Opposition parties demand Liberals release EV and battery production contracts

The push comes amid revelations that some of the companies would be bringing in hundreds of foreign workers to help build the new plants

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OTTAWA – Outraged that hundreds of foreign workers will be working on heavily subsidized battery plants, opposition parties are demanding the Liberal government release the contracts behind five deals it signed with major automobile and battery producers for billions of dollars in subsidies.

On Monday, NDP and Bloc Québécois MPs told the House Government Operations committee that they supported a Conservative push for the government to publish its contracts with five electric vehicle and battery builders who promised to build plants in Canada in exchange for massive federal subsidies, including Stellantis, Volkswagen and Northvolt.

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The push comes amid revelations that some of the companies would be bringing in hundreds of foreign workers to help build the new electric-vehicle battery plants, prompting major pushback from unions and MPs over fears they’ll replace skilled Canadian workers.

Last week, NextStar Energy, the company building the much-vaunted electric-vehicle plant in Windsor, Ont., that is set to receive up to $15 billion in federal subsidies, confirmed that up to 900 foreign workers would be brought in temporarily to help assemble and install equipment in the new factory, as well as train local workers.

The building is a joint venture between Stellantis and South Korea-based LG Energy Solution.

On Friday, Radio-Canada reported that Swedish battery developer Northvolt, which will build a 170-hectare multibillion-dollar electric vehicles battery plant in Quebec, will also bring in “hundreds” of foreign workers to help launch the factory.

Northvolt will receive up to $2.7 billion in subsidies to complete construction and an additional $4.6 billion in production incentives from the federal and Quebec governments.

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In both cases, federal and provincial governments raved about successfully attracting the investment to Canada, saying they will create 2,500 and 3,000 jobs respectively once the plants are up and running.

On Monday, Conservative MPs tabled a motion at the House Government Operations Committee to compel the government to publish the contracts for those two deals, as well as three others that received promises of federal subsidies.

One of those contracts is for up to $13.2 billion in subsidies to VW for an EV battery plant in St. Thomas, Ont., another is a $332-million promise to Ford Motor Co. and partners for a battery factory in Bécancour, Que., and the last is a $551.3-million investment to Umicore Rechargeable Battery Materials Canada to build components that go into EV batteries.

During the hearing, the NDP and Bloc Québécois said they supported the push to make the contracts public. Liberal members opposed it, arguing the contracts needed to stay private to “protect foreign investment.”

Conservative House Leader Andrew Scheer compared the situation to shareholders demanding to hold a company’s CEO accountable.

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“In this case, we are the representatives, as members of Parliament, of the shareholders of this country. Foreign replacement workers coming to Canada thanks to taxpayer subsidies is of interest to not just the workers in the area, but every single Canadian family whose tax bill is underwriting this,” Scheer told the committee.

NDP MP Gord Johns said his party supported the Conservative motion because it wanted “transparency” and to avoid “future problems” with similar contracts.

Liberal MP Charles Sousa said he was “shocked” by the opposition parties’ request.

“We have an opportunity here to continue to enable foreign direct investment. These are confidential matters — the members opposite appreciate that,” he said. “So, for us to provide and then expose it to others puts at risk and jeopardize the very existence of the enablement of these investments coming to Canada.”

But the committee meeting got bogged down by two hours of procedural wrangling between the Conservatives, NDP and Liberals over some of the phrasing in the motion. At one point, MPs were debating if they should “delete the deletion” of a part of the motion that had been removed earlier in the meeting.

The meeting was adjourned Monday afternoon without a vote on the motion. The hearings were set to resume Monday evening.

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