The closure of yet another major Ontario manufacturing plant landed with a thud in the provincial election campaign.
Unilever’s announcement that it would shut down a Toronto-area plant and ship 280 jobs to Missouri came as all three campaigning political leaders attempt to position themselves as job creators.
The shuttering of the Bramalea plant follows similar moves by Kellogg’s, Heinz and other manufacturers.
Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak said the loss of solid, well-paying jobs at Unilever will be a blow to the Brampton community.
Companies are leaving Ontario not due to any shortcomings of employees, but because the overall cost of doing business — including taxes and hydro rates — is too steep, Hudak said.
Hudak is campaigning on a “million jobs plan” which he said will address the root reasons why businesses are bolting from the province.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath was in Niagara Falls Thursday to announce her party’s Job Creation Tax Credit which would cover 10% of the salary of new employees to a maximum value of $5,000 dollars per business.
“The Liberals have no plans to keep jobs here,” Horwath said later in the day during a London stop, reacting to the Unilever job losses. “Instead of finding ways to keep employers in Ontario, the Liberal government has driven up the cost of electricity, making it tough for business here to compete.”
During a visit to the riding of Vaughan just north of Toronto Thursday, Hudak said Ontario can create 200,000 new jobs with the stroke of a pen by changing the ratio of journeyman to apprentices in the skilled trades.
“These are good jobs — carpenters, electricians, plumbers welders, precision machine operators — these good jobs, they have good pay cheques,” Hudak said.
While several provinces have a one-to-one ratio of journeyman to apprentices, Ontario mandates a ratio of three to five journeyman for each apprentice in most trades.
Hudak said he would move to a one-to-one ratio by rewriting the regulations.
The PC leader has made job creation the number one plank of his platform and he accused his opponents of losing sight of that goal.
”The Liberals and the NDP have spent the first week or so of this campaign on the attack pointing their finger at somebody else each and every day,” he said.
Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne said there’s no evidence that Hudak’s plan would create jobs, that instead he would just drive down wages.
In Ottawa, Wynne criticized the Conservative Party, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, arguing the province is not getting a fair shake from its federal government in terms of the national fiscal arrangement.
Ontario took an economic hit, which included a decline in the manufacturing sector, and the federal government should have stepped in to provide more support as it has in other parts of the country, she said.
“I think that fair and just treatment of all of the provinces is important,” Wynne said. “When there is a situation where there is an injustice it’s important that the premier of Ontario stand up to the federal government, stand up in this case to Stephen Harper, and say this isn’t right.”
Hudak and Harper “are playing on the same team” and the provincial leader has not advocated on Ontario’s behalf at the national level, Wynne said.
Hudak responded that provincial leaders point the finger at the federal government when they’ve run out of their own ideas to create jobs.
— With files from Jonathan Sher