Politics

Trudeau, Singh target auto sector votes with different takes on new NAFTA

The Liberals and the NDP are targeting votes from Canadian autoworkers with different takes on the renegotiation of the NAFTA trade deal. 

Liberals claim they fought for workers, while NDP says auto sector deserves a better deal

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh announces he'd pledge $300 million to revitalize Canada's auto industry. (CBC)

The Liberals and the NDP are targeting votes from Canadian autoworkers with different takes on the renegotiation of the NAFTA trade deal. 

With a stop in Oshawa, Ont., in the morning, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh announced his plan to help revitalize the Canadian car industry, criticizing trade deals that he says have left Canadian autoworkers behind.

The party would reintroduce a $300-million automotive innovation strategy for the country and increase the incentive to buy zero-emission cars. 

Electric cars made in Canada would be eligible for a $15,000 rebate, instead of the current rate of $5,000. 

"Bad decisions, bad trade deals have meant we've lost our opportunity to build in Canada," Singh told supporters. 

"I want to turn that around."

Singh blamed the Liberals for failing to stand up for Canadian autoworkers and took aim at trade deals negotiated under the Liberals and Conservatives. The NDP has long stated that the new NAFTA doesn't go far enough to protect Canadian workers.

The protracted negotiations for a new free trade deal with the United States may be over, but the painful sting of tariffs on steel and aluminum — and the threat of auto tariffs — are still fresh in the memory of Canadian workers. 

At a Saturday campaign stop in Oshawa, Ont., NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh pledges to bring in new measures to revitalize the Canadian car industry if his party is elected to form government. 0:44

Liberals campaign on NAFTA

It's those lingering feelings the Liberals tapped into with a new ad released on Saturday. 

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland narrates the commercial as scenes of the NAFTA renegotiations and tariff battle flash across the screen.  

Freeland, a central figure in those trade negotiations, says the Liberals fought "tooth and nail" and stood up to the Americans. 

The ad ends with a pledge that the Liberals will always support "hard-working Canadians."

After more than a year of tense talks, a deal was reached last fall. However, because the trade deal is stalled in the U.S. Congress, Canada has put off ratifying the new NAFTA. 

From right, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, U.S. President Donald Trump, Mexico's Secretary of Economy Ildefonso Guajardo Villarreal, and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto sign the new trade deal in Buenos Aires on Nov. 30, 2018. It has yet to be ratified in Canada and the U.S. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

U.S. tariffs of 25 per cent on steel and 10 per cent on aluminum remained in place for months after an agreement was reached, finally removed by President Donald Trump in May of this year. 

Canada's auto industry was heavily affected. About 2.2 million cars were produced in Ontario in 2017, but the auto industry has shifted operations to countries like Mexico. Canadian plants, such as the GM operation in Oshawa, are on the chopping block.

But bad blood over trade deals isn't the only threat.  A report from the Ontario government this year warned production has fallen 25 per cent in the last two decades as production gets cheaper elsewhere. 

The auto industry contributes $19 billion to Canada's GDP and is one of the country's largest manufacturing sectors. The industry and related labour employs more than half a million people, according to Statistics Canada.

New measures, old idea

It's those jobs Singh says he's looking to protect with the $300-million investment for innovation that would emphasize sustainability.

The idea isn't new. 

In 2008, the Harper government introduced similar funding, pledging $250 million over five years to support green research and development in the auto sector. Harper extended those funds in 2013, and the program was also expanded in 2016 under Justin Trudeau.

The NDP  — which historically has done well in manufacturing towns in Ontario — says the difference is its policy would shift the focus to made-in-Canada cars. 

It's tricky to define a made-in-Canada car, because the North American automotive industry is so intertwined. Car parts bounce back and forth across the border several times before the finished product is ready.

Singh says his definition is "When a car is manufactured in Canada and it puts people to work in Canada."

More questions about candidates

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer was also in eastern Ontario on Saturday, campaigning in Kanata-Carleton with his candidate Justina McCaffrey. 

Speaking to the crowd mostly comprised of families, Scheer said he's focused on putting more money in their pockets and helping them feel like the future is stable. 

But his economic message — cancelling the carbon tax and introducing a new transit tax credit — was interrupted when McCaffrey was caught up in a social media sinkhole. 

The Liberals released a video ahead of the rally depicting her describing her close friendship with Faith Goldy, who has been banned from Facebook for alt-right comments. 

It's the latest in a string of candidate controversies. They've involved each of the parties, forced to grapple with inappropriate comments or social media posts from their candidates. 

Kanata-Carleton Conservative candidate Justina McCaffrey fled from reporters' questions following a campaign rally with Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer after the Liberals posted an old video with her self-described friendship with Faith Goldy — who is well-known in Ontario for her far-right political views. The candidate later put out a statement saying she has not seen Goldy in several years. 0:20

"Each party has an obligation to make sure that their candidates don't use words … that are offensive," Scheer said in French. 

He added when there are issues Conservative candidates have done the right thing and apologized. 

McCaffrey fled from media during the event. She later issued a statement saying the video is from 2013, and she has not seen Goldy in "several years."

Scheer said her statement spoke for itself.

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