Ontario is shifting responsibility to Ottawa over the details of a multi-billion-dollar electric vehicle battery plant as both governments scramble to understand how many foreign workers may be used to staff the project.
The NextStar battery plant currently under construction in Windsor has been promised $15 billion in performance incentives from the federal and provincial governments.
It has been held up by both as a massive boost to the local economy.
As Global News previously reported, however, the project has already brought in a handful of South Korean workers to staff the new plant, raising concerns about its promises to create local jobs.
A social media post from local police suggested as many as 1,600 South Korean workers could be brought in.
Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said the company, jointly owned by Stellantis and South Korea-based LG Corp, needs to bring in a limited number of workers with expertise to help establish an electric vehicle battery industry in Canada.
“So you’ll have a few people, very few people, selected people, who need to come to transfer technology, because this is a new industry.”
On Tuesday, the provincial government — which is on the hook for $5 billion of the incentives — called on its federal partners for transparency.
“We are extremely concerned about reports of international workers linked to the NextStar project hired under the federal work permitting system,” a letter from Ontario Labour Minister David Piccini and Economic Development Minister Vic Fedeli said.
“That is why we are calling on the Government of Canada to disclose the number of foreign workers in Ontario who are currently working on the construction site and how many will be arriving under federal programs.”
NextStar has promised to employ 2,500 people from the Windsor area.
On Monday, its chief executive Danies Lee confirmed the company still plans to hire about 2,500 Canadians to run the plant and is also engaging up to 2,300 local and regional tradespeople to help build it.
He also said some staff with “proprietary knowledge” would be brought in so they could help set up the factory and launch it.
Speaking at Queen’s Park on Tuesday, Piccini stressed that the battery plant remained a “good deal” and would create “good jobs, bigger pay cheques” for Ontarians.
Federal Employment Minister Randy Boissonnault said only one worker has been approved so far through the temporary foreign worker program, which assesses if there are Canadians available to fill the role before allowing a foreign hire.
At the same event, Immigration Minister Mark Miller noted that because Canada has a free-trade agreement with South Korea, companies are able to bring in employees on work visas, or visa-free, to carry out some work.
Fewer than 100 people have come in as foreign workers, Miller said, a category distinct from temporary foreign workers.
There are 22 jobs currently being advertised by NextStar Enetgy on its website. Some say “fluency in Korean” is “preferred” for candidates applying to the role.
— with files from The Canadian Press
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