The Ontario PCs almost walked away from the brink this weekend.
Last year the provincial Tories introduced a white paper advocating U.S.-style labour policies that would undo the rights working people have had in this country for more than a half century.
Rather than float such radical policies as a trial balloon, MPPs defended the policy over the past year likely knowing that it would take them a far distance out of the political center. While former PC leader John Tory openly advised getting rid of it, the party convention instead formally adopted the policy this weekend, but only barely. Only 45 per cent of delegates voted in favour.
Taking a page out of the tea-party playbook, the Tories now approach a likely spring election with a glaring hard turn to the right.
The question is: will they be able to convince working people to vote against their best interests? Such radical U.S. policies have not only had a devastating effect on labour unions, but have done much to gut the middle class south of the border. As people fall down the economic ladder, it’s not difficult to convince them to resent those who are still hanging on to the rungs just above them. They can seldom see it is only those towards the top that still have room to climb.
While inequality is fast rising in Canada, we are not facing the same conditions as the U.S. Nearly one in three Canadians remain organized into a labour union. In the U.S. it is almost down to one in ten.
Non-union workers in places like Alliston and Cambridge also must know that their remuneration from Honda and Toyota owes much to their unionized cousins at General Motors, Chrysler and Ford. Non-union hospital workers have to know that their wages and benefits were won at a bargaining table, even if they were not part of the effort.
If the labour movement fails in Ontario, it’s a safe bet that everyone’s wages go into decline, not just the one in three. As our excellent new documentary by Bill Gillespie shows, nearly a half century of such policies in South Carolina have not improved the lot of working people in that State. Why does anyone think we would be the exception?
Remarkably after the Convention the mainstream media is still talking about Tim Hudak’s public persona rather than the distasteful policies he brings to the table. Rex Murphy called Hudak a “void in a suit.”
John Tory suggested last week that this policy would create a war with labour. He’s likely right.
Hudak used all the tea-party code words over the weekend, painting a picture of union “bosses,” trying to distinguish between workers and their leaders. But he forgets that like him, these labour leaders were elected in a convention process too. Unlike him, those members have an opportunity, in OPSEU’s case, to change their mind every two years. So far they haven’t. Likely many moderate Tories wish they had our democratic rules today.
Hudak already polls as the least sincere among the three major party leaders. When you speak in such obvious code words, it does tip the hat that you’re speaking from a script tested to manipulate voters rather than communicating honestly.
One of the most unionized sectors is health care. OPSEU represents 47,000 members who staff our hospitals, nursing homes, home care agencies and work in other health settings. The bad news for Hudak is that polling repeatedly confirms health care professionals are seen as far more credible than politicians and bankers.
For us, that should be both an opportunity and an obligation to our fellow workers.
Many professionals decided to practice elsewhere during the Harris era. It took considerable effort on the part of the McGuinty government to woo them back again. The possibility that Ontario’s health care professionals will again vote with their feet should be frightening to those concerned about wait times and access to care.
The challenge for us all is to get the word out about these policies. There is no doubt where the PCs now stand. They can’t fluff this off as a discussion paper any more.
The Tories had a choice this weekend. They could have blamed the white paper on maverick libertarian MPP Randy Hillier and stepped back into the center. Hillier is already in Hudak’s dog house, so there was little to lose. They could have shown an interest in balancing the interests of big business and labour. They didn’t. If less than half the PC delegates supported such a policy, how is this going to look when all Ontarians are asked to decide next spring?