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Worried about foreign workers, Conservatives demand details of $15B Honda EV deal

Conservative MPs are pushing Ottawa to release details of its agreement with Honda Canada to build a sprawling electric vehicle operation in southern Ontario — disclosure they say is necessary to ensure Canadians get all the jobs in the multi-billion-dollar project.

The push for transparency comes after Canada’s Building Trades Union (CBTU) wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier this month asking him to intervene on another EV project, the NextStar plant in Windsor, Ont. that’s backed by Chrysler parent company Stellantis and Korean firm LG.

The union said foreign workers are displacing Canadian labourers at the NextStar construction site while 180 local millwrights and ironworkers are unemployed and available to perform the necessary work.

“Canadian workers are now being replaced by international workers at an increasing pace, on work that was previously assigned to Canadian workers,” wrote Sean Strickland, CBTU’s executive director, in an April 10 letter to Trudeau. 

“Canadian workers are being sidelined without consequence. This is a slap in the face to Canadian workers and utterly unacceptable from LG and Stellantis, particularly when their shareholders stand to benefit from more than $15 billion in generous tax incentives from the Government of Canada.”

At the House of Commons’ government operations committee Monday, Conservative MP Rick Perkins pounced on the union’s letter, saying the federal government shouldn’t allow taxpayer-subsidized projects to employ foreign nationals.

Perkins said that, after reviewing the NextStar contract, he found Ottawa did not secure enough protections for Canadian construction workers who will build the plant.

“‘Hire Canadian workers’ … It doesn’t say that. It would have been pretty simple to put that in the contract — hire Canadian workers only. How much are Canadians going to have to pay to employ these foreign replacement workers while 180 people are sitting unemployed in Windsor?” Perkins said.

Perkins said he doesn’t want to see a repeat of this situation at the Honda site in Alliston, Ont., which, after $5 billion in joint funding from the federal and provincial governments last week, will start construction soon.

Perkin said he wants MPs to review the contract to verify that the federal and provincial governments secured a commitment to hire Canadian workers before handing over public funds.

“Release the Honda information. Transparency is the best disinfectant. What else are they hiding?” Perkins said. “Make it public. I don’t trust the government.”

There are about 70 foreigners working at the NextStar job site, according to government data. That’s a relatively small number compared to the 2,000 Canadian construction workers who are working alongside them to get the Windsor plant up and running.

That plant, when fully operational, will employ about 2,500 Canadian manufacturing workers to build EV batteries, the government and the plant’s owners have said.

An aerial view of large industrial buildings under construction.
An aerial view of construction of the NextStar Energy battery plant in Windsor in June 2023. (Patrick Morrell/CBC News)

Speaking at a CBTU conference in Gatineau, Que. on Monday, Trudeau assured Strickland in a fireside chat that he would “absolutely” ensure that construction jobs go to Canadians.

Strickland said his union “still has issues” with NextStar.

“We need your support to make sure they make good on their promises to Canadians. It’s not about animosity towards a foreign worker,” he said.

“We will be there to support you every step of the way,” Trudeau said.

WATCH: ‘Historic’ Honda EV investment will boost economy for generations, says Trudeau 

‘Historic’ Honda EV investment will boost economy for generations, says Trudeau

4 days ago

Duration 3:05

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau praised Honda’s $15-billion EV investment as an example of ‘Canada building the kinds of solutions the world needs’ before taking aim at his rivals, and suggested the announcement would not have happened under a Conservative government.

A spokesperson for International Trade Minister Mary Ng told CBC News that she met with the leadership of LG Energy Solutions in South Korea last week and “raised the issue of using foreign workers for jobs at their NextStar plant.”

“LGES reiterated its commitment to ensuring the plant’s 2,500 full-time jobs are filled with Canadian workers,” the spokesperson said.

“As confirmed by NextStar, less than four per cent of the workforce on the site currently are temporary foreign workers. Our government is committed to maximizing Canadian jobs and Canadian workers.”

Liberal MP Irek Kusmierczyk, who represents Windsor in the Commons, said the government is working with NextStar to ensure as many construction jobs as possible go to Canadian labourers.

“We want to maximize Canadian workers at every turn and every opportunity,” he said, adding Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne also has been in contact with NextStar’s president and has insisted that Canadians take priority.

Kusmierczyk said there are some tasks that require specialized foreign workers from Korea who have decades of experience with building structures like the NextStar plant.

Koreans are installing specialized equipment and are engaged in “knowledge transfer.”

“Canada does not have the expertise of building battery plants. We’re trying to build a brand new industry here in Canada so it stands to reason that there will be workers from Korea,” Kusmierczyk said. “Korea — they’re a world leader in battery technology.”

Kusmierczyk said the Liberal government opposes releasing the Honda contract because it contains sensitive business information that could jeopardize Canada’s attempts to secure other EV plants.

“We should not be playing games with peoples’ jobs. We should not be playing games with working class communities like mine that have gone through hell,” he said.

Kusmierczyk said the Conservatives are trying to downplay a “good news story” because the Liberal government has secured some $50 billion in investments to revitalize the once-dormant Canadian auto industry.

“Eight years ago, under the Conservative government, 300,000 manufacturing jobs were lost in Canada. The Liberal government is building the electric vehicle heartland of North America right here in this community,” he said.

Honda has stressed that it wants to use as many local labourers as possible at its forthcoming EV battery plant and the other sites it has planned in Ontario.

In an interview with CBC’s Rosemary Barton Live, Honda Canada’s president said he’s “very aware of what went on” at NextStar with some jobs going to foreign nationals.

“For sure, this is not something that we want to entertain,” Jean Marc Leclerc said.

Leclerc said he wants to craft some sort of “memorandum of understanding” with Canada’s Building Trades Union to reiterate Honda’s commitment that “Canadians will have these construction jobs.”

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