From possible closure to Canada’s first EV plant

As Canada’s government enlisted automakers and suppliers to build ventilators, masks and other equipment to combat the pandemic, Bains and other officials continued pitching Ontario to Ford Motor as a place to invest for EV production.

“When it comes to green, we’re here, and we’re ready,” Bains told Stoneley, according to the federal government official who spoke with Automotive News Canada. “That was sort of continuing to drop the breadcrumbs, so to speak, to see what could happen.”

Ford Canada declined to make Stoneley available for an interview and said it “worked collaboratively” with Unifor and both levels of government to secure the Oakville investment, though it did not respond to specific questions about how the deal happened.

“There are three key elements required to attract automotive investments: competitive labor costs, fair trade agreements and government incentives,” the company said.

The news in June that Ford wasn’t planning to build the next-generation Edge in Oakville, which would then have no products assigned beyond 2023, created urgency. Dias was among those caught by surprise, and when he contacted Ford, he was told simply that all of its products and platforms were “up for debate.”

As devastating as Oakville’s closure would be if it came to pass, having the information ahead of the talks became Unifor’s “ace in the hole” during negotiations, Dias said, because it allowed the union to “pivot quickly” to a new strategy.

Unifor began to pursue EV production mandates from the Detroit 3. It called for a national auto strategy built around EV sales and production as part of a road map it laid out in June proposing ways to rebuild the Canadian economy after the pandemic.

Dias acknowledged the plans were a “gamble,” as Canada had been shut out of EV investments, and the supply chain to support such a move was uncertain. But the union doubled down on it. Dias said he began to talk in the summer with Ford executives, including Farley and then-CEO Jim Hackett.

“Nobody had confirmed a [battery-electric vehicle] in the summer of 2020 or even the beginning of the fall, but things really started to fall into place when we got to the bargaining table” in September, Dias said.

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