It may not have been on their radar screen immediately after last October’s election, but key decision makers in the federal cabinet and bureaucracy are getting a steady stream of interventions about the state of the steel industry from not only Hamilton MP’s, but also from other GTAH members of Parliament. The challenges faced by the industry, ranging from the US Steel pension crisis to the insolvency of Algoma are being raised through the re-establishment of the Parliamentary Steel Caucus, and in the regular weekly meetings of the Liberal caucus according to Hamilton East-Stoney Creek MP Bob Bratina. “The two important issues related to the US Steel situation are the threats to the pensioners and the future viability of the current operation,” said Bratina, who has discussed these matters with Prime Minister Trudeau, Finance Minister Bill Morneau, Labour Minister Mary Ann Mihychuk and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains. “It’s not just me pushing the issues,” said Bratina—“we have a great team–It’s the whole Golden Horseshoe caucus, including (Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas MP) Filomena Tassi, (Burlington MP) Karina Gould and (Oakville North-Burlington MP) Pam Damoff.” Bratina says the Golden Horseshoe caucus has agreed to make steel their number one priority. The pro steel coalition also includes Provincial cabinet Ministers Ted McMeekin and Industry Minister Brad Duguid. “Between me and other MP’s they (government) get it.”
The US Steel pension situation is critical as former employees face potential cuts in their monthly cheques of between 20 to 30 percent if the fund were to be collapsed. This is on top of the benefits cuts the pensioners have experienced. “We are in this situation because the previous administration failed to pursue US Steel under the Investment in Canada Act, and historically, because the Ontario NDP government granted the steelmaker’s predecessor Stelco a pension contribution holiday,” said Bratina. “The turmoil in the equity markets didn’t help as well.”
With regard to the possible future of the US Steel operation there are some beginnings of positive signs. The US Steel finishing lines in Hamilton are actually quite busy supplying automotive customers. There is even some discussion of re-hires. There are reliable suggestions that several prospective purchasers are kicking the tires of both the Hamilton and Nanticoke operations, waiting for some of the legal issues to clear. The Hilton works has state of the art finishing facilities and some of the most modern coke ovens in North America. Globally, China, which has been flooding the world market with cheap steel has just announced drastic cuts to both the steel and coal sectors in an attempt to rebalance its economy. This should help improve steel prices as the global oversupply shrinks.
While he won’t discuss any possible developments out of Ottawa, “My feeling is that we will get some kind of positive news out of this situation sooner rather than later,” said Bratina. “In the meantime I will continue to take every opportunity raise the issue along with my colleagues and to facilitate discussions between stakeholders and the government as the situation dictates,” he said.
Written by: John Best