Feds, PCs commit hundreds of millions to secure Ford's Oakville plant green vehicle future

Electric Vehicle Sign

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier Doug Ford each committed almost $300 million to ensuring Ford Motor Company's Oakville plant will be operational in the future, by transitioning to manufacturing electric vehicles and their batteries. 

Last month, a three-year $2 billion goal was announced between Ford and Unifor, the autoworkers union, and its president says the government buy-ins will save 3,000 of the plant's current 3,400 jobs. 

"What this announcement is all about and what governments are working together on is seeing where the world is going and ensuring that Canada has a strong role to play in it, that there are good jobs for Canadians in a transforming world," Trudeau said. 

UNIFOR President Jerry Dias was also part of the announcement, saying it shows what happens when all sides work together. 

The scene was a stark contrast from previous bad news for the sector in recent years, such as when Unifor battled GM over plans to close its Oshawa assembly plant, an incident which included Dias heavily criticizing Premier Ford. 

But Dias had nothing but praise for both sides, as he also deals with trying to negotiate new agreements with GM, as well as Fiat Chrysler. 

"This isn't just about building electric vehicles in Oakville, this is about taking a leadership role and using our natural resources in this country to put Canadians to work," he said. "This is about saying to our members that live in Sudbury that mine nickel, we have a plan, this is about saying to the aluminium workers in Quebec and B.C., we have a plan, this is about saying to those workers in northern Ontario that mine cobalt, we have a plan." 

"It's about everybody rowing in the same direction for what? For the future of this critical industry and for young people." 

Premier Ford has been criticized in the past by various environmental groups and the opposition over various decisions around energy and the environment, including cancelling rebates for electric vehicles, axing the environmental watchdog and ending multiple green energy projects. 

But on Thursday, he said Ontario was "blazing a new trail" and that he's a strong believer in electric cars and a new battery plant. 

"We're all in and we've put our money where our mouth is with an announcement of $295 million and there's a tremendous opportunity to grow this industry, no matter if it's the auto sector or other sectors that we can start manufacturing electric items right here in Ontario, he said. 

It was also the latest example of Trudeau and Ford uniting on a project, such as attending the groundbreaking of the IAMGOLD's Côté Gold Project in Gogoma and joint investments with 3M Canada to bolster PPE production in Ontario. 

It was only last year when the leaders would repeatedly criticize each other during campaigns. 

"Rather than bickering and arguing with each other, when we're all pulling in the same direction, this is the result we get,” Ford said. 

On the federal side, the investment is part of a broader strategy of reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, after already committing over $300 million to build EV charging stations, plus purchase rebates for electric and hybrid cars. 

Greenpeace Canada also applauded the deal. 

“Today’s announcement is good news for the climate, for cleaner air and for Ontario workers. This deal to build electric vehicles means the next logical step is a California-style requirement for a minimum percentage of vehicle sales to be zero-emission and a commitment to end the sale of new internal combustion engine vehicles by 2030," senior energy strategist Keith Stewart said. 

It wasn't a completely rosy day for the Liberals on the environment though, as the Parliamentary Budget Office said the federal carbon tax would have to rise in order for Canada to meet emission-reduction targets. 

It's already set to increase to $50 per tonne by 2022, but PBO officer Yves Giroux estimates it will have to rise to $117 per tonne by 2030 if it is applied to all industries to meet targets.