Editorial – Take back GM’s corporate welfare

General Motors’ announcement last week that it is permanently closing its assembly plant in Oshawa, Ontario must have been, for the families, businesses and communities who depended on it, a total psychological shock from which it will be difficult to recover.

There was no warning given, no direct contact between the company and the Ontario and federal governments, and no prior communication with the workers affected by the decision.

Instead, the devastating announcement was just matter-of-factly stated at a news conference. No human touch or empathy was in the offing, it was all done with a cold, calculating demeanor.

How do you tell a 20- or 30-year worker that their job is going to be axed? How do you tell the family that has a mortgage and other financial obligations that their main source of income will no longer be there to support them?

And let’s not forget the multiplier effect of this decision. I can’t imagine how the businesses and surrounding communities, who have relied on the Oshawa assembly plant for generations, are dealing with the announcement.

They have just as much to lose as the workers and their families. They will suddenly lose their business-to-business relationships and families will likely have to move elsewhere to pursue other prospects.

So, the human impact of GM’s decision cannot be overstated, nor can the company be just let off the hook for the financial commitments that it has received from the Ontario and federal governments.

The taxpayers’ bailout money and investments that kept GM competitive were also intended to assure the workers that they would continue to have long-term employment with the company.

I find it ironic that billions of dollars in corporate welfare has been provided to GM over the last decade, especially given the bailout it required almost 10 years ago. Just last week, the company reported a quarterly net income of $3.3 billion and it has the gall to say that it’s closing its Oshawa assembly plant.

If there is a case of quid pro quo, then this is it. The amount of taxpayers’ money that was put into GM to ensure its viability in Canada should have be understood as a commitment by the company that it would not close down any plants or cut its workforce.

But the company has shown that it isn’t interested in committing to production in Canada. As a consequence of the decision to shut down its Oshawa plant, the Ontario and federal governments should demand or even sue GM to get back all of the taxpayers’ money they have put into the company.

Yes, all of the pronouncements have been made about the changing nature of vehicle production: cars are not as profitable as other types of vehicles, the trend is in electric and self-driving vehicles and automakers can make their vehicles cheaper in other countries.

The automakers are cutting research and development costs to increase profitability more quickly

Blah. Blah. Blah.

While I’m not familiar with all the inner workings of the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, I believe that redevelopment of the Oshawa plant and retraining workers for future production could have been possible.

That’s the kind of commitment General Motors should have made to the workers at the Oshawa assembly plant – a commitment they can still make, if they really care about those who work for them.

So, how about it, General Motors?

 

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