“Historic” investment in electric vehicles is coming to Ontario after Unifor and Ford reach agreement

In a September 28 press release, the Canadian union for auto workers, Unifor, reports that members at the Ford Motor Company voted 81% overall in favour of new three year collective agreements “that include $1.95 billion in investments to bring battery electric vehicle (BEV) production to Oakville and a new engine derivative to Windsor, along with other significant gains…. ….. This agreement is perfect timing and positions our members at the forefront of the electric vehicle transformation, as the Oakville plant will be a key BEV supplier to the North American and European Union markets”. Under the heading, “Making History in Challenging Times”, the Ford Bargaining Report Summary  reports that the retooling is scheduled to begin in 2024, with the first BEV vehicles forecasted to roll off the assembly line in 2026, “and hopefully sooner.” Also, “Through this conversion, Oakville will become the first mass production BEV plant in Canada – and one of only a few currently in North America. Ford’s investment is also the biggest single facility investment in the auto sector since 2015 in Canada.”

The Bargaining Summary highlights changes in wages, pensions, and all topics, including that the company and union agreed on the advantages of having a union Workplace Environmental Representative, and that additional training will be offered to the workplace environmental representatives “related to Global Plant Action”. Unifor and Ford also agreed to develop an Anti-Racism Action Plan, and to establish a new Racial Justice Advocate position which will offer support to those who face anti-Black and anti-Indigenous discrimination.  

Media coverage of the agreement appeared in the Toronto Star on September 20, pointing out that the federal and provincial governments will also contribute to the re-tooling of the Oakville plant.  On September 22, the Star also published “Justin Trudeau’s Liberals are betting that electric vehicles can recharge the economy. But a vision is not a plan” , summarizing some of the policy context of the decisions. And beyond the benefit to the auto manufacturing sector, on September 17,  Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources was making the case that “Mining gives Canada a competitive advantage in electric vehicle market” arguing that “we are the only nation in the western hemisphere with an abundance of cobalt, graphite, lithium and nickel, the minerals needed to make next-generation electric batteries.”

Labour’s perspective on electric vehicles

Unifor’s Road Map for a Fair, Inclusive and Resilient Economic Recovery, published in   the summer, states: “The government must also take the lead in supporting zero-emission vehicle manufacturing and preparing the economy for electrified transportation through targeted subsidies and investment in battery technology innovation. A long-overdue National Auto Strategy, for instance, would help merge Canada’s innovation agenda, trade policy, skills training and infrastructure development to foster a modern supply chain for EV components and parts, leading to final assembly. This need not only apply to light duty, passenger vehicles but other modes of surface transportation, including mass transit, commercial trucking and logistics, student transportation, taxis and light rail. Once in place, such a strategy could serve as a rubric for all transportation sectors and industries.” 

These points are also made by Angelo DiCaro, Research Director for Unifor,  in an essay titled “Canada’s auto sector revival will take more than wishful thinking. We need a plan”, featured in the August/September issue of The Monitor, and at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives website.  DiCaro reiterates the call for a national auto strategy, and sketches out key steps for a national Electric Vehicle strategy, starting with Step 1, a “comprehensive mapping of existing capacities and materials needed to forge a complete supply chain for EVs and component parts in Canada”, followed by setting domestic production targets for vehicle assembly and component manufacturing.

Union workers are strong allies for electric vehicles, as Canada’s Unifor demonstrates appeared in the industry newsletter Electrek in June 2020, quoting favourable statements re EV manufacturing from both Unifor and the United Auto Workers(UAW) in the U.S. The UAW published their report, Taking the High Road: Strategies for a fair EV Future in January, making specific policy recommendations, and stating: “The UAW rejects the idea promoted by climate change deniers that fuel efficiency and environmental regulations lead to closed plants and lost jobs. Fuel-efficient vehicles, clean energy, clean manufacturing, renewable energy and other advanced technologies are an opportunity to create new middle-class jobs with good pay, good benefits, and economic security.”

More recently,  the American Center for Progress released  “Electric Vehicles Should Be a Win for American Workers” on Sept. 23 . It concludes: “Federal funding to incentivize consumer demand, drive manufacturer investments, and build out electric vehicle infrastructure should be made contingent on key job quality and domestic content standards. In structuring funding, policymakers must be realistic about present EV capacity while also ensuring that taxpayer dollars do not subsidize low-road employers or erode job quality standards in the broader industry. By designing federal policies that encourage both rapid vehicle electrification and the creation of high-quality, good-paying domestic jobs throughout the EV ecosystem, policymakers can satisfy the priorities of climate and labor advocates and ensure economic prosperity for future generations. In a period of significant economic and environmental challenges, the transition to EVs presents a powerful and positive opportunity to improve conditions for both American workers and the climate.”

Electric vehicle policy in Canada

In response to the news of the Unifor/Ford agreement, Clean Energy Canada published a Media Brief: “What is a zero emission vehicle standard and why does Canada need one?” . It notes research from the International Council on Clean Transportation that found that Canada is the 12th largest vehicle producer in the world but  is responsible for only 0.4% of global EV production. Assessing that Canada has a EV supply problem,  Clean Energy Canada recommends a ZEV standard as the solution, rather than a voluntary standard or consumer incentives.  “A ZEV standard is a supply-focused policy that requires a gradually rising percentage of vehicles sold by auto manufacturers to be zero-emission (i.e. battery-electric, plug-in hybrid or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles). While purchase incentives help drive demand, ZEV standards secure supply.”  Currently, only British Columbia and Quebec have ZEV standards in place – with B.C. having passed the Zero Emissions Vehicle Act  in May 2019, requiring automakers to meet increasing annual levels of EV sales reaching 10% of new light-duty vehicle sales by 2025, 30% by 2030 and 100% by 2040.  On July 30, B.C. followed up with new ZEV regulations under the Act which set phased-in annual targets and other compliance requirements, as well as a ZEV advisory council to be comprised of industry, ENGOs, local governments, First Nations, infrastructure providers and academics, to provide input into the ministry’s EV programming and policies .  

The Clean Energy Media Brief links to many supporting documents, including a recent academic discussion, “Which plug-in electric vehicle policies are best? A multi-criteria evaluation framework applied to Canada”  which appeared in the June 2020 issue of Energy Research and Social Science.  

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