GM Canada exec says departing for financial sector

Thu May 14, 2009 11:36am EDT
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TORONTO (Reuters) - One of the top executives and most public faces at General Motors of Canada is leaving the company on the eve of government-imposed deadlines for the struggling automaker to submit restructuring plans in Canada and the United States.

David Paterson told Reuters on Thursday he will leave his position as GM Canada's vice-president of corporate and environmental affairs at the end of the month for a similar role at Manulife Financial.

"It's entirely just the happenstance of a career opportunity I couldn't say no to, because the opportunities to do what I do in the financial sector in Canada only come along once in a blue moon," Paterson said.

"I'm still with General Motors until the end of May and helping with the resolution of the various challenges that are here, and I'm doing so with confidence we'll get through all of those challenges."

The U.S. and Canadian governments have given General Motors until the end of May to put together a restructuring plan that proves it can be viable, in order to qualify for billions of dollars in loans needed to help it survive the massive downturn in the auto sector.

The Canadian government has also imposed a deadline of this Friday for GM Canada and the Canadian Auto Workers union to reach a sweeping cost-saving contract agreement.

The CAW said on Wednesday that little progress was being made, but Paterson said on Thursday he is confident a deal will be reached.

"We're encouraged by the talks," he said. "They are really challenging issues. They are three-way talks between the CAW, GM and the government ... and these things have a way of coming together with a deadline."

Separately, about 2,600 people were laid off on Thursday when GM's Oshawa, Ontario, truck plant was shuttered, as scheduled, after 44 years in operation.

(Reporting by John McCrank; editing by Rob Wilson)