Tomorrow two provincial by-elections are taking place in Niagara and Thornhill.
Thornhill, the vacated seat of Peter Shurman, is expected to remain Tory blue despite criticism by the departing MPP of his former party. He recently described the Hudak Conservatives “where a plan without a vision is a nightmare.” For the record, the cantankerous Shurman believes none of the three major party leaders are fit to lead, including PC Leader Tim Hudak.
More media attention will likely be spent in Niagara where the Tories risk embarrassment should the polls be correct and the New Democrat’s Wayne Gates emerges as the victor. Shurman raised eyebrows among his own party by predicting an NDP win in this riding.
Since the poll showing Gates with a slight lead over former Tory MPP Bart Maves, the Tories have been slinging mud non-stop. It’s the opposite of most political campaign strategies – start negative and finish positive – likely indicative of how desperate the Tories have become.
Probably the worst thing the Tories could have done is send Monte McNaughton to Niagara. McNaughton is the PC’s labour critic who has a penchant for over-the-top hyperbole demonizing the labour movement.
For a party that was suddenly soft-pedaling their plan to end the Rand Formula fearful of the labour vote in the riding, sending McNaughton appears to be a miscalculation.
A lack of evidence has never stopped McNaughton from attacking labour, going as far as accusing Ontario labour unions of corruption while safely doing so only on the floor of the legislature with parliamentary immunity. Singing from the PC song sheet, McNaughton uses all the stale rhetoric about union “elites.” (What the heck is a union “elite” anyway?)
“Families in Niagara Falls damn well deserve to know who is on their side and it’s not the NDP or Wayne Gates,” McNaughton told the media. Of course, when he talks about families, he’s probably thinking of his own, which has owned a shopping centre in Newbury since 1948 and where McNaughton worked as general manager. According to Wikipedia, McNaughton is now a part owner of that plaza. Niagara residents facing high youth unemployment likely don’t have the same silver spoon opportunities for their sons and daughters as the mouthy McNaughton had.
Anybody who works for a living in Niagara should be concerned about the Tories. Their ideas around labour “modernization” are not modern at all – the anti-union laws they propose have existed in certain U.S. States about as long as the 1946 Rand Formula they would like to eliminate.
In those States all workers – not just unionized ones – earn less, receive fewer benefits (if any at all) and often work in unsafe conditions. (See OPSEU’s documentary Made In The USA)
While the Tories seem to think cheap labour will result in economic nirvana, higher levels of social inequality are proven to negatively impact real economic growth. Henry Ford got the idea that he had to pay his workers enough to buy his cars. If the Ontario middle class disappears, who will be buying those cars manufactured here by GM, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota and Honda?
The PCs have also opposed increases in the minimum wage – any increases. Do they really think that benefits the average family in Niagara? Do they think the steady decline of Ontario’s poorest working families is going to put more shoppers in centers like the one McNaughton partially owns?
If you are a public sector worker, you should also know that the PCs still cling to the idea of two more years of a legislated wage freeze — even to workers with historically low wages. While the PCs see business contracts as sacrosanct, they don’t believe the same of labour contracts.
All parties could do much better to address the issue of inequality, but the Tories need to stop actively widening the gap between the rich and the rest of us.
Ultimately, this being a by-election, the government is unlikely to fall as a result of these two votes on Thursday.
PCs who are uncomfortable with the extreme right-wing radicalism of Tim Hudak are presented with a safe opportunity to send a message to the party. Fewer than half of accredited delegates at the last PC Convention supported the labour initiative the party elite now feels could be a wedge issue.
They may want to look around at their own kids before deciding this is where their support lies.