TECUMSEH, Ont. - Premier Kathleen Wynne took to the heart of Ontario's auto industry Wednesday, where Liberals have recently lost stronghold seats to the New Democrats, but aimed her attack squarely at the Tories, dismissing the NDP leader as "irrelevant."
"Tim Hudak would destroy the auto industry in Ontario," Wynne said of the Progressive Conservative leader.
"He would move away from a decades-old strategy of partnerships between government and business and he would say to the auto sector... you're on your own."
Earlier this year Hudak denounced a request by Chrysler Canada for a reported $700 million from Ontario and Ottawa — which the company ultimately withdrew — as "ransom" and "corporate extortion."
He said the government should lower taxes so companies can create jobs, rather than giving them "handouts."
"How are we going to get good manufacturing jobs in the province? More affordable energy, lower taxes so they can buy the latest state-of-the-art machinery, a big investment in our skilled trades workers by modernizing our apprenticeship laws... less red tape, more free trade," Hudak said Wednesday at a plastics manufacturer in Cobourg, Ont.
"Look, I've laid out step by step how we can become a manufacturing powerhouse again."
Speaking near Windsor at a manufacturer of plastics tooling used in the auto industry, Wynne touted the Liberal government's record on support for the sector, saying there was "no question" that bailouts for Chrysler and General Motors in the midst of the 2008-09 recession were necessary.
Wynne said Hudak's comments about the potential money for Chrysler earlier this year were unfortunate and injected "a message of instability" into the discussions.
"When Tim Hudak started talking about corporate welfare... that introduced and undermined a very strong discussion that was already going on," Wynne said. "Even (Conservative Prime Minister) Stephen Harper, even the federal government understands that those kind of partnerships are critical to the auto sector."
The Liberal leader characterized the choice in the June 12 election as one between her party and the Tories. The only mention of NDP Leader Andrea Horwath in her remarks on the auto sector was to dismiss her.
"Every time Andrea Horwath alienates business and makes business the enemy, she makes herself irrelevant in this discussion," Wynne said.
Her comments come in an area of the province where the Liberals have lost seats to the NDP. In 2011 the New Democrats won the Liberal stronghold of Essex and two years later took Windsor-Tecumseh from the governing party in a byelection after former finance minister Dwight Duncan resigned.
Horwath, speaking Wednesday in Brampton, Ont., said her party has been "quite clear" in its support for the auto sector.
"I believe that the government of this province needs to be very active in maintaining and expanding the opportunities in the auto sector," she said.
"That does mean sitting down with these companies and getting a sense of what other jurisdictions are offering in terms of incentives — what Ontario can offer over and above our skilled workforce and our capacity to put out excellent product. We have to be in that discussion if we're going to be able to maintain the footprint of the auto sector here."
Horwath drove her point home by noting she is the daughter of an auto worker and said it allowed her to have a good, middle-class upbringing.
Ottawa and Ontario spent billions in 2009 to help Chrysler and GM survive during the global economic downturn. The province says Chrysler paid back its loan in full.
The auto sector has rebounded, but large government incentives to build plants in the U.S. and Mexico, favourable trade agreements between Mexico and other countries and higher labour costs continue to hurt Canada's chances to win production.
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