THE BLOG

Canada's Auto Industry Thrived and Died in Windsor

11/20/2014 12:59 EST | Updated 01/20/2015 05:59 EST
Scott Olson via Getty Images
CHICAGO - JUNE 22: A Ford vehicle during the early phases of construction rides along the assembly line at the Torrence Avenue Ford Assembly Plant June 22, 2007 in Chicago, Illinois. Ford builds the new Ford Taurus, Taurus X crossover vehicle and the Mercury Sable at the plant. Nearly 3,000 people are currently employed at the facility which was first opened in 1924 to build the Model T. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Windsor, Ontario has recently been dealt another blow; Ford Motor Company has just announced that it will not be bringing the new small engine production line to the Rose City. Instead, it will be built in Mexico, and the 600 potential jobs that would have brought every laid off Ford employee back to work has become nothing more than a cruel twist of fate.

Since 2002, Ontario's manufacturing sector has shrunk by nearly 30 per cent -- or more than 300,000 jobs. No other part of the province has been hit as hard as Windsor, consistently ranking among the highest in unemployment year after year. To give you an example of how hard times have been, one only has to look at the candidate platforms from the most recent provincial and municipal elections. Despite the highest unemployment rate in the country no candidate ran on a platform of job stimulus, and no one demanded it of them either. The outgoing mayor served for 11 years and his departure was met with great fanfare, even though the unemployment rates during his tenure were among some of the worst this city has ever endured.

This year, my family's electrical business was sold after 64 years in business and it broke my heart to see the sign come down, but an electrical business that specialized in assembly line motors can't stay in business with no assembly lines. I come from generations of autoworkers. In the height of the automotive boom in Windsor my great grandfather was the head electrician for Chrysler until his position required a degree from a University in Electrical Engineering. Another great uncle of mine used to boast that he collected a pension from Ford longer than he worked for them; to be fair, he worked for them (after serving six years in the Navy during WWII) for 30 years and was retired 33 years when he passed away at 91. Those were the glory years. Now a cousin of mine has almost two decades in Essex Engine (the same Ford plant that just lost the contract) and he is 100 from the bottom of the seniority list. This would have been unfathomable just a decade earlier.

The Canadian auto industry was literally created in Windsor, known as Canada's auto capital. The city used to be able to convert its factories from automobile production to rolling tanks and planes off the line in mere days. Now there is a block-long empty GM transmission plant in the heart of the city that has a paint ball facility in it.

With this latest setback, the local Conservative representative Jeff Watson has taken a classic Conservative tactic. He has decided to condemn Ford in a demonizing manner. To get a better understanding of the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Transport watch him answer questions about the Transportation Safety Board findings. This has become the norm as he is merely following the example set by his party leader Prime Minister Stephan Harper, whose right wing rhetoric has not had the world rolling its eyes this much since Hugo Chavez.

The out of touch ramblings of a politician past his shelf life aside, according to the 2013 CAPC report and the 2014 ARPC report the facts of the Canadian auto industry are as follows:

• Motor vehicles are the # 1 contributor to Canada's manufacturing GDP

• Every assembly line job creates nine additional jobs

• And, there are currently about 115,000 jobs equated to a direct contribution of over $16 billion to the GDP in 2013.

• Overall, auto manufacturing makes up almost 10 per cent of Canada's manufacturing GDP and almost 8 per cent of the manufacturing employment.

Joseph McCabe of Automotive Compass predicted at the APMA conference on October 2, 2013 that if the Canadian Auto industry continues to decline at the rate it is going, the 2012 volume of the world's automobile production of 2,454,069 vehicles that were produced in Canada will be reduced to 1,761,672 by 2019, or a volume growth of -28.2 per cent. Of the 20 countries on the list, the only other country that saw a negative prediction was Japan at -8.9 per cent, nowhere near what Canada's is predicted to drop. Every other country on the list saw a predicted increase.

This brings me back to the failed attempt to bring a new engine line to Windsor. There needs to be specific strategies in place, with the goal of securing new product mandates. If one already exists, it's time for a revision. For example , the United States government is "coordinating federal aid to support communities' strong development plans and synchronizing grant programs across multiple departments and agencies to strengthen American manufacturing."

Canada's businesses enjoy some of the best tax rates in the world; that is likely why Burger King merged with Tim Hortons and moved its headquarters to Canada. This needs to be used to our advantage, and we must recognize that bullying will not get us anywhere and posturing will only further alienate corporations and cost Canadians potential jobs.

The last 10 years have been horrible to Essex County, and our community has endured enough. When the bad news broke two weeks ago, a pair of Ford employees decided to take matters into their own hands. They launched an online petition, urging the federal and Ontario governments to reconsider their decision and re-open talks with Ford.

I hope their efforts are not for naught, and yet that is all Windsorites can cling to for hope. The failures at both the provincial and federal levels to develop any sort of strategy has all but ruined us. As George Eliot wrote, "More helpful than all wisdom is one draught of simple human pity that will not forsake us." This cannot be truer than the plight of the automotive industry in Windsor, Ontario.