Unions ratchet up political involvement in Ontario

Local 128, other trades help elect working-family candidates

STEPPED-UP POLITICAL involvement by the Ontario Construction Trades Council in recent years has made a big difference in provincial government, says Jim Tinney, Local 128 (Ontario) BM-ST. That difference can be seen in the last two elections in which pro-labor candidates from the Ontario Liberal Party have won — and sustained — clear majorities.

The Liberal Party swept into control of the government in 2003 and maintained their majority in the October 2007 elections, thanks in part to the Working Families campaign, a coalition of construction trade unions and other organizations. Patrick Dillon, business manager of the Ontario Construction Trades Council and a spokesman for Working Families, calls the coalition “an independent non-partisan organization raising awareness about issues that are important to families.”

In the last provincial election, Working Families launched a vigorous and successful advertising program and Web site that reminded voters of the harm done to working families when Ontario Progressive Conservatives (PCs) with a right-wing agenda held the majority. Although political analysts predicted the PCs might take back the majority from the Liberal Party, the Working Families campaign helped make sure that didn’t happen. Using targeted advertising in key ridings (legislative districts), Working Families convinced voters to reject PC leader John Tory’s bid to become Ontario’s premier and head of a Conservative majority.

“Local 128, as part of the construction trades council and the Working Families campaign, has helped educate our members and other voters about what’s at stake in provincial elections,” says Tinney. The campaign has a great Web site — www.workingfamilies.ca — and the ads run by the group have been compelling, he notes.

Tinney says Local 128 members contribute up to two cents an hour for political education. “It works much like LEAP (Legislative Education Action Program) does in the United States.” In addition, Local 128 members donate money that goes to help pro-union candidates run for office.

Funding the Working Families campaign has been one key to the Ontario Building Trades political success against the right wing’s agenda, according to Dillon, the Council’s business manager. “We hired professionals to do polling and handle the communications. That was the big difference. And Boilermakers were certainly a good part of that effort. We’re pretty proud of what we’ve done.”

Dillon says following the 2003 elections Working Families won a Pollie Award for one of its television commercials from the American Association of Political Consultants.