On Wednesday morning, Todd Smith will stand before the Auto Parts Manufacturing Association and promise to do things that haven’t been done in a long time in Ontario.

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Smith, Doug Ford’s economic development minister will promise to not only try to bring new auto assembly plants to the province, he will promise to make life easier for the automakers and parts producers already here.

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Last winter, the Ford government announced that they had a strategy for the auto industry.

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Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Todd Smith, Minister of Economic Development, tour the Woodbridge Foam Corporation factory as part of their Driving Prosperity: The Future of Ontario’s Auto Sector plan Thursday February 14, 2019.

Jack Boland /

Toronto Sun

“We want to bring manufacturing back to Ontario,” Ford told me in January as he headed to the Detroit auto show to make his pitch to some of the biggest players.

A month later, his government unveiled its strategy aimed at improving job training, skills development and more within the auto sector.

Lost in the promises of government money for worker training was the idea that Ontario wanted to bring in new auto plants, something that hasn’t happened in a long time.

One proposal was to work with municipalities to find large parcels of land, between 500 acres and  1,500 acres, that could be designated as ready for major projects, like an auto plant, complete with zoning and services.

While that plan is still being developed, some municipalities have already come forward to express interest.

The municipality of Edwardsburgh Cardinal, a rural municipality in eastern Ontario at the junction of Hwys. 401 and 416 has 10,000 acres of land available. The best part is that the land is already owned by the province and is designated for economic development.

It is parcels of land like this that the province hopes to use as they try to lure new auto manufacturing plants to Ontario.

And instead of just seeking out traditional partners like the Big Three from Detroit or Japanese automakers like Toyota or Honda, they are looking for new partners.

On a recent trip to India, Smith took his open for business message to companies like Tata, Mahindra and Hero.

Hero is a manufacturer of scooters and motorcycles, Mahindra makes cars, tractors and more while Tata has grown into a global powerhouse of auto manufacturing and is the owner of the Jaguar and Land Rover brands.

So far they have no assembly presence in Canada.

Beyond playing up the job site challenge and trying to attract a new auto plant or two, Smith will use his appearance before the auto parts convention to announce that he will move on some of their pet peeves.

As the premier told me months ago, Ontario has too many regulations.

“There are more than 380,000 regulations, many of them duplicates with the federal government. We’re going to knock off 25% of the regulations,” Ford told me in January.

Smith is set to announce that some of those regulations will be done away with or changed to make life easier for the auto industry.

Right now if an automaker or parts maker wants to renovate their plant, say improve the employee washrooms, they have to report any project above $50,000 to the Ministry of Labour and deal with all the costs and paperwork that entails.

That spend threshold was set in 1991 and hasn’t gone up since, the Ford government will move it to $250,000.

Also changing will be regulations that treat auto plants as gas stations because they have the facilities to put a couple of litres of fuel in each new car.

Surely we can look after safety and the environment without hurting business.

These are the types of moves the Ford government needs to make to prove that Ontario actually is open for business.

It has to be more than a slogan and become a reality. These moves are a step in the right direction.

LILLEY: Ford government strives to attract new auto plants

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