OSHAWA, Ont. — Shell-shocked GM workers streamed into the rain and chill wind after their union sent them home on Monday amid word that their plant would be closing by the end of 2019, dealing a blow to a city and region once synonymous with the automaker.
As workers and their families digested the pending loss of more than 2,500 jobs, discussion at a nearby mall turned on the uncertain reality.
Joanna Stojkovic, clutching her seven-month-old daughter, put down the phone after her GM worker husband passed on the news.
“Our livelihood is gone. We’re all in limbo right now,” Stojkovic said. “It’s a devastating blow for all of Durham Region. GM has been around for a long time.”
Word of the pending closure began swirling Sunday night, blindsiding workers and civic officials alike. Oshawa’s mayor said he had no inkling of what will be the latest blow to the city 50 kilometres east of Toronto.
Stojkovic said she blamed both GM and the union, Unifor, for the dearth of information. GM, she said, was acting completely disorganized and the communication all round had been poor.
“It’s bad,” Stojkovic said. “It’s going to bring the economy down.”
Once dubbed the Automotive Capital of Canada, Oshawa has diversified in recent years to become an education and health sciences hub. Still, as headquarters to GM Canada, its automotive roots run deep — stretching back more than a century — and its plants over the years have been a mainstay of the regional economy, attracting workers from a wide area.
Mayor John Henry, who was born in Oshawa to an auto worker father, said word of the pending closure, especially just before Christmas, is going to hurt.
“That’s 2,500 families in town who are in some form of chaos right now,” Henry said outside his City Hall office, where a gift-bearing Santa Claus stood next to a lit Christmas tree. “It is personal. There isn’t a family in Oshawa that hasn’t been touched by somebody who works in General Motors.”
Until the recession hit in 2008, GM employed 28,000 people in the city, creating another seven spin-off jobs for each of those. Still, Henry called the closure decision baffling, given the corporation invested more than $500 million in the plant to build pickup trucks only recently.
“I’m challenged to understand why it’s happening at this time,” the mayor said.
Henry said he hoped GM would still find a way to build something new — such as autonomous vehicles — in a city used to change and adaptation. Oshawa, he said, has one of the largest community health-care networks in Canada and is home to post-secondary education facilities as well as advanced manufacturing.
As he sipped his coffee at a mall, Ray Nolan, a retiree, called the latest news “huge.”
“We’ve seen this before, that’s for sure, but to completely close the operation, it’s like death. It’s done,” Nolan said. “The economy for the whole area will be badly hurt. It’s going to hurt those families trying to hang on to their homes. Those who are thinking of retiring, that’s going to be devastating.”
Nolan noted that it was just a few years ago that the then-Conservative government under Stephen Harper poured money into GM to keep plants and jobs, saying it appears the government failed to get a binding agreement from the corporation to keep the jobs here.
Nolan also wondered whether U.S. President Donald Trump’s threats to impose tariffs on Canadian built vehicles played a role.
“It’s come back to haunt us,” Nolan said. “Those jobs will now be pulled over to the States. That’s exactly what Trump wanted.”
At the South Gate, Matt Smith joined a blockade, saying he just wants to work. The future, he said, was “scary,” especially since his wife worked at the plant as well and they have an 11-month-old baby at home.
“I don’t know how I’m going to feed my family,” Smith said. “It’s a horrible feeling. It’s a kick in the nuts.”
Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press
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Insurance rate increases absolutely unacceptable: NDP Critic for Service Alberta
This post was submitted by Jon Carson, NDP MLA for Edmonton-West Henday, Opposition Critic for Service Alberta
Thirty per cent.
That’s how much auto insurance rates skyrocketed by for some Albertans at the end of this year, after Premier Jason Kenney and the UCP removed the five per cent cap on rate increases that our NDP government brought in, taking a “no limit” approach to how much insurance companies could actually raise rates.
The jump was immediate.
Albertans saw a wave of premium increases bordering on price gouging. Over 90% of car insurance companies filed for rate increases as soon as the cap was lifted, and rushed to bill drivers as soon as they could. Of the companies that received approved rate changes, the increases ranged from 4.9 per cent to an eye-popping 29.8 per cent.
It was a nice gift from Jason Kenney, who already slammed families for hundreds of dollars of new costs in his fall budget, including hikes to income tax, property tax, as well as more in school fees, prescription drugs and college tuition.
As usual, Finance Minister Travis Toews trotted out the UCP’s one-trick pony and blamed the NDP, claiming that insurance companies were set to pack their bags and flee the province if he didn’t let them jack up premiums beyond five per cent.
The lobbying effort came out in full force. The brokers, the insurance companies, and the Insurance Bureau of Canada are working overtime to sell quite the sob story: a massive spike in claims costs, not enough options for drivers, etc, etc. It’s tough times for the poor, little ol’ car insurance company.
What a load. These are some of the biggest and most profitable companies in Canada, and they simply want back the power they had to jack up premiums hand over fist.
The truth is that claims costs over the past few years are level, a fact that’s supported by the Insurance Bureau of Canada‘s own data. In fact, an actuarial analysis by Fair Alberta Injury Regulators, an organization made up of concerned Albertans, doctors and legal experts, found that injury payouts have stabilized in the last few years, and even started to dip in 2019. Their actuary specifically found evidence that claims are “not skyrocketing.”
This is further supported by the Alberta Superintendent of Insurance, responsible for all regulatory oversight of insurers operating in Alberta with a specific duty to ensure that insurance companies treat Albertans fairly. In his annual report for 2018, he found on average that the claims ratio for car insurance was 80 per cent across all companies in Alberta. Not the 120 per cent figure the insurance companies trot out on TV.
And while the UCP Government continues to claim they have documents to prove the cap made the car insurance industry unsustainable, they haven’t provided a single piece of paper showing any of these companies would bail if they could–GASP–only raise premiums five per cent every year.
So why remove the cap? Well, in politics, it’s who you know. And Jason Kenney knows an awful lot of people in the insurance industry. Namely, his former chief of staff and campaign director Nick Koolsbergen, who was hired to lobby the Premier on behalf of the car insurance industry just last year. He has Kenney’s cell phone number.
Sounds like a good guy to have on your side… if you’re a car insurance company.
The fact is, these companies turn a profit of tens of millions of dollars each year. They’re used to having carte blanche in Alberta, and they want it back.
Under the thinly-veiled guise of “red tape reduction”, the UCP has struck a panel looking at more regulatory changes that the insurance lobby itself has said “could also change the rate regulation framework that governs how insurers set premiums.”
If costs are going to go up even more, who will Jason Kenney look out for? His friends and interests in big insurance? Or everyday Albertans driving to work?
Knowing Jason Kenney, Albertans should brace for impact.
Jon Carson is the MLA for Edmonton-West Henday and the Alberta NDP Opposition Critic for Service Alberta.
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