U of G Provost Authors National Report on Future of Auto Industry

Charlotte Yates

A new national report on the future of Canada’s automotive industry has been co-authored by the University of Guelph’s provost and vice-president (academic).

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released the report today.

Charlotte Yates, who is also a professor in U of G’s Department of Political Science, worked on the report with John Holmes of Queen’s University. The report assesses the sector and outlines a plan to boost competitiveness and avoid plant closures.

“We do not accept automotive plant closures as a foregone conclusion,” said Yates, a recognized expert in the automotive industry, labour unions, and manufacturing and industrial policy.

“While Canada’s most recent free trade agreements have left our automotive sector more vulnerable to tariff-free foreign competition, the solutions proposed in this report could promote a revitalization of Canada’s auto industry.”

The automotive sector is a rapidly changing industry and vital to Canada’s economic well-being, the report says. The industry directly employs more than 125,000 people, with Ontario being one of the largest sub-national automotive assembly jurisdictions in North America. The industry also creates significant demand for other goods manufactured in Canada such as steel, rubber, aluminum and textiles.

Maintaining Canada’s competitiveness will require decisive action and collaboration by provincial and federal governments, the report says.

“The good jobs that Canada’s automotive sector provides are the kinds of employment that we should be aiming to promote in Canada,” co-author Holmes said. “It is possible to future-proof the industry in ways that keep it healthy in a competitive global market.”

General Motors’ recent announcement of its likely plant closure in Oshawa is impacting thousands of jobs and causing a negative ripple effect among suppliers, the report said. It recommends that provincial and federal policy-makers join their U.S. counterparts and encourage GM to maintain its manufacturing footprint.

Targeted investment and new policies must be designed for the changing auto sector, the report says, including positioning Canada as a leader in responding to consumer demand for electric and autonomous vehicles. This will require the development of a green industrial policy with targeted supports for companies that commit to building vehicles sustainably, the report said.

Other recommendations include:

  • Establishing a workforce development plan that will invest in engineering, technical and data analytic skills, including trades and apprenticeships and income supports for skills retraining for workers;
  • Creating and expanding incentives such as tax credits and grants for small and medium-sized Canadian companies; and
  • Focusing research and development investments on specific centres of excellence.

The Future of The Canadian Auto Industry report is available on the CCPA website.

“We need to do more to promote Canada’s competitive advantage as a source of highly productive, skilled workers producing top-quality products,” said Yates, a frequent media commentator on labour issues.

Yates is the president of the newly formed, non-profit Automotive Policy Research Centre, which develops policy research focused on maintaining a competitive and sustainable Canadian automotive industry. Yates created the policy research partnership after being awarded $2.1 million from Automotive Partnership Canada in 2012. She is also the academic representative on the Canadian Automotive Partnership Council.

She has been recognized by the Ontario Ministry of the Status of Women for her teaching and research on the labour industry and unions, gender equity and advocacy, and leadership of social justice and initiatives. Yates joined U of G in 2015 from McMaster University, where she was dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences.