The province’s construction unions are eager to get on with the work of building Ontario after an election campaign in which there was an uncommon display of partisan building trade support for the governing Progressive Conservatives.
The Tories under Doug Ford roared to a second majority June 2 with 83 seats, the New Democrats dropped to 31 seats but will again form the Official Opposition, and the Liberal Party picked up on eight seats and will not have official party status.
“It was a big victory. It was monumental,” said James Barry, executive secretary treasurer of the IBEW Construction Council of Ontario, one of six construction unions to endorse the PCs.
“I’m sure they are all very pleased with last night’s outcome,” commented Victoria Mancinelli, director of marketing and strategic partnerships with LIUNA, another PC endorser. “Because now, more than ever, we have to rebuild our economy, especially following the pandemic. We’re going to rebuild the economy in large part with major infrastructure developments that premier Ford has announced.”
The pre-election budget released by the Ford government included plans to spend $25 billion on new roads and highways over the next 10 years and $62 billion on new transit over that time.
“That’s going to create thousands upon thousands of job opportunities, long-term, good-paying job opportunities for union members,” said Mancinelli.
While construction unions aligned with Ford’s PCs, the New Democrats picked up support from broader labour groups such as the Ontario Federation of Labour and the Liberals under Steven Del Duca were in the unenviable position of being directly targeted by one union, LIUNA.
Mancinelli said the Labourers adopted a two-pronged marketing approach to the election, with one path highlighting supportive government policies including skills training and transit, highway and other major project expenditures that will create jobs for 90 or 95 per cent of LIUNA’s members.
The other was to discredit Del Duca, who lost in his local riding and said on election night he was stepping down as Liberal leader.
Del Duca, a former employee of the Carpenters’ union, is accused by LIUNA of favouring his former employer in the dying days of the Kathleen Wynne government when as a cabinet minister he allegedly stripped LIUNA of significant jurisdiction through revisions to formwork regulations in Schedule 14, with the Carpenters’ reaping the benefits.
“We had a campaign that was directed at Steven Del Duca and the Liberals, that was due in large part because they attacked our members,” Mancinelli said, referring to Schedule 14.
“We’ve worked with the Liberals for many years prior to their attack on our members and we weren’t buying what he was selling this time around.”
Asked about some of her anti-Del Duca tweets, Mancinelli said, “It could come across as negative, but we’re always fully transparent because when we’re putting our word out there, we stick by our word. So we’re OK with being out there…it’s the right thing to do.”
Del Duca did not respond to a request for comment.
Others trades to endorse the PCs included sheet metal workers; plumbers and pipefitters; boiler makers; and painters, members of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades.
Several of the endorsement statements praised Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development Monte McNaughton for supporting the skilled trades through significant new funding and listening and collaborating as the new Skills Trades Ontario (STO) was put in place. Barry said post-election that one of his priorities was to work with Ford and McNaughton as compulsory trades are redefined as part of the new STO regime, with the 309A Electrician trade especially inviolable.
The Carpenters’ Union did not endorse the PCs but Mike Yorke, president of the Carpenters’ District Council of Ontario, said that had nothing to do with any loyalties to Del Duca and the rivalry with LIUNA that came to a head in 2018.
“I think that’s ancient history now, I really do,” said Yorke. “I think now it’s all about going forward and building Ontario. The Carpenters’ provide skills to build the infrastructure and create a solid economy and will play a role like every other building trade union in the province.”
Yorke said the Carpenters’ have an open-door relationship with the premier and they’ve successfully advocated for institutional projects in Brampton and Scarborough.
“We’ve got a fantastic relationship with Monte McNaughton and I think there’s a real opportunity to continue to build on that,” said Yorke.
In a statement, Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario business manager Marc Arsenault offered “congratulations to premier Ford and his team for earning a historic and convincing mandate from the people of Ontario.”
Priorities for the Building Trades during the government’s next mandate, Arsenault said, include working with the government on mitigating project risk by managing labour availability issues; ensuring safety as the government invests in its large infrastructure program; and providing opportunities for youths in the skilled trades.
Former Building Trades business manager Patrick Dillon, now retired, suggested the PCs got a free ride on labour issues during the campaign with the opposition parties failing to raise concerns of importance to construction workers in recent times and third-party advocacy curtailed due to Bill 254. He was a founder of the advocacy group Working Families which raised labour and social issues in past campaigns but was silent this election after all parties supported Bill 254.
The Ford government used the notwithstanding clause to suppress third party activism after Bill 254 was declared unconstitutional.
“It became a pretty boring election,” with third parties like Working Families shut down and construction unions lining up to support the government platform, Dillon said.
“I wouldn’t have taken that same approach,” he said, commenting on the construction union endorsements. “They got all kinds of money for their training centres from the government. And so they supported the government for giving them that kind of money.”
Did the union support for Ford make a big difference in the election? Whether or not the endorsements affect the voting behaviour of union members is an open question, said Christopher Cochrane, associate professor of political science at the University of Toronto.
“The NDP has had strong union support historically, but it was never clear that union members chose to follow the endorsements of union leadership,” said Cochrane.
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