NDP's Singh vows auto industry revival with focus on spending in Canada

WATCH: NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh discusses strategy for retaining jobs in auto industry

Jagmeet Singh borrowed a page from Donald Trump’s protectionist playbook Saturday, vowing that a New Democrat government would tie made-in-Canada strings to new incentives aimed at rebuilding the country’s sputtering auto industry.

The NDP leader began his campaign weekend in the blue-collar capital of Oshawa, Ont., choosing as his backdrop the General Motors assembly plant slated for closure by the end of the year as part of the auto giant’s broad North American restructuring effort.

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He promised to resurrect a $300-million automotive innovation strategy to encourage the development of zero-emission vehicles, but with a catch: manufacturers and auto-parts suppliers would be required to invest in keeping jobs on Canadian soil.

“What Liberals have done and Conservatives have done is they’ve given blank cheques to wealthy corporations — blank cheques with no strings attached,” Singh said, flanked by auto workers impacted by the Oshawa plant closure.

“We want to make sure that if we invest in our sectors, there’s a requirement, there’s strings attached that jobs have to remain in Canada.”

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The NDP would also spend additional money to encourage consumers to focus on zero-emissions options, tripling the Liberal government’s $5,000 incentive program, but, again, only if the cars and trucks they choose were assembled on Canadian soil or contain a certain percentage of Canadian content.

“We want to augment that incentive from $5,000 to $15,000, but we’re going to build it to make sure that $15,000 incentive only applies to made-in-Canada vehicles,” Singh said.

“We want to build the cars of the future right here in Canada, right here in Oshawa.”

General Motors announced last November it planned to mothball five North American plants _ including the flagship assembly facility in Oshawa, which employs more than 2,500 people — as part of a sweeping effort to retool its operations to focus on emerging technologies like electric vehicles, the expansion of ride-hailing services and self-driving cars and trucks.

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The plan included a 15 per cent reduction in salaried and salaried contract staff, part of an effort that included operating-cost reductions of US$4.5 billion and lower capital spending of almost US$1.5 billion a year.

The Liberal government’s zero-emissions incentive, unveiled in the 2019 budget, applied to eligible vehicles with a price tag of less than $45,000 — $55,000 for models with seven or more seats, or certain smaller models with fancier trim. Battery electric, hydrogen fuel cell or longer range plug-in hybrids were eligible for a $5,000 break, while shorter-range plug-in models earned a $2,500 rebate.

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The original Liberal plan did nothing to encourage consumers to buy vehicles assembled in Canada or containing Canadian parts, said Singh _ something he said would change under the New Democrats.

He was short on specifics, however, when it came to what would constitute a “Canadian-content” car, although he acknowledged the content would be less of a concern than ensuring eligible vehicles and manufacturers were tied directly to employing workers in Canada.

“When a car is assembled in Canada and it puts people to work in Canada, it’s Canadian content,” he said. “Cars that were built here in Oshawa — those cars would satisfy as made-in-Canada cars … there’s a plant in Brampton; that plant assembles and puts together cars in Canada, that would satisfy the definition.”

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Sales of zero-emission cars are strongest in the three provinces _ Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia _ that have had cash rebates to make the cars comparable in upfront cost with gas-powered versions. Ontario, however, cancelled its rebate system in July.

Those provinces accounted for 97 per cent of all the plug-in vehicles sold in Canada between 2013 and 2018. Elsewhere, public charging stations tend to be hard to find, one of the biggest barriers to public confidence in buying an electric car.

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Singh also promised to use only zero-emissions vehicles built in Canada or with Canadian components to upgrade federal government fleets. And when asked directly how he would deal with the famously mercurial U.S. president, he did not mince words.

“You fight a guy like that — you just don’t back up, you don’t back down,” he said. “Just because he wants to create jobs in the United States doesn’t mean we should give up on jobs in Canada.”

The NDP leader also toured a butter-tart festival in the city outside Toronto before departing for another campaign announcement later in the day in Kingston, Ont., this one more focused on environmental measures. He was scheduled to end the day at a rally in Ottawa.

© 2019 The Canadian Press

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