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‘It’s scary, no doubt about it’: How former GM workers coped with their plant closure





After nearly 30 years at the General Motors plant in Windsor, Ont., having been employed there all of his adult working life, Duncan St. Amour was left with one terrifying question when its closure was announced: What do I do now?

It was 2008 when it was revealed that the transmission plant would be shutting down in two years, with about 1,400 workers, including St. Amour, set to lose their jobs.

“It was like a bomb; I was in shock,” said St. Amour, who had done a series of jobs at the plant, including on the assembly line. “I did not know what I was going to do.”

Today, he can relate to the 2,500 GM workers in Oshawa, Ont., many of whom are likely experiencing those same emotions of fear and panic after learning this week that the car manufacturer would be shuttered that plant next year.

Sleepless nights

The Windsor shutdown was a devastating blow to St. Amour, who, at 48, felt his job prospects were bleak. With a family to support, it led to some sleepless nights.

But he said he brainstormed and came up with a plan to start a business, to “be in control of my fate, my destiny.”

Duncan St. Amour says he can relate to the GM workers in Oshawa. Many are likely experiencing the same emotions of fear and panic he felt after his plant shut down in Windsor, Ont., eight years ago. (Jason Viau/CBC)

St. Amour started a bin rental company that drops off and picks up waste-disposal bins. And while striking out on his own was challenging and difficult, his company has since become a success.

“But I had to go out there and hustle,” he said. “You got to come up with a good, viable plan. This is what it’s all about.”

Tony Sisti, also affected by the GM plant closure in Windsor, was 50 at the time. He said it took him at least a year to figure out his next steps.

‘It’s scary, no doubt about it’

Sisti took a course about opening a small business and learned how to put together a business plan, and that led to him becoming a workplace safety consultant.

“It’s scary, no doubt about it. There’s a lot of workers that I talked to who were afraid, [who said] ‘I don’t know if I can do  it.’ So I just say: Listen man, you’ve got to put your best foot forward.” 

Heather McMillan, the executive director of the Durham Workforce Authority, a labour organization in the region where the Oshawa plant is located, said that once the initial shock of being laid off wears off, there are some great employment opportunities in the area.

McMillan herself is a former autoworker, born and raised in Oshawa, who was laid off around 10 years ago. But she was able to transition to the job she currently holds.

“We do have employers, overall, saying that they’re looking for workers, that they don’t have workers for what they need,” she said. “We can start to see very quickly that these workers could transition into other things within the local community and probably not need to leave the community.”

In the region, she says there are currently some opportunities in transportation and logistics, as the area hosts several food-distribution hubs, including a Loblaws warehouse, and the Port of Oshawa, a national deep-sea port.

At least 1,200 workers lost their jobs when the GM transmission plant in Windsor closed its doors in 2010. (Jerry Mendoza/Associated Press)

Academic upgrading

Layoffs can also represent a chance for academic upgrading, McMillan said, which would broaden the potential for employment in other sectors. She knows of several autoworkers who have gone back to school to take on lower-level jobs in the medical field, for example, or to work as water-treatment technicians.

But taking time to go to college to upgrade skills may not be so simple, said Wayne Lewchuk, with McMaster University’s school of labour studies.

“Even taking a year off, it’s a challenge,” he said. “The mortgage still has to be paid, et cetera.”

The labour market is not kind to people who are leaving jobs mid-career, Lewchuk said, particularly those with the kind of skills held by the majority of workers at the GM plant, who are assemblers working on lines.

“In terms of what they can take [from] those skills and transfer to other sectors — I don’t think there’s a whole lot for a lot them.”

GM’s plant closure announcement does come at a time when Canada’s unemployment rate is hovering around a four-decade low, employer demand is strong, and there’s growth in the manufacturing sector, said Brendon Bernard, an economist with the job search site Indeed Canada.

Auto manufacturing has fewer job postings on average than other areas of the overall manufacturing sector, he said, noting that openings are more plentiful in such fields as machinery manufacturing or fabricated metal production.

“So these industries … offer a sort of next step, potentially, for workers affected by the GM closure,” Bernard said.

“I think that the concern is that the auto sector still pays quite well. So while affected workers might be able to find jobs, chances are they’re not going to be as well paying as what they’re leaving.”


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Real Estate

7 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers In Calgary





Buying a house for the first time can be overwhelming to say the least. If you’re wondering what neighbourhood to go with, what you can afford, or even how to just get started on the process, let us take some stress off your hands! We’ve teamed up with Hopewell Residential to give you 7 tips to ensure the home you end up with is everything you dreamed of.

Hopewell Residential is a five-time Developer of the Year award winner, so their expertise is second-to-none in Calgary and beyond. Who better to learn home-buying tips from than the homebuilders themselves?

Create a checklist of needs & wants

This is a biggie. When you’re buying your very first home, you’ll want to weigh your needs vs. your wants. Ensuring you have what you love in your first home is a big, big deal.

