Justin Trudeau: Look for the union label - Macleans.ca

Justin Trudeau: Look for the union label

Since the Liberals won the election, Trudeau has taken care to reward Canada’s big unions for their support

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a UFCW Canada convention in Montreal, Thursday, August 31, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a UFCW Canada convention in Montreal, Thursday, August 31, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

It’s a love-in:

Canada’s unions are welcoming the federal government’s plan to close tax loopholes for very high-income earners, saying it’s an important first step toward bringing more fairness to Canada’s tax system.

“Today’s tax rules make it possible for someone earning $300,000 to save more on their taxes than the average Canadian worker makes in a year, and that is fundamentally unfair,” said CLC President Hassan Yussuff.

So the Canadian Labour Congress has Bill Morneau’s back as he embarks on his widely criticized project to reduce the tax advantages of incorporation. The patrician corporate-head-office finance minister is chuffed at the help from his union brothers and sisters:

Meanwhile, Unifor and the United Auto Workers have been working with Chrystia Freeland on NAFTA. It’s only a modest exaggeration to say Unifor’s Jerry Dias has at times been easy to mistake as a Canadian government spokesman in news interviews on the fringes of the NAFTA renegotiations.

These groups go way back with the Trudeau Liberals. In 2015 a group called Engage Canada, backed in part by Unifor, made big ad buys to soften up Conservative support in what everyone thought were the pre-electoral months. Harper called an early election—or rather, an early start to the campaign for the fixed election date—partly, it’s been conjectured, because he didn’t want those Engage Canada ads to go un-rebutted by his own messaging. It didn’t do him much good in the end.

READ MORE: Why hard hats are everywhere on the campaign trail

Big Labour’s message at the time, infuriating to the NDP, was that members should vote strategically to defeat Harper, rather than support the traditionally union-aligned NDP.

(Full disclosure: I’m a member of Unifor Local 87-M, which has members in most large Toronto-based news organizations. My eternal wish is that my union would stay out of electoral politics.)

Since they won the election, the Trudeau Liberals have taken care to reward Canada’s big unions for their support. Terrance Oakey, whose union-busting organization Merit Canada used to have all kinds of friends in government during the Harper years, has of course noticed, and decried, the new pro-union attitude in Justin Trudeau’s Ottawa. Not that it’s been hard to miss.

It’s pretty easy to see the game here. Partly it’s no game: a lot of Liberals simply continue to see organized labour as a powerful partner in improving life for ordinary Canadians. But partly it’s strategic, too: labour support can translate into votes, and it can help give the general impression that a government Stands Up For The Little Guy.

Of course, the days when a union could reliably deliver its members’ votes, if it ever existed, are long gone. But the CLC claims 3.3 million members; even if only one in 20 listens to the union’s message, that’s a handy bump at election time.

The Harper Conservatives had a fun decade stealing the labour vote right out from under union leaders. These are sweeping generalizations, and there are all kinds of exceptions, but the labour vote is often blue-collar; it often has large families and a high-school or college education; it’s a stakeholder electorate that’s likely to own homes and worry about neighbourhood safety. This was the core of the Harper coalition. Until it wasn’t. (In about 2008, someone in the Harper PMO sent me a story from the Sarnia Observer, about Harper getting a standing ovation at a graduation ceremony for people in the skilled trades. “Ten years ago these people would have been cheering for Chrétien,” the PMO person wrote. One question I ask myself these days during elections is, Who’s going to get Sarnians in the skilled trades on their feet?)

There is, finally, the matter of Donald Trump, who got elected bigly with the votes of many millions of Americans who are, or were once, union members, and who came to believe a hereditary Manhattan plutocrat could give them their hope and dignity back. In Justin Trudeau’s entourage, a lot of people have a lot of time for the notion that this happened because the Democratic Party took its eye off the working-class ball, and they are bound and determined not to make the same mistake. This determination was the pith and substance of the speech Trudeau delivered in the improbably swanky precincts of a black-tie dinner in Hamburg. It’s why so far, in the early going, a lot of Liberals like the emerging battle over tax changes as much as the Conservatives want to bring it to them.

Conservatives lose when they are the party of fat cats. They win when they capture the working-class vote.

Andrew Scheer’s Labour Day message this year did not mention organized labour, a plainly conscious decision that did not leave the Conservative leader disarmed: he saluted instead “the millions of Canadians who work tirelessly to strengthen our economy, while still finding time to give back to their communities when the workday is done. The moms and dads, grandparents, friends and neighbours who manage to coach their children’s sports teams, arrange carpools, and volunteer their time for those in need.”

