Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak's recent white paper, "Flexible Labour Markets," has been the centre of much controversy and debate.
Hudak trumps up a lot of nonsense and feigned concern about union democracy and transparency, but in the end offers little more than selfish individualism in opposition. That his hostility towards the union principles of social cooperation and compromise for the greater good puts him at odds with the basis of Canadian democracy -- from elections to tax collection -- appears to be lost on him.
However, the depth of his hypocrisy is perhaps best illustrated by his total lack of concern for fairness and transparency when it comes to his corporate backers. According to a recent study of Ontario elections, between 2004 and 2011, over 40 per cent of Progressive Conservatives' funds ($26 million) came from corporations.
By contrast, the New Democratic Party received a paltry $666,000 from corporations. Overall, corporate contributions comprised nearly 40 per cent of all election financing while union contributions made up a mere five per cent. And in a testament to the extent of internal democracy within the labour movement, it is worth noting that unions donated money to parties of all political stripes, including a handful who pitched in to the Progressive Conservatives.
In the last provincial election, the Conservatives received donations from over 500 corporations, including more than 40 numbered companies whose dealings we may never know, since there is no obligation for private corporations to reveal financial information. To add insult to injury, corporations enjoy a tax rebate that is more than double the tax rebate available to individuals, and corporations are allowed to carry forward unused tax credits for up to 20 years!
As individuals, wealthy CEOs and bankers -- along with their respective spouses and sometimes even children and extended family -- regularly make the maximum possible contributions to their preferred party or candidate. Such largesse is rarely possible for low and modest income individuals; for many workers the only campaign contributions they will ever be able to afford are the ones they make collectively through their union.
Clearly, Hudak's vitriol toward unions has little to do with protecting the interests of individuals and even less to do with protecting the integrity of our democratic processes. It is the modest efforts of union members to counter the influence of corporations and the wealthy that provokes the ire of Hudak and his followers.
You see, unions are nothing more and nothing less than the sum of its members. Any organization comprised of human beings is subject to the same fallibilities. That is precisely why democratic union processes are so critical. As in any form of representative democracy, union members use conventions, general meetings and other formal gatherings to hold their leaders accountable -- and to elect new ones.
Members create new policies as necessary, adopt campaigns, review the allocation of financial resources and accept audited financial statements as already required by law. The members themselves debate and decide on the political priorities of their union; this is a basic democratic right.
What Hudak simply can't wrap his head around -- and what has provoked his venomous campaign to try to clamp down on union campaigns during elections -- is the fact that working people aren't buying his pro-corporate political agenda and they invested their energies and hard-earned union dues to convince their neighbours to vote against the Hudak Conservatives.
Working people have long memories that harken back to when Hudak served under premier Mike Harris' conservative government when it dismantled social programs, spiked tuition fees, gutted workers' rights and turned provincial surpluses into a deep deficit. It is, therefore, pretty unsurprising that working people would pull their votes from the provincial Tories who they see as working against their welfare; just as it is no surprise when the corporate sector pulls out the stops to bankroll a Tory platform that promises to fuel their shareholder profits through deep government tax cuts. That's politics.
But when Hudak tables a plan to undermine union membership, gut dues collection, and limit the political campaigns that workers undertake through their unions -- while continuing to give corporations and the wealthiest Ontarians carte blanche to buy influence with his party -- that's duplicitous.
What Hudak forgets is that, regardless of the prevailing laws, working people have always come together to resist exploitation and to make working conditions better for the next generation of workers. That's why -- no matter what -- union members will continue to work hard, not only to address workplace issues, but also to engage in the fight for permanent, progressive legal changes so that their children will have decent jobs and better lives.
For all these reasons, I am confident that -- like they did eight months ago -- the majority of Ontarians will reject Hudak's politics of division, and instead choose to make Ontario fair for everyone.