What should you do? Easy. Set up a list of needs and a list of wants, but be pretty strict with yourself, and make sure you take your lifestyle into consideration. With the increase in remote work over the past year, it’s important to keep in mind that a home office or flex room might just be the key to maximizing at home happiness. Especially if you’re thinking you might be expanding your family later on, spare rooms and extra space is key (but more on that later!).

Or for instance, you might need a home in an area with a high walkability score, but you want to be close to certain amenities. Set yourself up with the right level of compromise and the number of homes that actually fit your ‘perfect’ idea will skyrocket.

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Real Estate

‘Don’t give up’: Ottawa Valley realtors share statistics, tips for homebuyers in ‘extreme’ sellers market





The real estate market in the Ottawa Valley can be summed up this way: people from far and wide are in a buying frenzy, but there’s hardly anything to buy at the “store,” and the limited inventory is overpriced.

This “stampede” — as one realtor described it — will affect rural towns as residents grapple with finding affordable housing and agonize over their inability to purchase homes in their price range.

“We are seeing a lack of inventory in all price ranges,” said Laura Keller, a real estate agent from Carleton Place.

Helen Vincent, a Renfrew realtor, said she’s never seen a market like this in her 36 years of practice. “We postpone offers for four to five days in order to get all the buyers,” she said.

Multiple offers — between seven and 10 — became the norm, with cash offers and no conditions, as buyers faced bidding wars. “In Ottawa, they have up to 50 (offers),” she added.

“It’s very stressful. You’re going to get nine (people) ticked off, and one happy. So many people are disappointed,” Vincent said.

Terry Stavenow, an Arnprior realtor for 40 years, said that “the pent-up need took over with inventory going low. It made a stampede on everything that was available.“

“Brand new housing — it’s very much gone. Several building developers are rushing to get inventory. They usually don’t do construction in the winter months,” said Stavenow.

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Real Estate

10 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers





Buying a home for the first time is exciting and a commitment to the future. It’s often challenging, too, and the process requires a lot of steps, many of which can be tricky to navigate as a first-time home buyer.

What are some things you should keep in mind as a first-time home buyer?

First-Time Home Buyer Tips

Here are 10 tips to keep in mind as you begin your journey toward homeownership.

1. Have Your Finances in Order

It’s wise to begin saving as early as possible once you’ve made the decision to purchase a house. You’ll need to consider the down payment, closing costs (which often range from 2% to 5% of the down payment), as well as move-in expenses.

You also need to understand the other costs of homeownership, such as mortgage insurance. property taxes, utilities, homeowner’s insurance, and more.

2. How Much Can You Afford?

Knowing how much you can realistically afford in a home is another important financial consideration. Look for the home of your dreams that fits your budget.

One way to avoid future financial stress is to set a price range for your home that fits your budget, and then staying within that range. Going through the preapproval process will help you understand what price range is realistic for your budget.

3. Make Sure Your Credit is Good

Another thing to keep in mind as a first-time home buyer is your credit score because it determines whether you qualify for a mortgage and affects the interest rate that lenders offer. 

You can check your credit score from the three credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.

This is another good reason for getting preapproved before you start your search. Learn more about the preapproval process and your credit score.

4. Choose The Right Real Estate Agent

A good real estate agent guides you through the process every step of the way. He or she will help you find a home that fits your needs, help you through the financial processes, and help ease any first-time buyer anxiety you may have.

Interview several agents and request references.

5. Research Mortgage Options

A variety of mortgages are available, including conventional mortgages – which are guaranteed by the government – FHA loans, USDA loans, and VA loans (for veterans).

You’ll also have options regarding the mortgage term. A 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is popular among many homebuyers and has an interest rate that doesn’t change over the course of the loan. A 15-year loan usually has a lower interest rate but monthly payments are larger.

6. Talk to Multiple Lenders

It’s worth your time to talk to several lenders and banks before you accept a mortgage offer. The more you shop around, the better deal you’re liable to get – and it may save you thousands of dollars.

7. Get Preapproved First

Getting a mortgage preapproval (in the form of a letter) before you begin hunting for homes is something else to put on your checklist. A lender’s preapproval letter states exactly how much loan money you can get.

Learn more about the preapproval process and how preapproval provides you with a significant competitive advantage in our article How Preapproval Gives You Home Buying Power.

8. Pick the Right House and Neighborhood

Make sure to weigh the pros and cons of the different types of homes based on your budget, lifestyle, etc. Would a condominium or townhome fit your needs better than a house? What type of neighborhood appeals to you?

9. List Your Needs and Must-Haves

The home you purchase should have as many of the features you prefer as possible. List your needs in order of priority; some things may be non-negotiable to you personally.

10. Hire an Inspector

Hiring an inspector is another crucial step in the home buying process. An inspector will tell you about existing or potential problems with the home, and also what’s in good order. You can learn more about home inspections and how to find a home inspector through the American Society of Home Inspectors website.

Buying a home for the first time is a challenge, but it’s one you can handle with the right planning and preparation.

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