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When leaders speak of workers and their rights, hold them to it, CLC urges unions

April 15, 2024
The Canadian Press

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre rises during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Wednesday, April 10, 2024. Canada's largest labour organization is urging unions to hold politicians to account when they profess to champion the country's working class. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Canada’s largest labour organization is urging unions to hold politicians to account when they profess to champion the country’s working class.

Bea Bruske, president of the Canadian Labour Congress, doesn’t name names in a memo she sent Friday to the group’s 50 affiliates, which include some of the country’s largest unions, including the Public Service Alliance of Canada and the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

But it comes as Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre travels the country, pitching his party as the right choice for the working class — credentials some are anxious to discredit.

“More than ever, politicians claim to back workers and speak positively about workers and their unions,” Bruske’s memo reads.


“In the leadup to the next election we must make it clear to politicians of every stripe: if you want our votes, you must respect and enhance our rights. Not with pretty words, but concrete action.”

Labour leaders will be pushing to advance legislation that helps workers join or start unions when they gather next week in Ottawa to plot election strategy, it adds.

“We will be focused on challenging any politician who claims to support workers to get behind measures that bring more balanced labour negotiations and fairer labour laws to every jurisdiction across our country,” she wrote.

“Political leaders must provide a clear answer to a simple question: ‘Do you agree that labour laws should help more workers join or form a union?'”

With the Liberals holding a minority in Parliament, the next federal election can technically take place any time, but no later than October 2025.

Among the measures Bruske wants to see: bringing workers to the decision-making table, fixing employment insurance, strengthening the Canada Pension Plan and updating the Canada Labour Code.

The Canadian Labour Congress’s own research suggests support for unions across the country remains strong, she notes.

“We can leverage this support to challenge all politicians to align their policy proposals with the best interests of workers.”

Poilievre’s is focused on prosecuting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s record on affordability, all the while paying special attention to working-class Canadians who feel squeezed by the post-COVID cost of living.

Public opinion polls consistently suggest he’s getting through to them, despite organized labour’s deep NDP ties — as well as the fact Poilievre has a history of supporting back-to-work legislation in Parliament.

Earlier this year, Conservatives broke character, voting en masse to support a ban on federally regulated workplaces from using replacement workers during strikes or lockouts — legislation the congress supported.

During his leadership campaign in 2022, Poilievre slammed Bank of Canada governor Tiff Macklem for discouraging employers from raising wages for fear of fuelling inflation.

And in a speech last month to the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade, he boasted of prioritizing visits with union locals and workers on shop floors over corporate speaking engagements.

The Conservative courtship of workers has not gone unnoticed by the federal NDP.

The party that has long self-identified as a friend to organized labour finds itself trailing the Conservatives in long-held ridings in British Columbia and northern Ontario.

Poilievre is not to be believed when he talks about helping workers and their families, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh told the crowd this week at the annual Progress Summit.

Nor has the Conservative leader ever visited a picket line, Singh’s principal secretary, veteran NDP operative Anne McGrath, said recently.

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