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It’s time to talk

It shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise that U.S. Steel officials didn’t attend a city council subcommittee meeting to discuss the company’s future in Hamilton.

Why? Because after making substantial promises to the federal government when it took over Stelco in 2007, U.S. Steel has ignored any pretense of abiding by those agreements, while bulldozing its way to eliminating its presence in the city.

The ink was barely dry on the agreement before U.S. Steel and the federal government were embroiled in a legal battle. Ottawa took the Pittsburgh-based company to court accusing it of breaking the fundamental promises about investment and steel production it made when it bought the troubled steel company.

The legal battle was eventually settled out of court. A new 2011 agreement stipulated that U.S. Steel would continue making steel in Canada until at least the end of 2015 and invest $50-million into its operations. No one in Hamilton seriously believed those promises would ever be kept by the company, and again they were right.

The whole agreements are shrouded in secrecy, with only the barest details ever being made public. City officials, union representatives and federal NDP MPs have tried every conceivable way to access that agreement without success.

The lack of information from both the U.S. Steel and the federal government has left city officials, workers and politicians searching for ways to engage the company.

Last week’s snub by the company is only a manifestation of the contempt the company seems to have for the city.

“U.S. Steel Canada respectfully declines to participate in this or future Steel Committee meetings, as we believe a civic forum is not an appropriate venue in which to discuss matters relating to our internal business transformation efforts,” it stated the March 6 letter to the city.

Politicians did agree to seek a private meeting with company representatives, but since the outcome of any such meeting is likely to be secret it would be of limited value.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the federal government also didn’t show up at the subcommittee either. Minister of Industry James Moore, did send letter to the mayor’s office explaining in typical bafflegab why members of his party didn’t want to attend, but that was it.

There is the long standing convention in retail: “you broke it, you bought it” and it seems like the federal government is at least complicit in “breaking” what once was once one of Hamilton’s landmark companies. Ottawa seems content to slink away from the scene hoping no one will notice and without even trying to hide the damage.

Of course, that can’t be known for sure because the agreement is secret and nobody from the government is willing to engage with the Hamilton community.

It’s time for the government to stop hiding and let Hamiltonians know what it’s done in their name. If nothing else it would let people know if the real problem is in Pittsburgh or in Ottawa.

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