The cat is out of the bag, says National Post columnist Tasha Kheiriddin. Forget the Senate scandal and the daily drip of embarrassing Mike Duffy news for the Conservative Party. The real war is with unions, Kheiriddin wrote Thursday.
While the political showdown making news this month has pitted Prime Minister Stephen Harper against Senator Mike Duffy, a more important battle is shaping up for the 2015 election. It’s between the Conservative Party and organized labour — as evidenced by the resolutions the party will be debating at its policy convention in Calgary this week.
Kheiriddin is right.
Check out the slew of motions coming up for debate at the Conservative Party convention. The party triaged the motions to avoid duplication, and still managed to advance nine proposals that are variations on one theme: undermine bargaining rights and attack organized labour.
Photo: perspective. Used under a Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0 licence.
There’s no hidden agenda in this policy proposal about the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, up for debate at the Conservative Party convention: eliminate “all public funding of the corporation” because it “creates unfair competitive advantage with privately owned and operated networks and stations.”
This idea, pushed by the riding of Saint Boniface, may be a bit awkward for their MP, Canadian Heritage Minister Shelly Glover.
According to polling, a majority of Canadians oppose cuts to the CBC.
There's great value in having a strong public broadcaster in such a diverse and vast country, but the 2012 federal budget took a sharp knife to CBC’s budget, cutting it by more than 10 per cent, more than double most departments. Even before that round of cuts, Canada ranked in the bottom three out of 18 major Western countries when it came to public funding of their public broadcaster (on a per-capita basis).
The government has also taken additional steps to undermine CBC’s independence. The latest budget implementation bill, passed in June, includes a clause that allows the federal Cabinet to approve salaries, working conditions and collective bargaining positions for the CBC.
Photo: rickchung. Used under a Creative Commons BY-2.0 licence.
The Conservative government tried a new argument Wednesday to try and contain the Senate scandal.
Paul Calandra, the Prime Minister's Parliamentary Secretary, stood up in the House of Commons to chide three of Harper's Senate appointees for not knowing where they lived. Part of the spending scandal involving Pamela Wallin, Mike Duffy and Patrick Brazeau revolves around their primary residences and expense claims.
The residency question could be put to Stephen Harper. After all, he appointed Wallin as a representative of Saskatchewan, even though she lived in Ontario. Duffy was a longtime resident of Ottawa, but was appointed as a Senator for Prince Edward Island.
Or to Peter Van Loan, the Conservative government's House Leader, who not that long ago stood up in the House of Commons to defend the three senators and their "deep ties" to their home provinces.
Compare Calandra in October with Van Loan in February:
It's a remarkable feat.
A special group in the Conservative Party sifted through all the policy proposals submitted by riding associations to debate at the party convention with a goal of tossing out the duplicate ones. But the group still managed to keep nine proposals that are variations on one theme: undermine bargaining rights.
There’s the call for “right to work” legislation for optional union membership from the riding of Perth-Wellington. Calgary-Nose Hill wants to spell out that the Conservative Party “believes that mandatory union membership and forced financial contributions as a condition of employment limit the economic freedom of Canadians and stifle economic growth.”
The riding of Ahuntsic wants to make clear that “unions meddle in political affairs” and “their finances are not transparent.” That’s why the Conservatives must address “the opacity of the financing of trade unions and compulsory membership of these unions for their members within the limits of federal jurisdiction.”
The riding of Alfred-Pellan wants the Conservative Party to “strive to properly restructure legislative protection of the Rand formula so as to provide full and effective protection to the right of all workers not to associate with broad political positions that they deem oppressive of their respective personal identities.”
And on and on it goes.
This follows a Parliamentary session during which the Conservatives made a habit of targeting organised labour. They proposed onerous and expensive reporting requirements on unions in Bill C-377 that Conservative senator Hugh Segal slammed as unconstitutional. The bill was gutted in the Senate, but it’s not the end of it. Bill C-525 proposes to make it harder for workers to form a new union and much easier to decertify an existing one.
Looks like Canadian conservative political forces and major employer groups are importing U.S. Republican-style attacks on the labour movement that, if successful, would undermine the ability of employees to bargain with employers on an even footing.
We know unions successfully promote fair wages, decent working conditions and public services that benefit all citizens – not just unionized workers. And yet, there's this push against bargaining rights.
Photo: wader. Used under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 2.0 licence.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been busy this past year defending loyal Conservative soldiers caught up in scandals. You know some of the names: Pamela Wallin, Dean Del Mastro and Peter Penashue.
But when that local soldier - hand-picked by Harper himself to promote the Conservative government - becomes a liability, Harper changes his tune.
After these past few days, Nigel Wright, Harper's former chief of staff, knows what this looks like. Wright went from having the "full confidence" of Harper (after news of that infamous $90,000 cheque to Duffy surfaced) to being disavowed for "deception."
Here's what it looks like when you're still in:
Photo: usask. Used under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 2.0 licence.