Ford operates two engine plants in the Windsor region and the assembly plant in Oakville, near Toronto.
The company's Canadian payroll is smaller than the 8,000 workers each for GM and Chrysler.
Ford has "the smallest footprint in Canada and the least to lose by an unfavorable agreement," said Tony Faria, co-director of the Office of Automotive and Vehicle Research at the University of Windsor, Ontario.
Ford "was the first to cave in during the 2008 CAW negotiations," Faria said.
While carmakers seek to cut expenses, unions are refusing to go beyond concessions in the 2009 deal that were part of government-backed bankruptcies of GM and Chrysler.
CAW leaders say that their members' contribution to the companies' turnarounds must be recognized, and that they remain opposed to the so-called "two-tier" system wages negotiated in the United States.
The province's car industry has shrunk by about a third since 2000, eliminating about 50,000 jobs, according to CAW estimates.
Ford closed an assembly plant in St. Thomas, Ontario, last year that built the Ford Crown Victoria and Lincoln Town Car. GM was the last automaker to be hit by a strike in Canada, in 1996.
That walkout lasted 20 days, paralyzing the company's Canadian operations and forcing layoffs at other North American plants.
"Nobody wins in a strike," said Van Conway, CEO of the Conway MacKenzie Inc. restructuring firm in Birmingham, Mich. "If the automakers make a strategic decision in the long run to exit Canada because they don't want this to happen again, that would be the worst thing that could happen to the CAW."
Car production in Canada has been hamstrung by an increase of about 60 percent in the Canadian dollar against its U.S. counterpart in the past 10 years that has made the country's auto factories, all of which are in Ontario, less competitive globally.
The CAW in April proposed a national auto policy that included a call for the government to intervene to lower the value of the currency and to negotiate "manufacturing footprint commitments" with automakers.
"Ontario's unemployment rate is above the national average now, and one of the big reasons is that the auto industry hasn't come back to its full potential of before the financial crisis," said Hosen Marjaee, a senior managing director at Manulife Asset Management in Toronto.
Canada, which ranked as the world's fourth-largest car producer in 1999, has slipped out of the top 10, the union said.
The current negotiations have seen the Detroit 3 make "unprecedented" demands, according to the CAW. Those include cuts in benefits, the elimination of an annual cost-of- living adjustment and the transfer of all workers to a defined-contribution retirement plan.
GM, Ford and Chrysler also refuse to commit to new Canadian factory investments, the CAW said in a Sept. 10 leaflet.
With the UAW "having negotiated freezes for a while, if that doesn't happen in the Canadian context, or something similar, then that gap begins to widen with the U.S. and Mexico," said Carlos Gomes, an economist at Bank of Nova Scotia in Toronto. "The key problem is not where we stand now, but if similar types of cost controls aren't put in place then that gap will widen."
Wages account for about 6 percent of the cost of making a car on average, according to data from the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Ford pays $79 an hour for wages and benefits to its hourly workers in the country, Lauren More, a spokeswoman for the company, said last month.
That labor rate is the highest Ford faces worldwide and compares with $64 an hour in the U.S., she said. The CAW disputes Ford's estimates, saying much of the gap relates to former employees.
Without those so-called legacy costs, union labor runs a little more than C$62 an hour, compared with about C$60 for UAW members, Jim Stanford, the union's economist, said earlier this year.
Carmakers "are determined to make sure autoworkers in the future are not paid what autoworkers have historically made in the industry," Lewenza said yesterday.
Companies want "to make sure a new autoworker never gets to the top rate. That's a philosophical problem."
Ontario has a lot riding on the outcome of the labor talks.
Factories in Canada's most populous province produced 1.42 million motor vehicles in the first seven months of 2012, almost 20 percent more than in the same period a year ago, Bank of Nova Scotia said in an Aug. 14 report.
The province accounts for about 16 percent of North American auto output, counting production by Toyota and Honda.
"Anything that holds back economic growth and employment is a serious concern," said Manulife's Marjaee. "Ontario cannot afford to have more people unemployed or on strike and less revenue coming in."
Canada and Ontario spent a combined C$10.6 billion to acquire minority stakes in GM in 2009 when the Detroit-based automaker reorganized under bankruptcy protection with aid from the U.S. and Canadian governments.
Although Canadian car sales are on the rise, GM, Ford and Chrysler have been losing ground to Asian competitors such as Toyota Motor Corp. Cars made in Ontario include Chrysler minivans, the Chevrolet Camaro and the Lincoln MKT.
Car and light-truck sales in Canada climbed 6.7 percent in the first eight months of the year, according to data compiled by DesRosiers Automotive Consultants Inc.
Sales advanced 6.4 percent in August compared with the same month a year earlier.
Together, the three U.S.-based automakers controlled about 45 percent of the Canadian market through the end of August, down from about 48 percent a year earlier, DesRosiers data show.
"It's a different world now," said Conway at Conway MacKenzie. "You're no longer in an environment where North American car companies have 70 percent of the market. These car companies went to hell and back in 2008 and 2009, and they are going to be less tolerant on requests that are outdated."
Bloomberg contributed to this report