By Brad Zubyk
It’s been an interesting month on the union front in British Columbia.
It started with an internal memo from the Steelworkers Union that complained that the NDP treated unions as an “ATM for the party” and that future donations would not be forthcoming until things changed dramatically.
Besides the obvious hypocrisy implied in this statement for a party campaigning on banning corporate and union donations, it shone a light on the growing reality that the NDP would be insolvent without union donations. Perhaps more important was the complaint that the NDP took positions that affected unions without consulting them. The memo went on to question how the Steelworkers could trust an NDP government if this is how they behave as the opposition.
As we approached mid May, Canada’s Building Trades Union made history by inviting BC Liberal Minister Shirley Bond, Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training and Minister Responsible for Labour, to speak at its national conference. This marks the first time that any BC cabinet minister was invited to speak there – and if my Twitter feed was any indication, the CBTU was intent on telling the world.
Notably, Ms. Bond’s government has been a leading advocate of major job creations projects like Site C and PNW LNG, all projects opposed by the NDP.
Finally, we saw the president of the Ironworkers Union appear at a news conference with Premier Clark, expressing that he supports governments who support jobs for his members.
While there is no doubt that the political positions of many unions are in transition, the question is: why is this happening now?
For private sector unions it is clear that the current BC government is on side with those projects that create jobs for their members. More important, the NDP in BC and elsewhere (with the possible exception of Alberta) regularly oppose major job creation projects.
The party of the Leap Manifesto in Canada has become the party of “no” in BC. No matter how much NDP Leader John Horgan tries to publicly distance himself from the Leap Manifesto, the fact is that the position adopted by his party reinforces its core beliefs on an almost daily basis. Horgan’s delicate public dance leaves one with the distinct impression that he is trying to suck and blow at the same time. And love her or loathe her, British Columbians know where Premier Clark stands on job creation and the economy.
I believe that the softening union attitudes run far deeper than the obvious narrative.
While the NDP spin machine has attacked the current government as acting identically to previous BC Liberal governments, the reality has been that the behaviour of the Clark government has shifted dramatically in the last three years.
Union representatives have been consulted on a regular basis and government-appointed working groups and committees have reached out to union leaders and given them a voice on policy direction. This has been especially true when it comes to skills training and LNG development (with former Federation of Labour President Jim Sinclair playing a significant role).
In short, the NDP has been attacking a government behaviour that no longer exists and hasn’t existed for years.
Finally, the provincial government has been historically successful in negotiating long-term contracts with its public sector workers. This week, the BC Nurses Union was the latest to come to terms – meaning 91 percent of the BC public service has now ratified long-term deals in over 40 separate contracts.
The NDP continues to attack the government with outdated rhetoric that is badly in need of a refresh to reflect the new reality. It is as if the NDP is still fighting the Cold War decades after the rest of the world has moved on.
Brad Zubyk is a government relations expert who has been at the forefront of strategic communications in Canada since 1993. He creates innovative, effective solutions for clients that achieve tangible results and help strengthen their reputations. Brad says one of his greatest pleasures in life is helping worthy non-profits achieve their funding goals.