Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will do everything he can to protect local jobs, he promised Monday, as he met with a union concerned that foreign workers are taking Canadian jobs at a new electric-vehicle battery plant in southern Ontario.

His promise came as the Conservatives pushed him to make the contracts for six major EV projects in Canada public, to show what protections they include for unionized jobs.

Trudeau addressed a crowd of 500 construction union leaders from all provinces on Monday at the Canada's Building Trade Unions annual conference, where he received a standing ovation.

During a 35-minute fireside chat with Sean Strickland, executive director of CBTU, Trudeau made a commitment that his Liberal government will strive to make sure most jobs linked to electric-vehicle projects in Canada stay local.

"So yes, it's part and parcel of it that we expect that the construction, the installation, the maintenance be done by Canadians as much as is humanly possible," Trudeau said.

"We've been pushing on the plants to make sure of that."

CBTU wrote to Trudeau earlier this month asking him to intervene because they said Canadian workers were being sidelined in favour of foreign employees at the NextStar EV battery plant in Windsor, Ont.

About 180 skilled workers in the region remain unemployed, the letter said, despite being available to perform work that has instead been assigned to newcomers.

Both Trudeau and NextStar, which is owned by Stellantis and LG Energy Solution, have denied that is happening, saying 72 positions have gone to foreign workers to install equipment that Canadians will be taught to use.

@JustinTrudeau promises to protect local construction jobs — and to hold EV plants to it. #CDNPoli #ForeignWorkers #ElectricVehicleBatteryPlant

There's nothing more disturbing to a construction worker, Strickland said to Trudeau, than "when you have a Canadian worker sitting at home, collecting employment insurance in their home community, and there are foreign workers doing his or her work in a plant."

"That is just completely inexplicable to that Canadian worker. We can't have that happen," Strickland said.

Foreign automakers have invested tens of billions of dollars since 2020 to build up electric-vehicle battery plants in southern Ontario, with help from the federal and provincial governments in the form of tax credits and subsidies.

Last week, Honda became the most recent automaker to announce an electric-vehicle battery plant in the province, following similar projects by Volkswagen in St. Thomas, Ont., and the Stellantis LG plant in Windsor.

These EV projects will guarantee "fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth" generations of workers because of those investments, Trudeau said.

"We didn't do it because the government said 'OK, let's build electric cars,'" he said. "We did it because we said, 'This is where the jobs are going to be in the future.'"

Opposition MPs, however, want Trudeau to do more than just promise to try and protect jobs.

The Conservatives tabled a motion at a House of Commons committee demanding the government produce the contracts for six electric-vehicle projects underway in Canada.

The Tories want to see what the contracts say about the use of foreign workers.

This is the second time they've tried to get such contracts.

"The government claimed that all these jobs, both in the construction phase, with the exception of a few specialty jobs, would be jobs that were there for Canadians," Conservative industry critic Rick Perkins said Monday at the government operations committee.

"And in fact, that's not the case."

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh was undecided Monday on whether or not his party will support the Tories' quest, saying he needs more information.

"They're proposing to open up all contracts, and I've heard serious concerns about that jeopardizing the project," Singh said.

He maintained the NDP's position that any time public money goes toward projects, there need to be ironclad guarantees they would create good-paying union jobs, "and that the work stays in the country."

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre is set to address the CBTU conference on Tuesday.

Trudeau gave leaders a cautionary warning ahead of Poilievre's speech.

"Ask him about whether he's actually going to stand with workers, even though for 20 years of his career in Parliament, he has ideologically stood against workers every step of the way — until, oh, suddenly he needs votes in order to get elected," Trudeau said.

"Look for actions, not just what people say. And I am proud to stand by the actions of what we have built together."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 29, 2024.

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