Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Wednesday October 19, 2021
With election looming, Doug Ford’s PCs pitch themselves as a party on the side of workers
With Ontario’s provincial election looming next spring, Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives are presenting themselves as a party that is on the side of workers.
It’s a political makeover that will likely to be a tough sell for Ford and his PCs.
Ford came to power in 2018 on a crusade to make Ontario “open for business.” One of his government’s first bills froze the minimum wage, scrapped a requirement that employers give all staff at least two paid sick days and ended measures that made it easier for some workers to join a union.
But now Ford is clearly making a fresh pitch to win favour with workers.
“We’ve always been for the front-line hard-working union people,” Ford told a news conference in Windsor on Monday. “I will break a brick wall down to support them.”
Ford’s Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development, Monte McNaughton, also aimed for a pro-worker tone in a recent speech to the Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council, an umbrella group of unions representing plumbers, electricians, bricklayers and other skilled tradespeople.
“We’re on your side,” McNaughton told the gathering of about 300 union officials in Toronto last Thursday. “There’s no bigger champion out there for tradespeople than Premier Ford.”
McNaughton went on to voice concern for “workers in Ontario being taken advantage of by some bad actors and bad corporations.” He talked of the plight of workers “making well below the minimum wage without pay stubs or transparency on how their work is assigned.”
Conservative governments “got it wrong” for decades with their approach to the labour movement, he said in the speech.
“We’re taking a different path,” McNaughton said. “Not every conservative agrees with me, but we’re not going to slow down.”
The idea of Ford’s party standing up for workers against big business is being met with skepticism by the PCs’ political opponents.
“They can kiss up to the unions if they want, but it’s their actions that make a difference,” NDP Leader Andrea Horwath told reporters on Monday at Queen’s Park.
“Actions speak louder than words, and we’ve seen this government have a very anti-worker agenda all the way along.”
Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca similarly questioned whether the Conservatives will back up what they say with meaningful action.
Patty Coates, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour, which represents more than one million unionized workers, dismisses what the PCs are saying as empty platitudes.
“It’s election time,” said Coates in an interview, adding that Ford is “rebranding himself as a friend of labour, and he believes that people will forget.” (CBC)