Canadian Manufacturing

Government shares in GM keeps manufacturing in Canada: union

Unifor national president Jerry Dias called it "essential" to do whatever it takes to keep industry afloat

TORONTO—The federal and Ontario governments maintaining shares in General Motors could be the ticket to ensuring the automaker keeps manufacturing operations in Canada, according to the union representing thousands of auto workers.

Unifor national president Jerry Dias urged policy makers in Ottawa and Toronto to hold onto their stock to keep the automaker on home soil after the governments announced the sell-off of a portion of their shares in GM this week.

“It is essential that we use every tool in the policy toolbox to ensure that GM and the other automakers in Canada retain and grow their operations here,” he wrote in a letter to federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Ontario Fiance Minister Charles Sousa.

“It is simply not enough for a jurisdiction like Canada to make itself competitive on cost grounds, and then wait for global firms to beat a path to our door.”

The letter was sent Sept. 11, one day after Ottawa and Ontario announced the sale of 20- and 10 shares million, respectively, at the previous day’s closing price of US$37 per share.

Dias pointed out that many countries around the world retain minority public ownership of automakers, including France—which owns 15 per cent of Renault—and the German state of Lower Saxony, which owns 20 per cent of Volkswagen.

Partial public ownership is one way to help ensure these companies remain loyal to the jurisdictions that made them profitable, he said.

“It is no coincidence that Volkswagen has not closed a single assembly plant in Germany since the end of World War II,” Dias wrote.

According to Dias, labour costs in Canada’s auto industry are “fully competitive” with those in the United States.

He also said GM’s shares will continue to appreciate in value in the coming years as the North American auto industry bounces back from the doldrums of the recent recession.

“Selling the public’s equity stake in this company now will deny Canadians an opportunity to share directly in that continuing progress,” Dias wrote.

The federal and Ontario governments acquired millions of shares each in GM in 2009 after providing the automaker with more than $10-billion in bailout money during the recession.

A merger between the former Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) and Communications, Energy and Paperworkers (CEP) unions, Unifor represents close to 40,000 workers in Canada’s auto assembly and parts industries, including at GM.

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