THUNDER BAY - The leader of the opposition at Queen’s Park is calling on the Ford government to immediately pull requests for proposals for the Ontario Line that cite a 10 per cent Canadian content minimum, saying it is a disgrace and betrays workers at the Thunder Bay Alstom plant.
“It’s completely shameful that the government is prepared to ship good manufacturing jobs to other countries instead of ensuring those jobs come to Thunder Bay,” said NDP leader Andrea Horwath during a media conference on Thursday. “He has betrayed the people of Thunder Bay.”
The NDP released a leaked RFP for Ontario Line cars that includes a clause citing a 10 per cent Canadian content minimum rather than a 25 per cent minimum on all transit vehicles produced with provincial funding that was a policy first implemented in 2008.
The Ontario Line is a proposed 15.6-kilometre rapid transit line in the Greater Toronto Area to be operated by Metrolinx.
Horwath said the cars used on the Ontario Line can and should be built in Thunder Bay, but the Ford government ‘secretly’ dropping the Canadian content minimum to 10 per cent could put those potential contracts in jeopardy.
“It’s a disgrace. We know we can build those cars here in Ontario, that we can build the mass transit cars necessary for the Ontario Line in Thunder Bay,” she said. “But we can only do it if we have a government committed to the Canadian content requirement at 25 per cent, not watering it down to 10 per cent.”
Earlier this week, Alstom announced more than 300 temporary layoffs at the local plant set to begin next month due to a contract for bi-level cars for a U.S. customer winding down and work on new contracts not ready to begin.
Judith Monteith-Farrell, MPP for Thunder Bay-Atikokan, reiterated that the plant, formally operated by Bombardier, has been struggling for years due to a lack of consistent work, leading to more and more layoffs.
“We have generations who have worked at that plant and are proud of the vehicles they have produced,” she said.
“Those generations of families are disheartened. We are hopeful we will make enough pressure and ensure the government of the day that they know we need those subway cars and that Canadian content to ensure we keep those jobs in Thunder Bay.”
The 25 per cent Canadian content minimum was implemented as a policy in 2008 and fought for by Liberal MPP Bill Mauro.
Mauro said he wanted it to be higher but the 25 per cent was ultimately settled upon. In the United States, transit projects require 70 per cent ‘buy American’ content. Horwath said the minimum Canadian content in Ontario should be pushed as high as possible.
“I know there are various trade agreements that exist, it can be 25 per cent at that baseline right now,” she said. “Doug Ford has dragged us backwards. We’ve called for it to be much higher. Now we are going backwards with this government. The last thing we need to do is signal we are prepared to water down.”
There are also concerns about what this could mean for the future of the Alstom plant in Thunder Bay. Monteith-Farrell said following the acquisition of Bombardier by Alstom, she spoke with the new company and believes there is a commitment to keeping the operation going in the city.
“The workers are there, the skills are there, the plant has been refurbished and has the capacity and space to grow more,” she said. “I’m hopeful we don’t lose those families, those workers in Thunder Bay because of this lack of action.”
Monteith-Farrell also questioned the move by the provincial government to implement the 10 per cent content requirement without any kind of transparency.
“There was obviously some motivation that is something the government does not want to bring to light,” she said.
“There are a lot of opportunities to bring a hell of a lot of good jobs to Thunder Bay’s Alstom plant, but we will never get there if this government waters down content requirements,” Horwath added.
A spokesperson with the Ministry of Transportation said the government is not removing the 25 per cent Canadian content minimum, but rather made a temporary exemption for the Ontario Line because of the technological needs of the vehicles that is not available in Canada.
"What we have done in certain instances where there is a compelling technological need that can’t be built in Canada, we have introduced time limited exemptions to the Canadian content," the spokesperson said.
The example of the Canada Line in Vancouver was cited, which uses automated trains and was built with no Canadian content.
"It’s just not the sort of technology that is produced in Canada," the spokesperson said. "Alstom has a presence globally and it has chosen not to produce this particular vehicle in Canada."