Ontario party leaders debate possible LG Chem plant in final week Windsor campaign stops

·3 min read
Electrical power has become an election issue in southwestern Ontario - specifically, whether there's enough power to support an LG Chem plant. (Mike Crawley/CBC - image credit)
Electrical power has become an election issue in southwestern Ontario - specifically, whether there's enough power to support an LG Chem plant. (Mike Crawley/CBC - image credit)

The leaders of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives, Liberals and NDP made a last-minute push for support in Windsor-Essex on Monday, as the region awaits word on whether a new LG Chem plant will be built here.

Whether the company is interested in setting up a $2.5-billion plant in the region that would create as many as 1,500 positions has been the subject of public speculation and back-and-forth between election candidates for weeks ahead of the June 2 vote.

Such a facility would dovetail with the upcoming $4.9-billion electric vehicle battery plant from Stellantis and LG Energy Solution, supplying materials such as cathodes.

A spokesperson for LG Chem told CBC News on Thursday that no decision had been made "and anything to the contrary is speculation."

Last month, however, the head of the economic development group Invest WindsorEssex said that LG Chem is no longer considering the area over concerns about electrical capacity.

Dale Molnar/CBC
Dale Molnar/CBC

PC Leader Doug Ford has dismissed these concerns. On Monday, he reiterated his party's commitment to accelerate five hydro transmission projects in southwestern Ontario — including three that have been designated priorities for approval — at a cost of more than $1 billion.

"We invested a billion dollars," he said Monday during a campaign stop just outside Windsor. "We're doing that on five transmission lines coming here."

Ford said he hasn't heard any decisive information regarding the location of the project. But he said he'd hear more over the next two weeks and vowed to do what he could to attract the company.

Gary McNamara, the mayor of Tecumseh and warden of Essex County, has endorsed Ford.

Ford made an appeal to voters Monday, saying Windsor-Essex — which has no PC MPPs — needs a seat at the table at Queen's Park.

"It's time to paint Windsor-Essex blue in '22," he said.

Evan Mitsui/CBC
Evan Mitsui/CBC

Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca was also in the area Monday.

He said in addition to building up infrastructure, a Liberal government would ask the body that oversees the province's electricity, the Independent Electricity System Operator, to investigate the region's electrical capacity — an issue it flagged several years ago — and "how we can urgently move forward, to make sure that Windsor-Essex and the rest of Ontario has the electricity that it needs" for job creation.

He took aim at Ford's government for cancelling hundreds of green energy projects in 2018. He said a third of those contracts were in southwestern Ontario.

Chris Young/The Canadian Press
Chris Young/The Canadian Press

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath also appeared in Essex Monday to talk health care. Two of her long-term MPPs, Taras Natyshak in Essex and Percy Hatfield of Windsor-Tecumseh, are not running this time around.

She said the Ford government did "nothing" to ensure the electrical capacity was available to support opportunities like the LG Chem plant.

"I know for sure that we can do so much better when it comes to making sure that the electricity infrastructure is up and running to attract the investments necessary to really have a strong electric vehicle market here in Ontario, as well as manufacturing," she said.

Windsor was never in the running, mayor says

Meanwhile, Windsor's mayor says the city itself was never being considered for the plant because it doesn't have the space. It would have to be in Essex County, he said, but the region does have the power necessary.

"We don't have land big enough to host the LG Chem facility," Drew Dilkens said on Monday.

Jason Viau/CBC
Jason Viau/CBC

Dilkens, who has publicly endorsed Ford, accused Del Duca of "weaponizing" the issue to his advantage by calling for an investigation.

"There's so many falsehoods out there," he said. "My own mother was calling me saying, 'did we lose the battery factory?' when it said we don't have power here."

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