Union, MPs call for federal investment into microchip manufacturing

After months of layoffs and a global chip shortage, union members and MPs are calling on the federal government to invest in microchip manufacturing here in Canada to avoid off-shore supply chain issues.

'Skate to where the puck is going, not to where it's been,' says chair of semi-conductor council

Emile Nabbout, president of Unifor Local 195, says investments into microchip manufacturing should be made to build the product in Canada, particularly in Windsor. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

A local labour union is calling on the federal government to step in and start investing in microchip manufacturing in Canada.

Emile Nabbout, president of the Unifor Local 195, which represents 22 feeder plants for the auto industry, says Ottawa needs to work with a private firm to create a microchip production facility in Windsor so production no longer relies on offshore plants. 

"It would be something we could do as a Canadian-made product," said Nabbout.

The call comes amid a global microchip shortage that has significantly hurt Canada's automotive sector.

Employees of the Stellantis Windsor Assembly Plant returned to work on Monday after a year of sporadic employment, all due to the chip shortage. The plant, which employs around 5,000 people, has been in production for a total of 12 weeks this year. 

Windsor West NDP MP Brian Masse is in favour of Canadian chip manufacturing because it is transferable technology that could lead to other operations. He suggests the country needs a mass manufacturing strategy with an auto component in order to stay relevant in the industry.  

In June, the U.S. Senate passed a $52-billion bill to allow for domestic manufacturing of semi-conductors. Companies such as Intel and TSMC have begun building in Arizona. Masse said Canada missed an opportunity. 

"What we should have been doing was partnering but we don't have a strategy on this. That's the problem. Without having a national auto strategy, we drift away from opportunities," Masse said. 

Windsor West NDP MP Brian Masse says the federal government should invest in microchip manufacturing and create a national strategy for the automotive sector. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

Sarah Prevette, chair of Canada's Semi-conductor Council, agrees that Canada should invest in a national strategy, but she says its focus should be on the future. 

"Part of that needs to look at the current shortage and getting people back to work, and then there needs to be additional funds put aside for investing in innovation and allowing us to build and scale talent here in Canada around chip design and fabrication and testing," Prevette said. 

She cautions against investing in current chip manufacturing due to changes in the industry and recommends being prepared for a future supply chain in hybrid technology and battery-powered electric vehicles.

"In general, most of the production that we're doing here is reliant on older chips," she said. "I think we need to be looking ahead at where the industry is going, what's coming down the pipe and how do we align ourselves up for that future," Prevette said. 

WATCH | Sarah Prevette discusses how Canada can have a competitive advantage in chip manufacturing

Sarah Prevette is with Canada's Semiconductor Council

4 months ago
Duration 1:15
Sarah Prevette says there's no easy fix to the shortage of microchips in Canada and that manufacturing them here would take a hefty investment. 1:15

Masse stressed the importance of chip manufacturing, not only for Canada's automotive industry but for future technology as well. 

"If anything doesn't show you a national auto strategy is needed, you just have to look at how we're declining in manufacturing, declining in jobs, how investment is going into the United States and to Mexico and other parts of the world and we're missing major components being battery procurement and also chip procurement," Masse said.

"Those are key components and we won't have a future if we don't have a strategy."

Chris Lewis, the Conservative MP for Essex, said he will work with U.S. counterparts and across party lines to "ensure that Essex-Windsor is the world class destination for innovation and manufacturing."

"In my role as the Chair of the Conservative auto caucus, I understand the detrimental impact the chip shortage is having on, not only the auto industry and advanced manufacturing, but the car dealerships, as well," Lewis said in a statement.

CBC News has reached out to Windsor-Tecumseh Liberal MP Irek Kusmierczyk for comment but did not receive a statement by time of publication.

With files by Dale Molnar


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