Letham says GM is ‘pulling the rug out’ from people’s feet with plant closure

By Roderick Benns

About 1,000 people commute to Oshawa each day for work from Kawartha Lakes. L to R: Mayor Andy Letham, Manager, Economic Development Rebecca Mustard.

Calling today’s announcement from GM a “huge disappointment” for working men and women, City of Kawartha Lakes Mayor Andy Letham says these jobs are going to be “tough to replace” for families.

While GM can’t officially close a union plant until it reaches a deal with Unifor, the bottom line is the company has announced production will cease after December 2019.

In a press release issued by GM Canada’s parent company in the U.S., it paints a rosy picture for investors.

“General Motors will accelerate its transformation for the future, building on the comprehensive strategy it laid out in 2015 to strengthen its core business, capitalize on the future of personal mobility and drive significant cost efficiencies.”

While GM pats itself on the back for creating “significant cost efficiencies,” they also note the assembly plants that will be “unallocated” in 2019:

  • Oshawa Assembly in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada.
  • Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly in Detroit.
  • Lordstown Assembly in Warren, Ohio.

Two U.S. transmission plants will also close.

Letham says “whole careers” for families were built around GM’s presence in Oshawa. This just underscores the need, the mayor says, for doing what can be done locally – although he’s under no illusions this takes time.

“What we’re trying to do in our long term plan is have more flexibility with our finances to come up with more local solutions,” says Letham.

This includes catching up on infrastructure needs so that Kawartha Lakes is more attractive for investment, and eventually put more ‘starter company’ programs in place to encourage more entrepreneurship.

Letham also wants to see Highways 7 and 35 widened to make the City more competitive.

One thing that irks the mayor, though, are all the distractions governments are creating.

“We need to be having more discussions about these important issues, not having Cities running around distracted about the legalization of pot,” he says.

(Cities were thrown for a loop when the new provincial government tossed out the Liberals’ plan for government-run cannabis stores. Instead, they opted for a private retail model which now cities have to decide what that might look like.)

“In the meantime, we’re not focused on what the real issues are. People want to work – that’s what’s on people’s minds. And I’m not sure any level of government gets that.”

Rebecca Mustard is manager, economic development for the City of Kawartha Lakes. She says 2016 commuting flows show that about a 1,000 people commute to Oshawa each day for work, although they don’t know where everyone is going. As the largest employer in the region though, it’s likely a large portion are employed at GM.

Mustard points out that there are “families directly impacted” by GM’s announcement, but also many more indirectly affected given there are “significant numbers of businesses in the supply chain.”

There are about 2,000 people still employed in some kind of manufacturing within Kawartha Lakes.

“It’s still an important part of our local economy,” Mustard tells the Advocate.

GM has yet to set a timetable for the production halt at the Oshawa plant, but confirmed it will take place sometime in 2019. While it’s not yet clear how many of the 2,500 employees will lose their jobs in GM’s consolidation moves, the company did say it was trying to prepare for a future of lower carbon emissions and the ramp-up of more electric and autonomous vehicles.

Diversified Economy

Mustard says the City is trying “to build a strong, diversified economy.”

“We want to grow a whole range of business sectors so that not everyone is in the same boat,” she says.

The economic development manager says when they built their strategy they looked at focusing on five clusters where Kawartha Lakes was already strong:

  1. Agriculture and food processing
  2. Tourism
  3. Manufacturing
  4. Arts, heritage, and culture
  5. Engineering innovation

“We’re targeting our economic development efforts in investing in all five of those clusters to help create that diversified economy.”

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