Buzz Hargrove Letter to Jean Chretien, Prime Minister and Ernie Eves, Premier of Ontario, October 17, 2002

Buzz Hargrove Letter to Jean Chretien, Prime Minister and Ernie Eves, Premier of Ontario, October 17, 2002

October 17, 2002

The Right Honourable Jean Chrétien, Prime Minister
The Honourable Ernie Eves, Premier of Ontario

I am writing you to express my shock and anger regarding the decision by the International Truck and Engine Corporation, announced today, that it will close its truck assembly facility in Chatham, Ontario, and move the work to a facility in Escobedo, Mexico. This decision will destroy the economic livelihood of up to 1000 hard-working Canadians. The company had already put another 1,000 employees onto the street with previous lay-offs.

The most outrageous aspect to this decision is that it callously reflects the new-found freedom and power of private companies in this era of free trade and globalization. The Chatham plant owes its existence to the Auto Pact – which allowed companies like International the right to import products tariff-free to Canada, but only if they committed to an equivalent amount of Canadian content and production. Now, in the wake of the FTA, NAFTA, and the WTO, our ability to manage and regulate the actions of self-interested corporations like this one has been seriously compromised.

Even International acknowledges the superior quality and productivity of its Canadian workforce. Yet free trade seems to have given them a license to run roughshod over the rights and aspirations of thousands of Canadians. They feel an absolute right to make the most of the Canadian marketplace, selling millions of dollars of vehicles here – but no obligation whatsoever to contribute something back to the community in the form of jobs and investment.

The closure of this facility only adds to the grim toll of plant closures and layoffs which has hammered Canada's auto industry during the past two years. Together with completed or announced plant closures at Ste.-Therese, Oakville, and Windsor, this announcement means that four major motor vehicle assembly plants will face the axe in a period of less than two years. This is a body blow to the future hopes of this most important high-productivity, export-oriented industry that we have going for us in Canada. We have done everything as we can as a union to guarantee the future survival of the automotive industry in Canada, most recently by negotiating a total of almost $7 billion in new investment in our recently-concluded major automotive collective agreements. And our members work hard every day to ensure that Canadian-made products embody the highest-quality, most efficient standards of work.

Yet when callous corporations like International are ready to destroy the livelihoods of thousands of Canadians with a single strike of the pen, this is proof that we also need the active hand of government to protect this crucial industry and ensure that these corporations exhibit at least a modicum of responsibility to the communities that have so enriched them.

That's why I am calling on you to respond, free trade agreement or no free trade agreement, to this irresponsible decision. I urge your government to prohibit the import of International Truck products into Canada, should they close the Chatham plant. That plant was established in Canada at a time when corporations were expected to follow a certain set of rules. The Auto Pact benefits which International received for decades helped immensely in the development and profitability of the company. Those rules are no longer there formally, but many other companies (including truck makers like Freightliner and Paccar) continue to respect their responsibility to produce trucks in the same countries where they sell them. If International won't live up to its responsibility, then they need to face a negative constraint in consequence. That constraint should be exclusion from the Canadian market. Other companies, which continue to invest here, are more than capable of supplying Canada's heavy truck needs with quality and competitive products.

The International decision, as well, highlights the immense importance of the current automotive policy development process that is being led by Industry Minister Allan Rock and his provincial colleagues. The destruction of one thousand livelihoods in Chatham provides all the more evidence that Canada's much-vaunted advantages – our quality, our productivity, our medicare system, our location – will never be sufficient to guarantee a fair economic future for Canadians in this industry, so long as private companies are given carte blanche in their investment decisions, regardless of their social consequences. We need an auto policy that has a stick, as well as a carrot: one that rewards companies for doing the right thing, but punishes those that view Canadians solely as potential customers, rather than human beings who need work and income in order to maximize the potential of their lives.

I hope you and your government colleagues share my outrage at the affront which this decision represents to the workers in Chatham, to their families, to their community, and indeed to the whole nation. International Truck used to respect Canada as a nation, because we used to have rules which required that respect. We must now recreate a set of policies and practices which force corporations to show the same respect they used to. You could start in a dramatic way, by taking immediate action to punish International for this outrageous decision.

Thank you for your attention, and I will await your response with great urgency.

Yours sincerely,

Buzz Hargrove

Basil ‘Buzz' Hargrove

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