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Industry Minister Claimed Ignorance of Foreign Workers at Subsidized Battery Plant

Windsor Police had said that around 1,600 South Koreans were expected to arrive in the Ontario city next year to set up the plant.

Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne says he didn’t know that foreign workers would come to Windsor, Ont., to work on an electric vehicle battery plant subsidized with $15 billion in taxpayer funds.

When asked by reporters in Ottawa on Nov. 21 whether he knew there would be temporary foreign workers brought in to set up the NextStar Energy battery plant, he replied, “No, not necessarily.”

“But I’m saying I’m not surprised that you would have transfer of knowledge,” he added. “No one has done batteries in North America before, so you need certain key people to transfer the knowledge.”

The plant is a joint venture between European company Stellantis and LG Energy Solution, headquartered in South Korea.

Minister Champagne said the knowledge transfer would be done by “very few selected people.”

“That knowledge will help us to make sure that this plant is one of the most productive in the industry in North America, so let’s not lose sight of the big picture,” he said.

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After speaking on his own to reporters while on his way to a cabinet meeting, Mr. Champagne shortly after came back to speak on the issue with Immigration Minister Marc Miller, Employment Minister Randy Boissonnault, and Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan.

Mr. Champagne said he had spoken to the Stellantis CEO the day prior to “bring him up to speed on the situation we’re facing in Canada.”

The federal and the Ontario provincial governments announced in July they would provide a $15 billion incentive to Stellantis-LG Energy Solutions (LGES) to build an electric vehicle battery plant in Windsor.

Mr. Champagne said he asked Stellantis’ CEO to “take action and to make sure that we respect not only the letter, but also the spirit of our contract with the company, which is to maximize the number of opportunities for Canadians.”

The controversy stems from a Nov. 16 Windsor Police post on X which said that as the plant is being built, “we expect approximately 1,600 South Koreans traveling to work and live in our community in 2024.”

The post was related to a visit to Windsor by South Korean Ambassador Woongsoon Lim. The police force said it was “grateful” to discuss safety and security with the ambassador and that it looks “forward to the South Korean workforce coming to our community.”

The Epoch Times reached out to South Korean diplomatic missions in Canada for comment but didn’t immediately hear back. NextStar also has not returned several inquiries by The Epoch Times.

Mr. Boissonnault said there is “no justification that we can see for the number that the South Korean Ambassador raised with 1,600.”

He added that his department had conducted one Labour Market Impact Assessment for a job to be filled by the company if no Canadian applied. “There’s one temporary foreign worker that’s been approved for this project,” said Mr. Boissonnault.

Mr. Champagne told reporters there would be an “obvious” effort to maximize the number of Canadian workers and pointed to the CEO of NextStar Energy saying he would hire 2,500 people while another 2,000 would work on building the plant.

Immigration Minister Marc Miller said the 1,600 foreign workers number doesn’t “seem credible.”

He noted that according to the free trade agreement with South Korea, people can come and go on business visas or visa-free.

“We’ve only had fewer than 100 people that have come in,” said Mr. Miller. “They’re training people up as Minister Champagne said.”

Conservative Party Leader Pierre Poilievre said on Nov. 20 that no public funding should go to foreign workers and that he would push for an inquiry into the matter.
MPs on the industry committee have called a special Nov. 21 meeting to discuss the issue.
The federal government and provinces have invested in several major battery plant projects in recent months. The Parliamentary Budget Officer says the tab for taxpayers will be $5.8 billion higher than projected.

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