Despite Unifor deal with GM, Oshawa continues with green, tech-driven plans

A deal between the union representing Canadian General Motors’ employees could bring back as many as 1,700 workers to the Oshawa, Ont., plant. Despite the agreement, the city is still trying to ensure it diversifies its economy to avoid being reliant.

A once thriving hundred-year-old GM era in Oshawa was quickly stifled by mass layoffs last year, forcing stakeholders to come up with a new plan that included a future focused on technology.

Read more: The start of something new: GM workers, Ontario Tech, mayor weigh in on Oshawa’s tech-driven future

With the possibility of nearly 2,000 employees returning to work, mayor Dan Carter says this vision is still well-alive, but now he aims to have both traditional and green industries co-exist.

“These two worlds are going to keep on colliding together,” Carter said Thursday.

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“You see how technology plays more and more of a roll in transportation in regards to the new types of automobiles being built today. I’m excited about both. I still believe that both of them are going to co-exist and both are going to be a huge contributor to our community.”

Click to play video 'Panelists weigh in on the future of Oshawa' Panelists weigh in on the future of Oshawa
Panelists weigh in on the future of Oshawa – Oct 17, 2019

It comes as creating jobs remains top of mind for the mayor during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But will the city’s proposed hybrid identity clash with Ontario Tech University, which said last year they were striving to become the “MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) of the north”?

The university’s president, Steven Murphy, says this will not be a concern.

”This is a win-win green story,” he said.

“It’s bringing back people to work who need the work, which boosts our economy, and it’s also bringing back a company in terms of their manufacturing presence, who are signalling right around the globe they have no direction other than continuing to go green.”

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Read more: GM says pickup truck production will return to Oshawa plant with new Unifor deal

The city’s pivot towards aligning with the economy is something Concordia University economics professor Moshe Lander says is appropriate.

“It’s in fact even a good idea to have that diversified potential for the economy, so that you’re not excessively reliant on the boom and bust of one industry.”

Lander compares this boom and bust to Alberta’s oil industry, saying Oshawa is in a similar predicament when it comes to automobiles.

Click to play video 'Government help for oil vs. auto sectors' Government help for oil vs. auto sectors
Government help for oil vs. auto sectors – Nov 27, 2018

Grassroots organizations including Green Jobs Oshawa hope to see the industry shift to become more sustainable, both work-wise and for the sake of the environment. The group says while they are pleased by the announcement of jobs coming back to the plant, they say the company “shouldn’t repeat the mistakes of the past.”

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“Green Jobs Oshawa definitely will be continuing,” said group organizer and former GM employee Rebecca Keetch.

Read more: Unifor members vote in favour of new 3 year General Motors contract

“We do not feel confident that GM has a long-term plan for Oshawa, as no electric vehicle production was announced. Our community is going to be strengthened by truck production coming back. We have to use this new strength to fight for the future.”

GM has begun construction for its track that will be used to test autonomous and electric vehicles. The $170 million investment was announced in 2019 following the initial news the plant would be closing. It saved 300 jobs in an effort to re-tool the plant to stamping and autonomous vehicle testing.

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