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Transportation minister and NDP MPP spar over support for Alstom plant

Caroline Mulroney and MPP Lise Vaugeois engaged in a spirited exchange in Question Period
The Ontario legislature in Toronto

QUEEN'S PARK — The NDP for Thunder Bay-Superior North is echoing Unifor's concerns about the future of the Alstom plant, charging that Premier Doug Ford broke a promise he made to its employees last year.

The minister of transportation, though, says the government has already done a lot to support the plant, and suggests that there's more to come. 

The exchange happened in the legislature Monday, where MPP Lise Vaugeois recalled Ford having said "we will make sure anything bought in Ontario should be produced in Ontario."

She then pointed to the recent awarding of a $9 billion contract to a consortium led by Japan-based Hitachi Rail for the new Ontario subway line in Toronto.

According to a news release from Unifor, Alstom was part of another consortium that unsuccessfully bid for the project, which includes $2.3 billion worth of subway cars.

Repeating an NDP accusation last February that the government had "secretly" lowered the requirement for Canadian content for the Ontario Line from 25 per cent to 10 per cent, Vaugeois asked "Why did the premier break his promise to Thunder Bay workers and send their jobs overseas?" 

Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney replied that the government has invested almost $500 million in the past three years in support of new contracts for the Thunder Bay plant, including 60 new streetcars for the Toronto Transit Commission and the refurbishing of 94 GO bi-level coaches to maintain 300 manufacturing jobs.

She said the province has also allowed the City of Toronto to redirect $5 billion toward improvements to its existing commuter network, "which will then include the purchase of new streetcars and new subways. This means real opportunity for the province of Ontario."

In her supplementary question, Vaugeois noted that the Thunder Bay facility employed 750 to 1,300 people at various times  from 2011 to 2019, but currently has only 150, and is at risk of being mothballed by 2025.

She said another major contract for new TTC subway infrastructure – Line Two – is in the works, but the provincial and federal governments have yet to come up with their share of the financing, thereby leaving the project "in limbo."

Vaugeois wanted the government to commit by the end of this year to announcing its support for the project, and to maintaining a minimum of 25 per cent Canadian content in all future light rail projects.

Mulroney responded that no government has ever ordered more Canadian-made mass transit equipment than the government has ordered under Ford, and that "we'll continue to send more orders to Thunder Bay Alstom plant to make sure those high-quality good-paying jobs are there for years and years to come."

Kevin Holland, the Progressive Consersvative MPP for Thunder Bay-Atikokan, issued a statement reiterating much of what the minister said, most notably that "future phases of procurement for our projects will continue to support good local jobs right here at home, including in Thunder Bay."

According to a spokesperson in Mulroney's office, the overall requirement for the Ontario Line is 75 per cent Canadian, including 90 per cent directly from Ontario.

He said the 10 per cent Canadian content requirement that Unifor and the NDP have referred to only accounts for subway trains.

Other major components of the project include the construction and installation of tunnels, stations and control systems.

Alstom is one of four companies that recently qualified to bid for the production of more than $2 billion worth of new subway cars that would replace some aging TTC rollling stock.

Unifor Local 1075 President Dom Pasqualino has stated that he believes at least a portion of the work would come to Thunder Bay if Alstom were the successful bidder.


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