Ontario’s IBEW Locals Meet to Prepare for Upcoming Provincial Election

Political Action Committees (PACs) from IBEW locals from across the province met in Ottawa on February 7th, 2018 to hear from speakers and plan next steps to mobilize for the election on June 7.

James Barry of the IBEWCCO
James Barry of the IBEWCCO.

The recent attack upon skilled trades posed by Bill 70 Schedule 17 is still fresh in the minds of IBEW members across Ontario.

With more than 17,000 members ready to mobilize, and strong ties to organizations like the Ontario Federation of Labour, the Provincial Building & Construction Trades Council of Ontario, and the Canadian Labour Congress, there’s no doubt that defending reasonable standards for everyday working families will become an issue in the coming election.

Indeed it is also an issue in the hearts of many Ontarians, if the recent outrage over the plight of Tim Horton’s workers is any indication. Following the increase in the minimum wage to $14 per hour, several Tim Horton’s franchises reduced benefits for their workers, prompting ongoing demonstrations.

Working Within the New Election Finances Act

Meant to curtail ‘cash for access’, the new rules will limit the influence of corporations on election outcomes, but will also hamper unions.

Facilitator Matt Wayland, a strategist with IBEW’s First District, started the day with a workshop on the Act. “It’s essential to know the rules, especially what’s changed.”

Jennifer Duff of Shields Hunt Duff
Jennifer Duff of Shields Hunt Duff.

Jennifer Duff, a partner with Shields Hunt Duff, walked the IBEW PAC members and Business Managers through the new election laws pertaining to direct donations and advertising. An extensive Q&A session followed, exploring many typical scenarios and ensuring the group has a good understanding of what can and can’t be done.

Much of the Q & A session focused on maintaining a clear distinction between union assets and personal assets, and work time versus volunteer time. In response to one question, Jennifer advised, “If you want to take a vacation day to volunteer, that’s fine. But ensure your vacation day is on record with your employer. This is essential in case there’s an audit.”

Concerns of Ontario’s Voters

Marcel Wieder of Aurora Strategy
Marcel Wieder of Aurora Strategy.

Aurora Strategy’s Marcel Wieder shared polling data that highlighted voter concerns. “Salaries in Ontario aren’t increasing by and large. Ontarians have noticed that the economy is doing better, but that you and I aren’t seeing that trickle down. They are looking to their government to bring fairness,” he commented.

Pat Dillon, Business Manager of the Provincial Building & Construction Trades Council of Ontario, provided historical context to the rise of the right wing in recent decades. “Harris attacked the social safety net provincially, and Harper did the same thing nationally,” he said. “It was Harris who started referring to labour as ‘union bosses’, leaving out that we’re the ones standing up for all workers, union and non-union alike.”

Dillon gave examples of pre-Harris Conservative governments who enacted legislation to protect workers from harm, and of former Liberal and NDP governments who passed harmful legislation. “We’ve got to have a government in place that respects workers and the work they do.”

Political Action Committee speakers
Left to right: Patrick Dillon of the Provincial Building & Construction Trades Council of Ontario, Melisa Bayon from the Ontario Federation of Labour, and Josh Bizjak the Broadbent Institute.

The Ontario Federation of Labour’s Melisa Bayon spoke on strategies her group had tried, including what worked best. Commenting on the 15 and Fairness campaign (referring to the minimum wage), Bayon said, “What you don’t hear is that this legislation happened because labour demanded it.”

The Broadbent Institute’s Josh Bizjak rounded out the presentations with a look at the players behind the candidates, including conservative political strategists and the Alt Right movement. He highlighted the migration of these players from the federal to the provincial level, and from the now-defunct Patrick Brown campaign to their new roles.

Mobilizing the Grassroots

John Grimshaw of the IBEWCCO
John Grimshaw of the IBEWCCO.

The importance of the next few months cannot be overstated.

While our Political Action Committees will be keeping the momentum going in their jurisdictions, we must call upon each and every member to familiarize themselves with the new election rules and to make it their mission to encourage everyone to get out and vote.

“The most important thing you can do,” said John Grimshaw, Exec. Sec. Treasurer for the IBEW CCO, “is to help all our members get out there and start talking to people.”