Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown says the Liberal government’s provincial retirement plan, high energy costs and red tape are holding back the struggling auto industry.

“The environment being created by the Liberal government in the auto sector is going to see the continued decline of manufacturing jobs,” Brown said Friday in Windsor. “We are very hopeful we can change that.”

Brown — accompanied by Southwestern Ontario MPP’s Monte McNaughton, Bob Bailey, Rick Nicholls and Jeff Yurek — was in the city to consult with local auto industry leaders on how to improve the struggling sector.

MPP's Monte McNaughton, Bob Bailey, Rick Nicholls and Jeff Yurek (back left to right) join Ontario PC leader Patrick Brown (second from right) as he comments to the media during a manufacturing tour in Windsor on Friday, July 17, 2015. (TYLER BROWNBRIDGE/The Windsor Star)

“We are touring all of the major auto companies, to hear their concerns and suggestions of how we could create auto jobs, and not lose auto jobs,” he said outside of the Chrysler Automotive Research and Development Centre.

He claimed that the actions of Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne have hindered the progress of manufacturing in Southwestern Ontario.

“Most telling was that letter from 150 companies that signed a plea asking the government to reconsider this ORPP, and of the signatures, GM and Ford signed that letter,” Brown said of the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan. “It’s unacceptable, it will drive jobs out of Ontario and we feel it is important to go and listen to the suggestions and ideas from everyone involved in the auto sector.”

Although he wouldn’t reveal any specifics from Friday’s meeting, Brown said the visit was designed to gather information to improve the competitiveness of the province.

He cited concerns raised by Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne regarding Ontario’s high hydro costs — concerns echoed by Mayor Drew Dilkens.

“I was listening to comments of Drew Dilkens, the Windsor mayor, when he said ‘when we went after auto jobs, we didn’t have the environment in Ontario where we could win those bids,’ and we want to change that and that’s why we’re here,” he said.

Brown said one step towards progress is to do away with the ORPP.

“The ORPP is going to be a disaster, they should rescind that policy before it comes into effect.”

Brown added that managing energy costs in the province should be a priority.

“The fact that we have the highest energy prices in North America is making it increasingly difficult for the manufacturing sector,” he said.

In response, Minister of Economic Development Brad Duguid argued that the Liberal plan to foster economic growth and create jobs is working.

“We have seen employment increase by over 560,000 since the recessionary low of 2009, and our unemployment rate has dropped from a recessionary low of 9.6 per cent to now outpace Canada’s average at 6.5 per cent,” he said in a statement. “Ontario has also created more than 60,000 net new jobs since January 2015 … Although these are positive trends, we know there is more work to do and far too many Ontarians remain unemployed.”

Duguid also said that the government has invested $4 billion in the auto sector since November, and recently appointed Ray Tanguay as the province’s auto adviser to improve development.

In defence of the ORRP, Duguid said the plan will contribute positively to Ontario’s economy over the longer term by enhancing the purchasing power of retirees.

“Our goal is to ensure that sustained economic growth goes hand-in-hand with a secure retirement future,” he said.

dwanniarachige@windsorstar.com

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