POLITICS
11/26/2018 14:02 EST | Updated 11/30/2018 17:03 EST

Doug Ford Says He Won't Point Fingers At Trudeau Government For Looming Closure Of Oshawa GM Plant

The Ontario premier is pushing feds for EI changes.

Chris Young/CP
Ontario Premier Doug Ford greets Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the Ontario Legislature in Toronto on July 5, 2018.

UPDATE - Nov. 28, 2018: Two days after this article was published, Ontario Premier Doug Ford singled out Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his carbon tax policy while talking about the General Motors closure. Read more.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford says he will not be casting blame on the federal Liberal government over the decision by General Motors to close an assembly plant in Oshawa and lay off nearly 3,000 workers.

Speaking to reporters in Toronto Monday, Ford said he discussed the "devastating" news with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and has urged the federal government to extend employment insurance eligibility for those affected by five weeks to a maximum of 50 weeks.

Watch: Doug Ford says he'll work with feds to help Oshawa GM workers

The Ford and Trudeau governments have clashed publicly on everything from the federal carbon pricing plan to the costs of caring for asylum seekers so much so that Ford has been asked if he has bigger national ambitions. However, the Progressive Conservative premier suggested federal Liberals should not wear GM's decision.

"I just want to make myself clear about the federal government. We aren't pointing fingers anywhere, federal or provincially or municipally," Ford said. "We're devastated for the families that have been affected by this and we're going to work hand-in-hand with our federal counterparts."

Ford said it's also clear the automaker's strategy was in place before his party came into power this summer. The plant is one of five in North America that GM will see "unallocated" as it shifts its focus to electric and autonomous vehicles. The Oshawa assembly plant is poised to close in 2019, while the other four plants are in the U.S.

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"I ask myself, why couldn't we be one of the winners? Did we not create an environment here in the province to attract companies, to keep them here?" Ford said.

The Ontario premier called on federal Liberals to continue to push the U.S. to scrap punishing steel and aluminum tariffs.

Todd Smith, Ontario's minister of economic development, did take a swipe at Ontario Liberals when he said GM's decision speaks to "15 years of mismanagement." Provincial Liberals were in power from 2003 until June 2018.

Smith also noted Ontario PCs have "taken aim at the federal carbon tax," while outlining what the government has done to create an environment for businesses to stay in the province.

'This is not a political issue': Bains

At a news conference in Ottawa, Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains echoed Ford's sentiment, saying the federal government is assessing the next steps to help those affected by what he repeatedly called a "global restructuring."

"As the premier said to the prime minister, this is not a political issue. This is not about pointing fingers," Bains said. "This is about standing up for the automotive sector, this is about standing up for the autoworkers. This is a really big deal in Oshawa."

In a tweet, Trudeau said he expressed his disappointment to GM's president and pledged his government will "do everything we can to help the families affected by this news get back on their feet."

The prime minister later told the House of Commons that he will be working with Ford to support workers in Oshawa and the surrounding region.

"We will be working together on this one in a way that is not political because we know that being there to support the workers in the region is what people expect of all of their orders of government," Trudeau said.

In question period Monday morning, Ford told the Ontario legislature he is ready to work with Trudeau to help autoworkers.

"We may have our political differences but when it comes to supporting the people of Durham [region] and Ontario, we're on the same page," he said of Trudeau.

While Ontario New Democrats pushed Ford to take immediate action to save the Oshawa plant, Ford said there's nothing that can be done and scoffed at the idea of spending what he called billions of dollars on corporate welfare.

"They're gone. They're done," he said of GM. "They told me straight up there's nothing we can do. Absolutely nothing."

Ford did have a decidedly partisan response, however, when NDP Leader Andrea Horwath accused him of "rolling over" and refusing to fight for workers facing a bleak future. The premier shot back that the NDP "destroyed" the province of Ontario for 15 years, "hand-in-hand with your Liberal buddies."

Horwath noted that the NDP haven't been in government since 1995. Though the Liberals were in power for 15 years, the party only had a minority government between 2011 and 2014 that needed NDP support to stay afloat.

Federal Tories score emergency debate

Federal Conservatives, meanwhile, called for an emergency debate Monday night on the Oshawa closure. House Speaker Geoff Regan granted the request.

In a statement, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said the news represents the end of a "long and proud tradition in Oshawa," a reliable home to GM for more than 100 years.

Yet Scheer took a dig at Liberals in light of the fall economic statement Finance Minister Bill Morneau released last week.

"Justin Trudeau presented a Fall Economic Update to Canadians which painted a rosy picture of Canada's economy," Scheer said in the release. "Despite mounting debt and deficits, rising inflation and interest rates, billions in lost investment, and a crisis in Canada's energy sector, Trudeau insisted all was well. Only days later, we learn of this closure."

With files from The Canadian Press

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