This is the 18th in a series of opinion columns on the 2022 Ontario provincial election, written by Josh Lieblein for The CJN.
Government relations folks, political pundits, campaigning lifers, and ideologues of all stripes can’t stop talking about the voting shift among private sector unions to the Ontario Progressive Conservatives.
No matter what your priors are, this story neatly confirms it.
For example, if you’re of the belief that ordinary Ontarians are put off by the increasingly woke direction of historically left-leaning groups like labour unions, this story is catnip for you. Unions want better wages and better jobs for their members—not a narrow focus on whatever Israel is doing today.
Same goes for Liberal and NDP partisans who bemoan the inaction of their party bosses and the way they are distracted by online bunfights and trending hashtags instead of good old ground organization and maintaining relationships with unions.
If you’re a lefty who thinks capitalism is having a field day at your expense, and unions have been co-opted due to insufficient radicalism, the prospect of three or four unions backing the Ontario PCs gives your bias plenty of confirmation.
Conservatives in Canada are all too happy to follow the lead of Boris Johnson making gains in Labour country across the pond, while his political opponents became entangled in the excesses of Corbynism. (Chop a few words in Johnson’s slogan “Get Brexit Done” and you’ve got the nonsensical one from Doug: “Get It Done.”)
Those who wish to see MPP Monte McNaughton elevated to the premier’s chair give props to the labour minister from Lambton-Kent-Middlesex for his role in sweetening the union deal with his signature Bill 124 and by cultivating an image as the guy who can operate heavy machinery just as easily as he operates the levers of government.
Public sector workers like nurses hate Bill 124 because it limits salary increases to 1 percent annually over three years—but private unions, whose wages aren’t affected by government bills, get a pass. For his part, Premier Ford is happy to take credit, while he still can.
Then there’s the good old personal grudge angle, as quite a few union bosses—mostly construction workers affiliated with the Labourers International Union of North America, or LiUNA—have a personal issue with Steven Del Duca. They allege the Liberal leader favoured his friends at the Carpenters’ District Council over the construction workers during the time when his party held government. So the realignment is also the product of the Ontario PCs taking advantage of a communications breakdown.
The unions endorsing the Tories is unprecedented—and not every working man and woman in the province knows how to feel about it. Liberals can point to the fact that the teachers unions are as full-square behind them as ever, and the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), who lean towards boycott, divestment and sanctions when it comes to Israel, have backed the NDP.
So while it’s a coup for Doug Ford have any labour endorsements, many unions will still be out in your neighbourhood canvassing for parties other than the Conservatives.
And that’s the most immediate benefit to having unions in your corner: they do the heavy lifting associated with campaigns. Signs, door-knocking, lit drops: they’ll take care of labour-intensive tasks while also acting as a ready source of donations. It’s obvious why the Liberals and NDP have relied on them for so long.
But unless something turns in a hurry on this listless campaign, the union realignment will be just one more example of derangements over Doug Ford leading to a crushing defeat for the opposition—in what could’ve been a winnable election for either of them.
Josh Lieblein can be reached at [email protected] for your response to Doorstep Postings.