Canadian unions cheer as voters toss out right-wing Prime Minister Harper

TORONTO – Canadian unions cheered as, in a resounding rejection of a decade of radical right politics, voters decisively tossed out Tory Prime Minister Stephen Harper, giving a large parliamentary majority to the Liberal Party and its leader, Justin Trudeau.

Results from all House of Commons ridings (districts) show the Liberals won 184 seats with 40 percent of the vote, keyed by sweeps in Canada’s largest cities, Toronto and Montreal. The Tories won 99 seats and 32 percent. Harper had led a plurality government from 2011-15.

The even-more-progressive New Democratic Party – which unions backed when it was the official parliamentary opposition – won 44 seats and 20 percent of the vote. Minor parties won 11 seats. The Tories lost 67 seats, and the NDP lost 59. The Liberals gained 150.

In his decade in power, Harper made a target of Canadian unions.

Taking a page from the U.S. right wing playbook, Harper used parliamentary maneuvering in the Canadian Senate earlier this year to push through an anti-labor law that forced unions – and only unions – to disclose spending on everything from organizing to lawyers’ fees to salaries to paper clips. Violators would be fined and sent to jail.

And Harper’s government let U.S. Steel “take over some of the most modern and efficient steelmaking facilities in North America, based on commitment to workers, pensioners and communities. The Conservative government allowed U.S. Steel to starve our operations, export our work…and break its commitments,” by eliminating health care for 20,000 pensioners, four days before the election, said USW Local 8782 President Bill Ferguson.

Harper was so anti-union that UFCW Canada launched a meme on social media with Harper’s face and his finger pointing at voters. “Only you can stop my re-election” its slogan said. It went viral, UFCW added.

“Canadians have soundly rejected the Conservatives’ politics of fear and division and have voted for change, and we look forward to working to ensure the Trudeau government delivers on the real change it has promised for working Canadians,” said Canadian Labour Congress President Hassan Yussuff.

He added the CLC hopes “the new government will act swiftly” on a wide range of pro-worker measures, including repeal of the “fundamentally flawed ideological anti-labour bills” Harper pushed through Parliament this year. On other issues, the CLC praises the Liberals’ stand for enhanced pensions, restoring Old Age Security, and significant increases in training, apprenticeship and infrastructure spending.

But the Liberals and Canadian unions are not in total agreement. Like U.S. workers and unions, Canadian unions and workers strongly oppose the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) “free trade” pact with the U.S. and 10 other Pacific Rim nations.

“The new government must take action to protect our supply management system and Canadian jobs – including auto sector jobs – that are under serious threat from the TPP as it stands,” Yussuff said. Trudeau, son of famous former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, has equivocated on the TPP.

And the CLC also wants the Liberal majority in the new Parliament to repeal Harper’s anti-terror legislation, which Yussuff calls “an affront to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” its Bill of Rights. 

Photo: Canadian unions say they will hold the Liberal Party, which has taken control of the nation’s Parliament, to all of its campaign promises.   |  Wikimedia (CC)


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.