Yesterday’s announcement by General Motors that is was closing several manufacturing plants in both Canada and the U.S. was grim news for 2,500 assembly workers in Canada, 14,000 in the U.S. plus thousands more with salaried positions throughout the company. I learned of this pending announcement Sunday night on my way to Toronto via an exclusive story released by CTV news. While it is unfortunate not only for the affected workers but for the province as a whole, it was not unexpected. The Canadian retail industry has gone through change ie: Sears and Target and will continue to do so, the auto industry and other businesses is no different.
On Monday I was one of approximately 400 members of the Ontario Real Estate Association (OREA) attending a conference in Toronto to discuss advocacy issues pertaining to both REALTORS as well as Ontario home/property owners. Speakers at this event included Premier Doug Ford, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, Green Party Leader Mike Schriener, interim Provincial Liberal Leader John Fraser, Canada’s Ambassador to the U.S. David MacNaughton and lastly former Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Rarely do you have the opportunity to meet and hear such political talent in the same day and I felt privileged to attend.
Needless-to-say Monday morning’s announcement by GM news impacted the conference, Premier Ford was delayed half an hour in arriving having been on the phone addressing the issue with GM’s President. Whether you like Premier Ford or not, Ontario’s new government have moved quickly to address many of the issues facing the Province not the least of which is the economy and the deficit. Mr. Ford did not shy away from the closure issue acknowledging that GM workers will need assistance in securing new employment. At the same time he remained resolute that Ontario is “open for business.” Faced with global economic change and competition, he said that Ontario and in fact Canada needs to attract business that includes smart and other up and coming technologies, artificial intelligence and those that represent the future growth of business outside the traditional manufacturing sector. Ms. Horwath on the other hand touted that the government needs to fight GM’s decision in every way possible, as does the head of their Union. Clearly they have no grasp of reality and they still cling to the belief that unions have a lot of clout.
My father, a dentist like his farther and brother was a car guy so I come by it honestly. He was for the most part a strong GM customer. Growing up we had Chevrolets, Pontiacs, an Olsmobile even a Corvair with the odd Ford thrown into the mix. My father died in 2001 and I have always thought how shocked he would be if he had lived to see GM file for bankruptcy with the Pontiac and Oldmobile divisions both gone along with Mercury, Plymouth and others. I as well have had my share of GM vehicles over the years. In addition to my current car an Audi, my wife has a 1980 Corvette which she drives in the summer and it continues to go up in value. We also have a 2015 GMC Denauli pick-up bought earlier this year (with cash) for less than half of its original $69,000 sticker price. Will I ever buy a brand new vehicle again? Not likely when I can let someone else take a 30% or 40% hit in value in the first three or so years of the vehicle’s life. Also, I am not interested in low interest financing, “employee” pricing or any other gimmicks the auto makers throw at consumers.
I moved to Collingwood in 1985 as the result of a transfer with Goodyear Canada. Goodyear’s Collingwood plant was a significant supplier to GM and Ford that included fuel and transmission lines, rad hoses and other hose products. Those days are long gone. Collingwood’s Pilkington glass plant supplies auto glass for the Chevrolet Impala, a poor selling car that will soon no longer be in GM’s vehicle lineup. My father had a 1962 Impala, he always said it was the nicest car he ever had, I wish I had it now! Fortunately the majority of Pilkington’s business is outside of GM, good for them.
Following their brush with bankruptcy GM is in relatively strong financial shape. By means of the direction they announced yesterday, they have chosen to invest in the future which like for may other car/truck manufacturers includes electric vehicles and those that are self driving as reflected by GM’s purchase of San Francisco based startup Cruise Automation for $1 billion in 2016.
Times and marketplace changes driven by consumers will continue to rise and I believe the acceleration of those changes will continue to escalate. Politicians and unions can kick and scream all they want but trying to fight what consumers want and are willing to pay for is like trying to swim up Niagara Falls. GM has set a good example for many in business to follow, make the required changes to float with the rising tide rather than try to swing against the current.
Like everyone I offer my condolences to the GM workers affected by the closure of Oshawa and GM’s other facilities. You will absolutely need to maintain a strong resolve to find alternate work, which may require training for new skills in order to transition into a completely different field of work. Despite the challenges we all face from time to time perseverance always pays off. Hopefully Ontario’s current government will implement the required efforts to develop employment opportunities in the province’s economy that will offer opportunities for these displaced workers as well as for our our children, opportunities that we as adults never had.