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Here’s what Conservative leadership hopefuls have to say about labour

Spoiler alert: You're not going to love their proposed policies

Nora Loreto@NoLore

Thinking about @justinpjtrudeau and his plan to plunge #Canada into a $1.5 trillion bankruptcy. Wow I have to get rid of this this guy in 2019!

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Kevin O’Leary, the Boston-based former CBC personality said that if he were ever elected, he would make unions illegal. He is one of 14 people running to lead the Conservative Party of Canada.

This was presumably before he had a plan to enter politics. He has since told the Toronto Star that he didn’t really mean that. He’d negotiate with unions, not outlaw them.

Whether or not O’Leary was lying then, lying now, or has honestly had a change of heart about unions hardly matters. The Conservatives have had a hostile relationship with organized labour and it’s unlikely to change, regardless of who is elected.

Among the 14 candidates, there is a troubling convergence of policy and ideas. This is most evident when the candidates talk about the economy.

“The economy” is many things. It’s industry: resource extraction, construction, retail, agrifood, and banks. It’s health care and education. It’s public infrastructure, public service, the arts, and telecommunications. In capitalism, the economy is everything: from our access to food and shelter, to our individual sense of meaning and self-identity.

The economy is certainly a favoured discussion topic among right-wing politicians. But workers? Not so much.

The Conservative voting system requires candidates to have riding-by-riding support, not simple popular support. It’s a system that disadvantages the bombastic and populist rhetoric of candidates like O’Leary and Kellie Leitch, and helps candidates who have demonstrated national and consistent support.

One of those candidates is Andrew Scheer. Scheer is the former Speaker of the House and an Ontario transplant from Saskatchewn whose folksy downhomeyness is only outdone by rhetoric such as: “Our forest industry is currently under attack. Pressure groups like Greenpeace are threatening our forest industry by disseminating false information to clients of Canadian businesses operating in the forestry sector. Our forestry workers use the best practices in the world and we need to tell that story. We must fight back and defend ourselves.”

His plan to promote Canadian lumber includes demonstrating how workers cut down trees. He even says workers! But this is about as close as Scheer gets to talking about workers. Of his 14 featured policies at his website, none are about the economy. He wants even more free trade, but the details are thin. He opposes condemning Islamophobia and paradoxically supports more religious freedom.

Lisa Raitt, former Minister of Labour, promises to “create jobs for all Canadians” through a combination of lower taxes, smaller government, and more jobs in the extractive industries. Of course, smaller government will mean fewer jobs, but there’s no explanation or strategy to square that contradiction.

Erin O’Toole has promised to give young people who have finished a post-secondary degree or apprenticeship $100,000 in tax breaks before they turn 30. If they graduated in coding or engineering, the tax break increases to $200,000. It’s a program that would reward the rich: You can only get a tax break if you make enough money to be in a higher income bracket. A recently engineering graduate, who is most likely to be a man who makes $120,000, is going to benefit from a $200,000 tax break much more than a social worker who can barely crack $30,000.

Among the candidates, there is general agreement that the best way to stimulate Canada’s economy is through tax cuts. Every candidate is promising to lower taxes, with the most extreme position held by Rick Peterson. He vows to eliminate corporate income tax entirely. Peterson is a long-shot candidate, but has announced his intention to run in Montreal for the seat recently vacated by Stéphane Dion.

The connection between lower taxes and job creation is the subject of great debate. There is no clear line from one to the other, and Canadians should be worried that this stands in as the most prominent jobs policy.

Lower taxes mean less money for services and infrastructure paid by the federal government. There are ways to make up for this gap, like privatizing parts of the public system so that they are funded by user fees, but privatization schemes only benefit people with higher incomes. In a Canada with no corporate income tax, we would have $37.9 billion less for federal services and provincial transfer payments that pay for health care, education, and municipal services.

Conservatives argue that corporations would have more revenue and profit, and in theory, would hire more people. More people receiving a salary would then boost the purchasing power of individuals, who could then choose the private school or private hospital of their liking.

But the correlation between tax cuts and an improved labour market is suspect. David Doorey, labour law professor at York University, cautions his students from believing the argument that there’s a clear correlation: “The Tory assertion that corporate tax cuts ‘create jobs in Canada’ or ‘improve productivity’ is a not a fact, it is an assertion only, and a highly dubious one at that when the ‘evidence’ is reviewed.”

There is a crisis of ideas and debate within the Conservative Party—and the broad consensus that lower taxes are central to improving Canadians’ access to work signals that Conservatives are more interested in undoing the social security net of Canada than they are about strengthening it.

Nora Loreto writes about labour issues for This.

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