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'Clearly some uncertainty' about Bombardier plant, mayor says

Bill Mauro says domestic content could still be in play for government-funded contracts.
Bombardier 6
Workers at the Bombardier plant in Thunder Bay may have to wait months before learning what Alstom's purchase means for them (Tbnewswatch file)

THUNDER BAY — Mayor Bill Mauro says what the sale of Bombardier Transportation will mean for the local plant "is the question we're all struggling with."

France-based Alstom struck an $8.2 billion U.S. deal over the weekend to acquire Bombardier's train-making division. 

The transaction, which includes facilities in Thunder Bay, Kingston and La Pocatiere, Quebec, is still subject to regulatory approval, and could take up to a year to complete.

"There's clearly some uncertainty for all of us," Mauro said in an interview Tuesday. "You're never certain what it means when a company has been purchased."

 Alstom already has some manufacturing facilities of its own in Canada and the U.S.

Given its global stature, the mayor says there's hope the new owner could find ways to generate new orders for the struggling Thunder Bay plant.

"There's the potential there for greater opportunity. With one larger player in the international market for these sorts of vehicles, it may mean that Thunder Bay ends up with more work, and it may mean that Thunder Bay remains a viable part of their international operation," Mauro said.

He said he received a call early Monday morning from Bombardier's head office about the proposed sale.

"The company reached out to me yesterday. It's my understanding that what's in place now is a memorandum of understanding. There is still significant work to be done and details to be ironed out over the course of the next few months."

According to Mauro, the Bombardier official he spoke with did not speculate as to what plans Alstom might have for Thunder Bay.

"Whether rail car work remains in Ontario is obviously our concern and our challenge. If there is government money, federal or provincial, in the contract work they are bidding on, the local content policies that I've been championing for 15 years will still play a role, potentially, in where this work will go," he said.

In the Montreal Street plant on Tuesday, the mood among workers was described by Unifor Local 1075 president Dominic Pasqualino as "cautiously optimistic."

"There's a lot of questions, obviously.  People are asking how it affects them, but we don't have the answers," Pasqualino said.

However he said his own outlook is positive, as he expects Alstom's takeover will provide more opportunities for the Thunder Bay plant.

Pasqualino plans to reach out to a former Bombarder employee who now works at Alstom's New York plant, to learn more about how the company operates.

In the meantime, Bombardier is still waiting to hear whether Toronto will expedite its next order for streetcars, and whether the company will get the contract.

The Thunder Bay plant last month delivered the last of 204 streetcars under a previous contract with the Toronto Transit Commission.

The TTC recently requested its administration to prepare a business case by May on ordering 20 or 60 additional vehicles before the end of this year.

Pasqualino said he's still hoping Thunder Bay will also be in line to build new subway cars for Toronto. 

Gary Rinne

About the Author: Gary Rinne

Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Gary started part-time at Tbnewswatch in 2016 after retiring from the CBC
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