TORONTO - The ability to create jobs may play a bigger-than-expected role when Ontario selects a company to build its new nuclear reactors, Premier Dalton McGuinty indicated Tuesday.

"What we're saying when it comes to our nuclear bidders is that more than just the price is important to us here," McGuinty said. "What are you going to do for us in terms of employing our people?"

There are currently three companies vying to build two new reactors at the Darlington nuclear station -- U.S. giant Westinghouse Electric Co., France's Areva Group and Crown-owned Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.

The government has declined to comment on the selection process until it announces the winner in June, but McGuinty said Tuesday that any outside bidder should be able to match AECL's domestic employment levels.

"If you're bidding from outside Canada, you better have a strong proposal in place that's going to guarantee employment for our people," he said. "It's not purely a function of who's got the lower price."

Some critics argue that choosing AECL could mean higher costs, saying the pricetag for building reactors has more than doubled in the last three years and taxpayers risk being stuck with the bill.

Greenpeace energy analyst Shawn-Patrick Stensil said any new jobs attached to building the reactors wouldn't help those hit by the recession since they wouldn't be created until after 2012, when construction is expected to begin.

"The premier wants to be seen to be creating jobs, so getting behind the Canadian bidder would be the way to do that, even if it doesn't result in more jobs," Stensil said.

Stensil said he wouldn't be surprised to hear more talk about job creation as the selection process nears its end, since there are rumours that Areva has outbid AECL and he believes the company may be trying to find another reason for the government to pick its reactor.

"AECL's future is pinned on the hope of winning the Ontario bid," Stensil said.

"If they are unable to sell the advanced Candu prototype to Ontario, no one else will be willing to be a guinea pig."

For Michael Ivanco of the Society of Professional Engineers and Associates, a union representing AECL workers, the key worry centres around what picking a foreign company would mean for the 120 companies making parts for AECL.

Those firms, he said, employ about 30,000 people -- mostly in Ontario -- in a $5-billion industry.

"Regardless of who builds, there will be jobs, but the question is, then what?," Ivanco said.

"If AECL doesn't sell this new design in Ontario nobody else is going to buy it, that will mean essentially the end of the Candu design."

The manufacturers that currently supply AECL's parts, Ivanco added, would "be reduced to providing parts for an aging reactor fleet of an abandoned technology."

"There's no future in that; it's like being a VCR repairman."

Energy Minister George Smitherman played down McGuinty's comments Tuesday, saying job creation was just one of the things the province is considering.

Price, performance and transfer of cost overruns are also important components, he said.

Smitherman said all three bidders were still in the running and the province was still analyzing more than a hundred boxes of information submitted along with the plans.