"The Liberals are willing to have a [budget] deficit to give the economy a boost," said Ray Tanguay, a former senior executive at Toyota who was chosen in June to head a new automotive investment committee intended to advise the Canadian and Ontario governments on auto policy. "I'm hoping the new government will have more interest in supporting the auto industry."
Anthony Faria, a business professor at the University of Windsor who tracks the declining investment in Canadian auto plants, agreed that the Liberals are likely to take a different tack from that of the outgoing Conservative government, which was "not bending over backward" to help automotive manufacturers.
The Liberals are closely aligned with Unifor, the union that represents Canadian auto workers, Faria said. The election also means the Liberals control both Ottawa and the provincial government in Ontario, where the country's auto sector is concentrated.
Still, Faria said, it won't be clear that the Trudeau government is going to follow through on any campaign promises "until we see some action taken -- or not taken."
Trudeau also has left unclear his position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation, free-trade agreement that would likely open up Canadian automakers and suppliers to more competition from lower-wage nations. Unifor is opposed to the pact and estimates it will cause Canada to lose 20,000 automotive jobs.
Harper, the departing prime minister, had endorsed the pact and, in the lead-up to the election, pledged $1 billion Canadian (about $763 million U.S.) in aid to the automotive industry over 10 years, extending the life of an existing innovation fund, if he retained power. (He had denounced a similar campaign promise by the Liberals ahead of the 2004 federal election.)
So far Trudeau has stopped short of stating his position on the trade pact, saying only that he's "pro-trade."
Once the world's fourth largest auto-producing nation, Canada has seen its auto sector shrink in the last decade because of high labor costs, a strong Canadian dollar and the government's reluctance to offer financial incentives to manufacturers.
Canada's struggles contrast with the Southern U.S. and Mexico, where nearly two dozen auto plants have sprung up in the last two decades. Audi, Hyundai, BMW and Toyota are on track to open new Mexico plants in the next few years.
Southern U.S. states often provide tax breaks, infrastructure improvements and training services worth hundreds of millions of dollars to land new auto plants within their borders.
Typically, Canada has been willing to offer aid equal to only about 20 percent of the total amount being invested. And half of that aid usually comes not as a grant but as a loan from Ottawa that has to be repaid.
In 2014, the company now known as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles applied for hundreds of millions of dollars in incentives to support a renovation of its Windsor, Ontario, minivan plant; the bid came under fire from right-wing politicians decrying government aid as "corporate welfare."
FCA quickly withdrew its application and moved ahead with the Windsor overhaul without state aid, but the incident chilled the industry's view of Canada.
"If a country is undertaking any sort of commitment to an industrial policy," CEO Sergio Marchionne said at the time, "I think it needs to recognize that those choices come with an obligation to match and effectively equal what the competition is offering."