04/29/2014 04:01 EDT | Updated 06/29/2014 05:59 EDT

Ontarians Stand Behind Their Auto Sector - So Should Their Elected Officials

Ninety-five thousand Ontarians work in the province's auto sector--that includes our five major auto assemblers and their twelve assembly plants, 350 auto parts plants, and 300 Tool, Die and Mould makers. But those are just the direct jobs. When we add in the number of families that depend on a strong auto sector for their livelihoods, that number climbs to an estimated 500,000 Ontarians.

And so maintaining a strong auto sector in our province is, and will remain, an important priority for the provincial government.

A recent study from the University of Windsor describes some of the challenges that our auto sector is facing in the years ahead. However, we believe that we can meet these challenges head on with strong action to protect and expand the auto sector here in Ontario, along with the well-paying manufacturing jobs that the sector brings to our province.

There is cause for optimism when it comes to our auto sector. Vehicle production in Ontario remained stable through the global economic crisis in 2008-9. Recovery and growth in the US auto sector will continue to strengthen the economy and benefit Ontario. Over the past five years, Ontario has produced nearly 16 per cent of all North American cars and we will continue to play a crucial role in the North American auto sector.

In challenging economic times, Ontario took important steps to protect our auto sector jobs. We joined with the federal government to support the auto sector in their time of need, even in the face of opposition from Tim Hudak and his PC Party.

To protect and grow the auto sector in the years since, we have invested with companies like Toyota, to attract the production of their Hybrid Lexus 450h SUV--and we are the only jurisdiction outside of Japan that is producing the hybrid Lexus.

In September of last year, we announced a $70 million partnership with Ford to upgrade their plant in Oakville so that it can produce a variety of new vehicles, including the Ford Edge. We're already seeing this partnership pay off, with the announcement in February that Ford's Oakville plant will be producing the Edge for export to more than 60 countries around the world.

These kinds of investments help create and protect jobs, and they are instrumental in attracting new product lines--something that will keep our auto sector competitive globally in the years ahead.

However, it seems every time a new opportunity for partnership presents itself, Tim Hudak and his PC Party attack our government and the auto sector, calling these job-creating partnerships "corporate welfare."

When Chrysler approached us and the federal government about a potential partnership that would protect thousands of jobs in Windsor and Brampton, Tim Hudak called this important employer "extortionists," saying they were holding us for ransom.

Eventually, Chrysler decided to make a medium-term investment without partnering with either the provincial or the federal government -- rather than make a long-term investment because, in the words of Chrysler's CEO, the investment proposal had become a "political football."

Let me be clear -- our government is always open to partnering with the auto sector to create jobs, protect existing jobs, and attract new product lines to the province. That is our responsibility, and we owe it to the 500,000 Ontario families that depend on a strong auto sector for their livelihood. In an increasingly competitive global investment market, we need to be at the table.

That's why it is alarming that both Tim Hudak and Andrea Horwath have been silent on the potential negative effects that the federal government's free trade deal with South Korea could have on the province's auto sector.

South Korea is well known for putting in place barriers that make it harder for North American auto companies to sell cars in that market--barriers like restrictions on engine size, for example.

I asked Tim Hudak and Andrea Horwath to join me in standing up for our auto sector by supporting a task force to monitor and take action if South Korea puts in place those kinds of discriminatory barriers. That task force would include partners from the federal and provincial governments, the auto industry, and labour.

But what was their reply? Silence. Both Tim Hudak and Andrea Horwath need to join with our government in standing up for the auto sector, and in protecting the hundreds of thousands of jobs that it sustains in every part of our province.

Silence isn't good enough. The hundreds of thousands of Ontarians who depend on a strong auto sector need all of Ontario's political parties to show a united front; they need to know they can depend on all of us to support and protect the future of this important part of our province's economy. The Ontario Government believes in a strong future for our auto sector, and we will continue to invest and support the sector to ensure its success.