FEATURE-From cars to college town, Canada's Motor City grows despite GM woes

Sun Sep 18, 2016 3:27pm EDT
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By Allison Martell

OSHAWA, Ontario, Sept 18(Reuters) - In Oshawa, winning a spot on the line at General Motors isn't the singular prize it used to be.

As GM Oshawa workers fight for the plant's survival and face what could be the first Canadian auto strike since 1996, the rest of the once-company town has moved on.

"Everyone looks at Oshawa as, oh, you only make cars ... and that's not true anymore," said Oshawa Mayor John Henry, whose two brothers work at the plant.

A new university, cancer center and expansion at a nearby nuclear plant have made Oshawa one of the fastest growing labor markets in Canada and attracted a generation of workers who may never set foot in a plant.

For Israel Nieto, 23, Oshawa is not Canada's Motor City, but the place that made it possible for him to go to college. Nieto immigrated from Mexico six years ago and, after high school, enrolled at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, which took its first students at its Oshawa campus in 2003.

"I just didn't have the money to spend on (university) residence," said Nieto, who studies community development and policy. "There was no way I could afford going to university somewhere else in Canada."

With contract talks grinding on and a strike deadline set for Sept. 19, the union wants to secure new vehicle production at the Oshawa plant, which employs 2,500 people. Without new investment, the assembly plant would likely shut by 2020.

To be sure, closure would hurt Oshawa's economy, eliminating thousands of jobs, with knock-on affects across the province. Canada has struggled in recent years to lure new auto investment, losing out to the United States and lower-cost Mexico.   Continued...