Trudeau’s Labour Day message could hardly have been more different: a celebration, specifically, of the “discipline and dedication of organized labour” that mentioned “the union-based apprenticeship training program,” “targeted amendments to the Canada Labour Code,” and “the International Labour Organization’s Convention 98.” The PM’s long statement heads into the home stretch with: “Organized labour has a strong partner in the Government of Canada.”

None of this is a guarantee of Liberal success. The Conservatives have shown in the past that they are often able to win union members’ votes despite the best efforts of union leaders. A revitalized NDP, which I suppose is one possible outcome from the party’s current leadership race, could succeed in calling that party’s traditional labour constituency home.

But it’s increasingly clear that Trudeau is the most overtly union-friendly prime minister since his father; that he has top-priority strategic reasons for pursuing the romance; and that the bosses of the big unions, at least, are eager to play ball.



Justin Trudeau: Look for the union label

  1. Somebody is getting ‘Outflanked’ again. It’s called, the Augmentation of the NDP Party rank-in-file support. Hmmm, SSSSSSSS, is that the sound of the air going out of the NDP. The NDP better be careful, they don’t get ‘Outflanked’ for the rest of their support, by Lizzy May and the Greens..

    • Poaching season is coming soon, for politics, election day, is not far away.

      • As far as Andrew Sheer goes, the cons could have a peanut as a leader of their party, and still eek out 27 percent. While Sheer keeps whining about petty issues like Khadr, and rich accountants who get paid the big bucks to save money for the big buck makers, chances are, instead of getting a bump, he may end up with nothing but a thump, in the polls, and in comes Mad Max. Sheer has exposed his nasty side(stick a wedge in any open cleavage), the part of the old regime he used to work for, READ MY LIPS, Andrew Sheer will be, an Iggy(Ignatieff), and not Iggy Pop.

  2. Domenic Barton and his global 0.01%’er friends who have Trudeau and Morneau’s ears are not the friends of working people of any kind. They want Trudeau and Morneau to essentially privatize parts of the taxation system (via the privatization bank and asset stripping) to ordinary Canadians end up paying rentier streams (tolls and users fees…essentially privatized taxes…to the global 0.01%’ers).

    • Domenic Barton and McKinsey aren’t really even a friend of business. McKinsey is basically a global financial parasite.

  3. The Canadian mainstream media especially, sadly, the CBC have become outlets for for the interests of the middle and upper middle classes. We’ve heard almost not a word of support for the beleaguered salaried employee with payroll deducted taxes with few if any deductions which are available to the phony corporations with their high priced lobbyists and media manipulators.
    The media has been equally quiet about the slave labour wages paid to the servants of these very same people who get uncritical coverage of their greedy opposition to a living minimum wage.
    Big exception! Watch this. Don Martin launched a spirited defence of what he called the T4 nation on the incorporation issue. Look it up on CTV.

  4. Unions are good & bad. PSAC workers have benefits & pensions unavailable to most but that we all pay for.
    Trudeau & Morneau are both enormously rich, fully enjoy the lifestyle, yet publicly loathe the rich.
    For decades their families have taken advantage of any “tax loopholes” available.
    Now, they’re saying small business owners doing the same thing is somehow not fair.
    Populist. Illogical. Punishing job creators. But, steals the leftist vote from the NDP.
    In Canada, we traded an economist for a part time drama teacher.

    • Cue my take on why public sector unions should be treated differently from private sector unions:

      Public sector jobs should have pay, benefits, and pensions that are comparable to what their private sector counterparts make. There may not always be a direct counterpart for a given public sector job, but since pay equity is a well established practice now, it should be readily possible to come up some kind of equivalent.

      I’d also argue that public sector unions should be treated differently from private sector unions. Labour unions try to maximize pay and benefits for their members as much as possible. These are their primary goals and anything else is secondary to these goals. This is to be expected and works fine in the private sector, as far as I am concerned. However, it breaks down in the public sector where a) the employer cannot go bankrupt due to an inability or unwillingness to control costs, and, b) customers must still pay for services they aren’t receiving when a strike or lockout is in effect. So, in the public sector, the usual market and economic forces that would normally result in both sides coming to a mutual agreement are significantly muted, if not altogether absent.

      The result of this is public sector wage and benefits gains that noticeably exceed what people doing equivalent work in the private sector see, or back-to-work legislation being enacted after a strike has resulted in an interruption of often vital services. Neither outcome is particularly desirable. Which is why I favour binding arbitration for public sector negotiations that come to an impasse. Neither governments nor public sector unions would like this as it results in a loss of power, but it does put the people who pay for and receive government services first, which is as it should be. And binding arbitration should have very specific parameters to use in awarding increases. As mentioned before, pay and benefits of private sector counterparts should be taken into account, as well as the amount of growth (or shrinkage) of the economy during some previous time period.

      This doesn’t even get into the inherent conflict of interest that exists when the government is formed by the de facto labour party, the NDP.