The steelmaker’s corrosion began decades ago. But it took the combined efforts of Bay Street, Ottawa and U.S. Steel to finish it off
As the executives gave their spiel, Tony Clement’s blood began to boil. It was a cold Ottawa morning in the winter of 2009, and Clement was sitting in a boardroom on the 11th floor of the C.D. Howe Building, a couple of blocks from Parliament Hill. As the Harper government’s newly minted minister of industry, Clement was listening to a couple of managers from U.S. Steel Corp. indicate that they had no intention of upholding their end of a deal with Ottawa, made only two years earlier, that allowed U.S. Steel to take over Stelco, Canada’s iconic steelmaker.
The visiting executives said that brutal conditions in their business gave them no choice but to renege on their commitments to maintain Stelco in robust health.
What ticked off Clement was their cockiness. “I felt they were belligerent. They were waltzing into the office and dictating terms and not looking for any kind of mutually acceptable halfway point,” he recalls. “So I didn’t like their attitude. I didn’t like the way they were treating Canadian workers. I didn’t like the way they were treating our agreement with them.”
So upset was Clement that he soon had his department sue U.S. Steel for walking away from its commitments.
That moment may have marked the lowest point in nearly 20 years of turbulence at Stelco, but it’s hard to say for sure—there have been so many low points. Another came five years later, when U.S. Steel put Stelco into creditor protection under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA).
And another came a year later, in 2015, when U.S. Steel walked away from the company altogether, claiming to have lost $2.2 billion on its short-lived Canadian foray—and saying that it wanted its money back.
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