said. "Anything we bring to the table that is perceived as negative gets much more publicity than good news."

Deb Matthews, the MPP for London North Centre. (Canadian Press)

Ontario's government is prepared to do what it can to make the province more attractive for auto companies, said Deputy Premier Deb Matthews, the MPP for London North Centre. She was in Windsor to announce $7.8 million in funding for seven auto companies in the region.

Matthews recognizes the need to make investing in Ontario easier for auto companies.

"People currently have a lot of regulation to navigate," she said. "If somebody comes and they've got the idea and money to back it up, we're going to have a one-stop shop to help them navigate all of the regulations that get in their way."

Training skilled workers

Unifor National President Jerry Dias applauded workers at places like the Windsor Assembly Plant, but he says there is a lack of up-and-coming workers with the skills to produce vehicles that are just now entering the design phase.

"Where we're really lacking is apprenticeships. We need to start preparing the next generation of vehicles," he said. "Autonomous vehicles: What type of technology is that going to utilize? How do we train people? How do we make sure we have the necessary skilled trades to keep the plants running efficiently?"

St. Clair College president Patti France encourages new investment in academic automotive programs, suggesting Windsor's post-secondary schools have the ability to provide the sector with highly skilled workers. 

"If you provide the industries and businesses, St. Clair College will supply the knowledgeable, innovative people you need to operate those enterprises and make them successful," she said. "Between St. Clair College and the University of Windsor, we have the skilled workers aspect covered."