Friday, December 01, 2006

Liberals and Labour - Which Leadership Candidate is the Most Pro-Labour? The Vote On Anti-Scab Tells A Tale

Who will help the working man?

The Tyee Election Central Desk

December 1st, 2006

By Bill Tieleman

While much attention has been spent on which federal Liberal leadership candidate is most attractive to party delegates or to Canadian voters, what about workers?

Which of the eight Liberals who aspire to become prime minister would also be a leader for the labour movement. Who is the most likely to introduce progressive legislation to meet the needs of working people?

Tough question.

None of the candidates has been outspoken on labour issues or attracted significant union movement support.

And while the NDP is the traditional and often organizational choice of organized labour in Canada, the Liberals have moved to the left since being turfed from power.

As one labour insider told The Tyee: “In opposition, the Liberals are trying to out-NDP the NDP!”

Some observers might automatically assume Brother Bob Rae, the former New Democratic Party premier of Ontario, is the obvious pro-labour choice.

But they would be wrong.

Bob Rae is still widely despised in the Ontario labour movement, particularly but not exclusively, among public sector unionists who have never forgiven him for imposing umpaid days off in an attempt to reduce burgeoning deficits.

Rae was widely condemned by the Ontario labour movement at the time and those hard feelings persist.

The former NDP premier was also faulted by others in labour for reneging on his party’s promise to introduce public auto insurance, a feature of other social democratic provinces like B.C., Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

The Buzz on Bob

But, Rae does know the labour movement and none other than Buzz Hargrove, president of the Canadian Auto Workers, has reportedly picked him as the best choice for the Liberals.

But given that even Hargrove’s public embrace of Paul Martin in a CAW bomber jacket didn’t save the political hide of the former Liberal prime minister, don’t count on Rae enjoying overwhelming labour support.

Anti-Scab Counts

Talk is cheap. When the chips are down, what matters is who voted in favour of a labour priority – anti-scab legislation.

The answer is simple – and then not so simple.

An October 25, 2006 second reading vote on a private members bill – Bill C 257 – to introduce anti-scab or anti-replacement worker legislation was passed in the minority Parliament.

Among those members of all parties who voted in favour: Liberal leadership candidates Michael Ignatieff and Joe Volpe.

But fellow MPs and contenders Stephane Dion, Ken Dryden and Scott Brison did not vote on the motion.

[Gerard Kennedy, Bob Rae and Martha Hall Findlay don’t hold seats.]

And in an earlier vote on anti-scab legislation in April 2005, when the Paul Martin Liberals were in power, the entire cabinet voted against Bill 263, which was narrowly defeated by a count of 143 against versus 131 in favour.

Martin himself was absent for the vote but Dion, Dryden, Brison and Volpe all helped defeat anti-scab.

As the old saying about the Liberals goes, they govern from the right and run from the left.

Labour Supporters?

There is a shortage of prominent labour leaders or former leaders supporting any of the Liberal contenders.

Unsurprisingly, given that he has twice run unsuccessfully as a federal Liberal candidate, former IWA-Canada president Dave Haggard isn’t shy about boosting Bob Rae.

Other supporters with union ties include labour consultant and former Hospital Employees Union leader Jack Gerow, who has hosted an event for Rae, and Rob Mingay, a former press secretary to then-NDP leader Ed Broadbent.

But a quick glance through the endorsement pages of other Liberal leadership candidates doesn’t readily turn up any prominent labour officials throwing their support behind a potential PM.

So all in all, labour will likely wait and see who wins the convention vote on Saturday and then attempt to make inroads on policy issues it deems important.

Because unlike an NDP convention, most of the labour support you will find at this weekend’s Liberal gathering will come from the workers employed by the convention centre.

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