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Committee to Review Employment of Foreign Workers at Battery Plant Arouses Concerns of Xenophobia, Says Liberal MP

At the end of a tense committee meeting during which a Liberal MP said concerns about foreign workers sound xenophobic, MPs voted to study the contract for the electric vehicle battery plant in Windsor, Ont.

Opposition MPs are seeking clarification around the NextStar Energy battery plant subsidized by $15 billion in taxpayer funds after it surfaced that it would employ 1,600 South Korean workers. The plant is a joint venture between European carmaker Stellantis and South Korean company LG Energy Solutions.

Conservative MP Rick Perkins introduced a motion to study the matter during a special meeting of the House of Commons industry committee Nov. 21.

“In the absence of having the details of that contract, it’s impossible for taxpayers to understand whether or not there is a contract that compels Stellantis and their subsidiary now in Windsor to actually hire Canadians,” said Mr. Perkins.

Liberal MP Ryan Turnbull, who serves as parliamentary secretary to Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne, said concerns about South Korean workers coming in could relate to “xenophobia.”

“Strikes me that there could be a chord of xenophobia through this a little bit,” he said. “It’s in there in terms of…” he added before being cut off by Mr. Perkins who said “the last gasp of the desperate.”

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NextStar Energy has stated it would employ 2,500 people. Meanwhile, Windsor Police, following a meeting with South Korea’s ambassador last week, said 1,600 South Korean workers would be coming to work at the battery plant and “live in our community.”

Mr. Turnbull protested that the meeting was called based on the information from Windsor Police posted on X (formerly Twitter). “It doesn’t make sense to me that you would consider that as factual,” he said.

Mr. Champagne said on Nov. 21 that he was unaware foreign workers would be involved at the plant but said it could be expected because technology transfer is required as part of the project.

Liberals have also pointed out that a free trade deal with South Korea allows its workers to come to Canada with few barriers.

Immigration Minister Marc Miller said on Nov. 21 that fewer than 100 foreign workers have come in to train Canadian employees thus far.


NDP MP Brian Masse, representing the neighboring Windsor riding where the plant is being built, told the committee he supports the project but that transparency is needed to build public confidence

Mr. Masse noted that when foreign labor comes to Canada to work in the agricultural sector, it’s the businesses that pay for the labor and not Canadian taxpayers.

“This is where I think people are a little bit concerned with what’s taking place,” he said.

Liberal MP Irek Kusmierczyk, from the Windsor riding where the plant is being built, defended the project and pushed back against criticism.

“This battery plant is our future, is my community’s future, it is our great hope,” he said. “We got to get this right, because everything is riding on it.”

Mr. Kusmierczyk said that the electric vehicle sector is a “threat” to Conservatives because they “don’t believe in climate change.”

“Canada is leading the transition to zero emission vehicles and it burns the Conservatives to hear that,” he added.

Mr. Kusmierczyk, who is not a member of the industry committee, stood up and left the meeting after delivering his remarks.

Tory MP Brad Vis took offense and called him out for his comments and not staying for debates. “Are you just going to make a political statement and walk out?” asked Mr. Vis.

Referencing the Stellantis-LG issue, Mr. Vis said Canada is now in an “untenable situation” where companies are only willing to set up shop if they receive “billions upon billions” from the federal government.

Ottawa agreed to provide automaker Volkswagen more than $13 billion in subsidies and a $700 million grant in March to build a battery plant in Canada. Shortly after, Stellantis stalled construction at the Windsor battery plant until it struck an agreement with Canada and Ontario in July to provide $15 billion of performance incentives.

The Tory motion to review the Stellantis-LG contract was adopted at the end of the meeting with several amendments. The Bloc Québécois supported the Liberals to have the contract be reviewed behind closed doors.

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