VANCOUVER—On the first day of the B.C. Federation of Labour’s weeklong governing convention, federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh slammed the Liberals for their handling of two issues currently looming over Canadian workers.
Over 1,000 union members chosen to represent their unions at the biennial gathering heard Trudeau’s Liberals are to blame for an “unconstitutional” bill aimed at sending striking Canada Post workers back to work, and for the loss of 2,500 jobs as a result of General Motors’ decision to cease operations in Oshawa.
“How dare they say they’re friends of labour when they force workers back?” Singh asked, to applause and shouts of “shame” from the union crowd. “Justin Trudeau undermined the ability for postal workers to have free and fair negotiations. Last time I checked, Canadians have a right to free and fair negotiations.”
Minister of Labour Patty Hajdu last week introduced legislation in the House of Commons aimed at sending striking postal workers back to work after about one month of rotating strikes.
The Harper government made a similar move during a Canada Post strike in 2011, which was later found to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. The Liberals maintain the bill is lawful and comes as a “last resort” in a labour dispute that’s touched almost every community across Canada.
Singh also said Monday’s General Motor’s announcement that the company would close operations in Oshawa, putting 2,500 jobs on the line, is evidence that the Liberals aren’t doing enough to protect jobs.
“We need to look at how we can keep this plant open and make sure those workers are looked after,” he said in an interview. “They’re folks with good paying jobs that support their families, and support their entire community.”
He said any government money that may be given to GM to keep the plant open should come with strings — namely commitments to keep good jobs here.
Unifor, the union representing workers at the Oshawa plant, said Monday the plant would not close “without the fight of our lives.”
Monday was the first time Singh has given a speech to a B.C. Federation of Labour crowd, he said in an interview after his remarks.
But labour is a group he knows well, and he’s counting on their support for his own byelection in Burnaby South, as well as the 2019 general election.
He made a direct call for their support Monday, referencing the election of progressive mayors and city council members in the recent municipal elections, which he said stemmed in large part from the support of labour.
“The same way you were integral to electing people to city council, we need each and every one of you to help in the next election,” Singh said.
Politics was top-of-mind for more than just Singh at the opening day of the convention. Outgoing President Irene Lanzinger said in her last speech as head of the federation that “there’s no such thing as being too political.”
“We have a right, indeed a serious responsibility to engage in politics at every level and to elect governments that share our values,” Lanzinger said.
The B.C. labour movement was also instrumental in electing NDP MLAs to the provincial legislature, giving its leaders some of the loudest voices in the ears of the premier.
Lanzinger has served as president of the federation for the last four years. She was the first woman to hold the top job.
With files from The Canadian Press.