Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty pledged $500 million over the next five years to invest in the automotive sector in a bid to lure big automakers to build more plants in the province. With the funds for the Ontario Automotive Investment Strategy, the province will partner with the industry to provide advanced-skills training for workers, improve environmental and energy technologies, build public infrastructure and make investments in research and innovation. The announcement came as McGuinty prepared to address the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association conference in Hamilton, Ont. “This strategy leverages our greatest asset: the skills of our people,” Premier Dalton McGuinty said at a news conference at Hamilton’s McMaster University. “By investing in our workers and their skills, we can attract new investment and create high-wage jobs in the province’s largest manufacturing sector,” he said. Over the next five years, the strategy will support auto manufacturing projects that are worth more than $300 million in investment or create or retain more than 300 jobs. As part of the plan, automotive companies will partner with public institutions and together they’ll make proposals to the program, which will be run by the investment division of the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade. Economic Trade and Development Minister Joseph Cordiano said it’s estimated that the $500-million fund could spur up to $5 billion in automotive investments. “We are investing in better jobs by investing in better workers, and the tools they need to succeed,” Cordiano said. Automotive companies have been pressuring the provincial government to come up with a better way to boost investment in the sector and protect thousands of jobs. In recent years, Canada hasn’t been able to attract new assembly plants from foreign-based automakers lured to the U.S. by hundreds of millions of dollars in state incentives, or to Mexico, where labour costs are much lower. Ontario’s auto industry is a vital part of the province’s economy and accounted for 45 per cent of the province’s exports in 2003. The sector represents about 331,000 jobs in everything from auto manufacturing to sales and service.