Doug Ford, federal Liberals trade blame over Bombardier layoffs in Thunder Bay
'There's nothing but chaos, confusion and paralyzation,' at Queen's Park, employment minister says
Ontario Premier Doug Ford and the federal Liberal government are locked in a war of words over who is responsible for hundreds of layoffs at a Bombardier plant in the northwestern Ontario city of Thunder Bay.
Employment Minister Patty Hajdu, who represents the area in Parliament, fired the first shot Wednesday morning with a news release saying the Ontario premier "sat on his hands and made empty promises" about projects that would have given the workers more things to build and helped to stave off the 550 layoffs — roughly half of the plant's total workforce.
The plant makes vehicles for the commuter rail GO Transit network and the Toronto Transit Commission. Bombardier has said the layoffs are necessary because contracts for the GO and TTC vehicles will come to an end in a few weeks' time. It also cited Buy America provisions for infrastructure projects in the U.S., which demand products be made stateside, as another source of its troubles.
Ford said the province has a $28.5-billion plan to expand transit but Ottawa hasn't come through with a financial commitment of its own to support that work. In addition, Ford said he moved up a contract for GO Transit trains worth some $130 million to help keep the plant open.
"I haven't seen hide nor hair from the federal government," Ford said. "Where is their money? They've done absolutely nothing to support these people in Thunder Bay. We have a plan sitting there that can keep these people employed."
Vic Fedeli, Ontario's minister of economic development, said Hajdu has been "missing in action" for her constituents.
"While Ontario has met with Bombardier, Unifor, and offered to purchase $100 million of vehicles from the plant in the last month, where was Minister Hajdu?" he said. "She's been missing in action, not engaging with her provincial counterparts, and instead blaming everyone but herself and the federal government."
'There's nothing but chaos, confusion and paralyzation'
But Ottawa maintains infrastructure cash has been on offer for months and the Ontario government simply hasn't come through with an actual, fully formed proposal to tap federal funds for Toronto transit initiatives.
In a letter sent today to Laurie Scott, Ontario's minister of infrastructure, federal Infrastructure Minister François Philippe Champagne said there is $8.3 billion on offer from the federal government for Ontario transit projects, including $4.9 billion for Toronto and $593 million for MetroLinx, the provincially owned Crown corporation that operates GO. The rollout of those funds depends on "full applications and project details" from the province, Champagne wrote.
Hajdu said Ford's comments are nothing but "empty words" and she was disappointed to see the premier "misleading Ontarians" about federal support for these industrial workers. Hajdu said she has been pressuring her provincial counterparts to make infrastructure funding requests to keep the Thunder Bay workers employed.
She said while there is a joint federal-Ontario infrastructure funding agreement — the cost-sharing agreement has been on the books since March 2018 — there hasn't been an application from the Progressive Conservative government at Queen's Park for money to buy new vehicles or expand transit lines in Toronto, which would give Bombardier workers something to build.
"There's nothing but chaos, confusion and paralyzation ... there's complete confusion in the province as to what they're actually proposing," Hajdu said of the Ford government in an interview with CBC News Network.
"They've been draggling their heels. Calling a recess five months before a federal election signals to me this government just isn't up to the job. They say they're for the people, but they're taking an extended leave while people suffer, while 550 families in Thunder Bay sit in a state of uncertainty and fear as a result of these layoffs," she said, citing the Ford's government decision to recess the legislature for an extra-long summer break that will last until after the October federal election.
The Ford government, elected in June 2018, submitted a list in May of 49 infrastructure projects in northern and remote areas that it would like to see built with federal support.
The Ontario government also has sought federal money to begin work on Toronto expansions like the proposed Yonge-North subway extension, the Ontario Line (relief line) project in Toronto's east end, improvements to the highly congested Bloor-Yonge station, an extension of mass transit in Scarborough and the SmartTrack commuter line as part of Toronto Mayor John Tory's transit plan. Those projects are part of the $28.5-billion transit plan Ford cited.
But Ottawa has said that, to this point, it has not received any formal applications or the business cases required for federal review and approval of these five major initiatives.
Champagne has called the Toronto expansions "more a presentation than a plan" and a series of "flashy pictures."