Ottawa and Premier Doug Ford are engaged in a bitter war of words over hundreds of layoffs at a Thunder Bay Bombardier plant, with both sides alleging the other had a chance to save the jobs, but sat by and watched.
The plant will be hit with about 550 layoffs — around half its current staff — according to media reports. The plant has been used to fulfil contracts for GO Transit and the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), whose relationships with Bombardier have been fraught with problems.
Thunder Bay-Superior North MP and federal Labour Minister Patty Hajdu immediately blamed Ford for the layoffs in a statement Wednesday morning.
"While our federal government and the hardworking people in my community worked to save jobs at the Bombardier plan, Doug Ford sat on his hands and made empty promises," she said.
To Thunder Bay workers: we stand with you. See my full statement on the layoffs at the Thunder Bay Bombadier plant: pic.twitter.com/kGBYbUcRF0
— Patty Hajdu (@PattyHajdu) July 10, 2019
Ford pushed back against the federal government from Saskatoon, where he is attending the annual Council of the Federation conference.
"The federal government with their comments about Bombardier are not accurate," said Ford, who bristled at the assertion from Ottawa that the province is dragging its feet on funding transit.
Ford turned around and pointed the finger at the federal Liberals, arguing that if it backed the province's $28.5-billion Greater Toronto Area transit plan Bombardier jobs would be saved.
"I haven't seen hide nor hair from the federal government," he said. "Where is their money? They've done absolutely nothing to support these people in Thunder Bay. We have a plan sitting there that can keep these people employed."
He added: "While Ontario has met with Bombardier, Unifor, and offered to purchase $100 million of vehicles from the plant in the last month; where was Minister Hajdu? She’s been missing in action, not engaging with her provincial counterparts, and instead blaming everyone but herself and the federal government.”
Ford made the case that he has done everything possible to save Bombardier jobs. "As soon as I found out there might be a layoff, we put our money where our mouth is," adding that the province invested $130 million into the plant by moving up an order for 36 GO Transit rail cars by several years. Ford also said that his government has been in talks with the company on the issue for the past eight weeks, and that he met with the CEO of Bombardier to discuss the matter.
He attacked the Liberals instead, accusing them of "playing politics" over the issue.
A spokesperson for the premier's office, Ivana Yelich, told QP Briefing after Ford's press availability that the provincial government remains committed to backstopping the funding for the province's transit plan, meaning that federal and municipal government monies would not necessarily be needed. There is also no guarantee that Bombardier — which has struggled to meet deadlines for transit projects in recent years — would win any contracts for the transit plan, or that the proposal is far enough in its planning stage to open up procurement bids.
If the federal government signs the deal and commits to funding on the province's transit plan, Ford said Bombardier CEO Alain Bellemare told him the company would be able to rehire workers — though Ford didn’t say how many.
But while a cost-sharing agreement between Ontario and the federal government has existed since March 2018, Hajdu told CBC the PCs haven't submitted a formal application or business plan for federal money for transit expansion in Toronto, saying there has been "nothing but chaos, confusion and paralyzation."
Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney urged Bombardier to work with the province to avoid the layoffs.
"Our government has spoken to executives at Bombardier to express our disappointment that their company has taken this step. We urge the company to work with the provincial government to come to an agreement that would see jobs remain at the Thunder Bay plant," she said, characterizing the province as being "on the verge of the single largest capital contribution to new transit builds in Ontario’s history."
She added: "Our government is committed to expand transit across the GTA and we are committed to moving forward with our expansion plans and we would like to see Bombardier as a partner in our transit expansion plan.”
Liberal MPP for Thunder Bay-Superior Noth Michael Gravelle said the province needs to work directly with Metrolinx and the TTC, instead of simply issuing commitments on transit.
"I will fight to see that Bombardier's Thunder Bay operation continues to receive transit work that will return it to full operational levels," he said. "It is not enough for the province to express disappointment with Bombardier's decision today; action must be taken to correct this devastating situation."
Toronto Mayor John Tory said in a scrum Wednesday that the layoffs were unlikely to affect the city's most recent order of streetcars, which he said have been getting delivered regularly week by week.
"I'm very concerned obviously about the job loss, just because I live in the province of Ontario and in Canada and we want to see people employed," he said, adding that he's "hopeful" that the three levels of government will be able to "sit down together and see if we can work out something that allows us to get the transit vehicles we need, which starts with more streetcars beyond the current order," while keeping the jobs in Thunder Bay.
Tory said the city will have to re-evaluate future orders if the layoffs go ahead.
"We can't just do business with them because we feel badly about the workers," he said. "We care about that deeply, but we have to make sure they're going to deliver a quality product on time and on budget to us."
David Hains contributed to this story from Saskatoon.