June 2011

North of 49°
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Ontario Working Families Expose Tories' Real Agenda

The first Ontario general election in four years is scheduled for October and the stakes could not be higher for working people. Jobs, workers' rights, health care and education funding are all on the line as Tim Hudak's Progressive Conservatives look to unseat Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty's government.

Hudak says his priority is providing relief for hardworking families, but Working Families, a broad coalition of Ontario unions representing more than 500,000 working people, is advising voters not to buy it.

"Hudak talks about standing up for the average taxpayer, but in reality his agenda is pure Bay Street," says First District Vice President Phil Flemming.

The Working Families Coalition—which is supported by the building trades, including the IBEW, and approximately 10 industrial and service unions—was formed in 2003 to educate voters about policies that threaten workers and expose the true motives of anti-worker politicians.

Alex Lolua, director of government relations for the IBEW's Construction Council of Ontario, says many union members were blindsided by the last Tory premier of Ontario, Mike Harris, who wooed voters with promises to cut taxes and reduce bureaucratic red tape, saying he would be a fighter for ordinary Ontarians.

But to the dismay of working families, Harris' "Common Sense Revolution" government of the mid-'90s ended up being one of the most anti-worker in the province's history. Harris repealed anti-scab legislation, froze the minimum wage, slashed workers' compensation and allowed some of the biggest contractors in Ontario to rip up their contracts with the building trades.

"It took a lot of us by surprise," Lolua says. "We didn't educate voters on what Harris and the Tories really stood for. And now Hudak wants to follow in his footsteps."

The big business-backed Tories have promised major cuts to health care, education and public services, which would lead to tens of thousands of layoffs.

Workers' rights in the construction industry would also suffer under a Progressive Conservative government. Tory MPP Jim Wilson told a meeting of Merit Ontario in April that should his party win power, it would abolish the Ontario College of Trades, give open shop contractors a leg up in the bidding process and reduce the journeyman to apprentice ratio from 3-to-1 to 1-to-1.

"Hudak wants to do to Ontario what anti-worker governors like Scott Walker and John Kasich are doing in the United States," says Pat Dillon, business manager for the Ontario Building and Construction Trades Council.

The Tories are also threatening thousands of jobs in the renewable energy sector. Hudak has attacked McGuinty's green energy plan, which has encouraged new jobs in the solar industry and investments in smart grid technology.

"We are focused on the issues that affect every working family in Ontario: jobs, health care, schools," says Lolua.

Strictly nonpartisan, Lolua says Working Families makes no candidate or party endorsements, focusing exclusively on educating voters on the issues.

"We are talking about jobs, wages, working conditions, education and health care," he says. "And educating Ontarians about which politicians will stand against working families on those issues."

Go to www.workingfamilies.ca for more information.