When the Liberal Party took power in Canada in 2015 , the IBEW and working families gained access to halls of power on Parliament Hill that hadn’t existed in the previous four years of Conservative rule and five years of coalition government before that.
Photo provided by Canada’s Building Trades Unions. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stood with IBEW officials following the dedication of a monument to building trades workers in Ottawa in May 2017. Trudeau’s Liberal Party will try to hold its majority in federal elections in October.
The result has been a blizzard of legislation and initiatives that has benefited working families and union members across Canada. Put simply, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government have followed through on most of the promises they made prior to taking office.
(Pictured-left) Trudeau, third from left, met with IBEW and Canadian building trades leaders during a visit to Edmonton Local 424 in February 2016. Then-Alberta Premier Rachel Notley is to Trudeau’s right.
“It was an all-out war on unions and working people before [former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen] Harper left,” Winnipeg, Manitoba, Local 2085 Business Manager Russell Shewchuk said. “Trudeau came in and has been working hard for our members.”
For former Hamilton, Ontario, Local 105 Business Manager John Grimshaw, now the executive secretary/treasurer of the IBEW Construction Council of Ontario, it’s been refreshing to have open communication with the prime minister’s staff when important issues arise.
“I would hate to lose that access,” he said. “When the Conservatives were there, for us to get a meeting was next to impossible. To be able to work with government, they need to know what your issues are.”
October’s federal elections, however, could see all that swept away.
Poll numbers across the country spell worry for Trudeau’s party and a potential return to the days of federal hostility to union workers. As of June 10, CBC’s Poll Tracker gave the Conservatives a 41% chance of winning a majority government and the Liberals just an 9% chance to hold their majority. It gave the Conservatives a 31% percent chance at winning the most seats but not a majority and the Liberals a 19% chance at the same scenario.
IBEW leaders in Canada say they are confident the Trudeau-led government has enough time to regain its footing, especially if it can put the focus back on bread-and-butter issues.
But the Conservative Party has momentum. It has new majority governments in Ontario and Alberta and secured a minority government in New Brunswick, all in the last year. Harper has left Parliament, but Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s message is finding traction even though it’s not much different from the Conservatives’ anti-worker message in the past.
That’s why members are encouraged to get involved in their local riding’s campaign to send a worker-friendly Member of Parliament to the House of Commons and prevent a return to the days when the IBEW had no seat at the table of government.
One of those candidates who will find IBEW support is Daniel Blaikie, an electrician and member of Local 2085, who represents Winnipeg’s Elmwood- Transcona Riding. The New Democratic Party member is part of a strategy that favors the best candidate in each riding to stop a Conservative takeover rather than support for a single party.
“The IBEW and all of Canadian labour have made tremendous gains under the Trudeau government, and he and members of his staff have called me personally for our input,” First District Vice President Thomas Reid said. “That access is invaluable, but we lose it if there’s a return to Conservative government. That’s why we need the help of our members at this crucial time. If we stand together with our friends and allies, I’m confident we’ll win.”
With Liberals in charge, the IBEW and the rest of the labour movement have secured a series of important victories, including:
- In one of its first acts in office, Parliament reversed bills C-377 and C-525 — a pair of anti-union bills pushed by Conservatives that placed onerous reporting requirements on unions and made organizing new workers more burdensome.
- The Trudeau government expanded the Canada Pension Plan and increased the Guaranteed Income Supplement for the country’s poorest senior citizens. For instance, a Canadian worker making CA$50,000 in today’s dollars will see his pension increase from $12,000 to $16,000 annually.
- Parliament prohibited the presence in construction materials of asbestos, a carcinogen known for decades to cause cancer. The previous Conservative government resisted efforts to do so.
- Liberals ratified the International Labour Organization Convention’s No. 98, which recognizes the right to organize and collectively bargain and also prohibits anti-union discrimination by the federal government.
- Trudeau’s government also reduced the employment insurance waiting period from two weeks to one; created a Just Transition Task Force to reduce the impacts of Canada’s transition away from coal-fired power generation on those workers and their communities; and has also overseen significant increases in investments for union-based apprenticeship training.
Shewchuk noted that Local 2085 recently received a $1 million federal grant for its training center. “We would have never been given a grant for training money by a conservative government,” he said. Harper canceled a similar program in 2006 shortly after becoming PM.
The Trudeau government also is being blamed unfairly for the delay in the construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline — another IBEW priority — between Edmonton and Burnaby, British Columbia, Shewchuk said. It was approved by the federal government, but is being slowed by provincial governments and court cases, he said.
“When you talk to Prime Minister Trudeau one-on-one, he’s a genuine guy,” Shewchuk said. “He’s been up here and spoke to our building trades annual conference. He connects with the working class.”
Fredericton, New Brunswick, Local 37 Business Manager Ross Galbraith, who also serves on the International Executive Council, said he’s maintained a good relationship with the Conservative- controlled provincial government that owns NB Power, where his local has jurisdiction. He said he’s also learned not to tell his members how to vote.
But he’s happy to share when asked why he thinks, on the federal level, the Liberals are the right choice. He’s pleased the Trudeau government set up the Just Transition Task Force for workers and communities and that its members met with workers and leaders in New Brunswick, a province that relies heavily on coal.
“There is a saying in Canada: we don’t vote parties in,” Galbraith said. “We vote parties out, and that’s what concerns me. Nobody is perfect, but when you look at what the current government has done to support the goals of working people, like removing Bill 377, supporting training initiatives, improving employment insurance, etc., it’s pretty obvious Trudeau’s government strongly supports workers and the middle class. The track record of the previous federal Conservative government and some of the things now being said by their current party leaders show they still have a strong opposition to organized labour.”
That’s why it’s so important that IBEW members get involved now and help to remind friends and neighbors of the great work the current government has done for working families.
“They [the Conservatives] could re-open our country’s constitution,” Grimshaw said. “They could bring in right-to-work across the country. It’s very important we do not get a Conservative prime minister.”