A $15 billion battery plant boondoggle has turned into a multi-billion-dollar catastrophe after Stellantis, the manufacturer, hired 1,600 South Koreans to build the plant and not Canadians as promised.
Cabinet Monday confirmed they began issuing foreign worker permits to build the Windsor, Ontario plant, despite Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promising to create Canadian jobs, reported Blacklock’s Reporter. On March 23, 2022, Trudeau said his government would “create middle class jobs.”
“Partnerships like these are critical to creating new jobs and putting Canada on the cutting edge of the clean economy,” he said at the time. “By working together, we are creating thousands of new jobs.”
On January 17, the prime minister said he would “stand with workers every step of the way” during a tour of facilities belonging to Stellantis.
But a November 16 statement by the Windsor Police Service countered that promise, stating they “look forward to the South Korean workforce” coming to Canada. “We expect approximately 1,600 South Koreans traveling to work and live in our community,” it said.
NextStar Energy, a joint venture between LG and Stellantis, said they outsourced work because it required specialized, proprietary expertise needed to install the equipment.
The company has roughly two dozen job openings on its website for technicians, supervisors and legal administrators with “fluency in Korean.”
NextStar committed to hiring 2,500 Canadians to operate the plant once operational in 2024, and 2,300 more during construction. They have yet to confirm how many of those jobs would be held by foreign workers.
“There are 2,500 good jobs that will be created at this plant,” added Irek Kusmierczyk, the Liberal parliamentary employment secretary. “Those are the facts.”
“We believe in Canadian workers. We believe in electric vehicles,” he said.
Liberal MP Kusmierczyk clarified they had only approved one temporary foreign worker permit as of writing, according to Blacklock’s Reporter.
“We will continue to work with unions, and we will continue to work with Stellantis to make sure local Canadian workers are prioritized,” he said.
But the Opposition Conservatives and NDP condemned the Liberals for betraying the confidence of voters in place of a corporate welfare scheme enjoyed by a transnational corporation.
“Everything the prime minister has said about the Stellantis subsidy has proven false,” Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre told the Commons Monday.
“The prime minister claimed it was going to create jobs for Canadians, but we have now learned at least 1,500 or a majority of the jobs are going to temporary foreign workers,” he said.
Ontario’s Economic Development Minister Vic Fedeli, who signed the joint declaration in July, solely blamed the federal government.
“Ontario has one of the most skilled workforces in the world and thousands of talented men and women who are more than capable of performing these jobs,” read a statement from the ministry.
Cabinet approved $10 billion in federal subsidies for Stellantis last year, while the Ontario Tories provided an additional $5 billion.
Not “a single cent” should go to foreign workers, said NDP MP Brian Masse, who said his Windsor constituents were “learning in horror that the government is allowing foreign workers to come in” to build the battery factory.
“This is not acceptable,” added Rick Perkins, the federal Conservatives shadow industry minister.
“The prime minister must do two things,” he said. “First, he must come clean and release the contracts he signed with Stellantis, Volkswagen and Northvolt so that taxpayers can know how much money they are on the hook for and what provisions have been secured to actually ensure that there are good, long-term jobs for Canadians.”
He added that Trudeau must guarantee that “Canadian tax dollars won’t fund jobs unless they are for Canadian workers.”
The Opposition demands follow a Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) report last week that warned the total costs for the federal government’s electric vehicle ambitions could top $50 billion with no guarantee of being repaid for the next two decades. Poilievre has since called for an inquiry into the issue, adding the details of the contracts should be public.
Instead of bearing some responsibility for the taxpayer boondoggle, the Ontario Tories placed all the blame on the federal government.
Windsor MPP Lisa Gretzky chimed in to condemn the feds, but noted her province should have been aware of who the company would hire. "I'm not letting the province off the hook on this one,” she clarified. “They should have known that there needed to be strings attached."
As of writing, neither the federal nor the provincial governments could confirm how many foreign workers Stellantis would hire to build the plant.