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Unifor head, Jerry Dias, to lead group advising Ontario on how to fight U.S. protectionism


‘This is the provincial government’s way of saying that “Look we are not going to sit by idly and allow this to happen without one hell of a pushback,”‘ said Dias

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Jerry Dias, the combative head of Canada’s largest private sector union, has been tapped by Ontario Premier Doug Ford to head up a group offering advice on how to fight back against American protectionism.

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“The bottom line is you’ve got Joe Biden implementing a Buy America strategy that will have a negative impact on the province of Ontario,” the national president of Unifor said Thursday. “So the question now becomes what do we do about this? Do we sit back and allow them to destroy the auto industry?”

The United States under President Joe Biden — as with Donald Trump — has been bullishly protectionist. For example, Trump brought in tariffs on softwood lumber in 2017, and tax credits for the purchase of electric vehicles, contained within Biden’s Build Back Better bill, have worried Canadian trade representatives.

A news release from the Ontario government says U.S. protectionism would “threaten industries across Ontario,” such as lumber, steel and the auto sector. On Thursday, the government announced the Premier’s Council on U.S. Trade and Industry Competitiveness.

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“This is the provincial government’s way of saying that ‘Look we are not going to sit by idly and allow this to happen without one hell of a pushback,’” said Dias. “I didn’t exactly graduate from charm school last week, so I think the government realizes that I’m aggressive, and I will be aggressive, and frankly we will do whatever is necessary to protect the jobs in this province.”

The council will provide advice and recommendations on how best to “protect Ontario’s rights under trade agreements and the workers who depend on a secure, prosperous and integrated North American economy,” the news release said.

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“I am proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with Jerry Dias as we work together to protect an integrated economy that employs millions of workers on both sides of the border,” Ford said in the release. “At a time when we’re on the cusp of unleashing the full potential of Ontario’s auto sector as we build an economy that will compete globally, now is not the time to rip up decades of cooperation and put workers on both sides of the border at risk.”

The auto industry is one of Canada’s largest manufacturing sectors, worth roughly $12.5 billion to Canada’s GDP and directly employing more than 100,000 people, according to Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada.

“Donald Trump won … cause he drove around the United States and pointed to shuttered auto plants and said ‘Hey, these are as a result of bad trade deals.’ And he was, frankly, right,” said Dias. “So you’ve got Joe Biden right now doing everything possible to win back that narrative.”

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Dias’s union, Unifor, represents more than 315,000 members across Canada, among them, the journalists in the National Post’s Toronto newsroom.

Dias, a veteran union activist, has a colourful history with Ford, including in 2018 when Dias said “f–k you” to the premier during a televised speech, and a November press conference where Ford announced a $15 minimum wage, and Dias said it was a good start, but not good enough.

“When you’re dealing with economic armageddon, this isn’t about politics,” said Dias. “If I’ve got an NDP, a Liberal or a Conservative government, if they want to join with me and join with our organization to fight bad policies that are going to have a negative impact on workers, then I’m in.”

• Email: tdawson@postmedia.com | Twitter:

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