Labour leader urges unions to expose Poilievre’s working-class overtures as ‘fraud’

Labour leader urges unions to expose Poilievre's working-class overtures as 'fraud'
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre rises during question period, Tuesday, April 16, 2024 in Ottawa. The head of Canada's largest labour organization is calling Poilievre a

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre is a “fraud” for portraying himself as a friend of the working class, the head of the country’s largest labour organization said Thursday, urging unions to do everything they can to expose him before the next federal election.

Canadian Labour Congress President Bea Bruske delivered her call to arms as union leaders gathered in Ottawa to plot strategy ahead of the vote, which must happen before October 2025.

“We must do everything in our power to expose Mr. Pierre Poilievre for the fraud that he is,” Bruske said.

“We must be under no illusions.”

Canada’s three main political parties are already battling for blue-collar votes: both NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau were to address the meeting later Thursday.

The speeches come days after the Liberals tabled a federal budget that increases taxes on the wealthy and includes funding for NDP priorities like pharmacare and dental care.

Poilievre was not invited to speak at the gathering.

While polls suggest Poilievre’s affordability message is resonating with both private and public-sector workers, Bruske said his history of supporting back-to-work legislation and advocating for employees to be allowed to opt out of unions and makes him hostile to labour.

“Whatever he claims today, Mr. Poilievre has a consistent 20-year record as an anti-worker politician and I ask you, have you ever, ever, anywhere in Canada see him walk a picket line,” she said.

New Democrats have said much the same about the Conservative leader.

For his part, Poilievre has said spent the past two years criss-crossing the country, pitching himself as the leader who understands the pain and anxieties working-class Canadians feel in the current affordability crisis.

Poilievre likes to note he’s spoken to more local unions and workers on factory floors than he has to corporate business crowds. Under his leadership, the Conservatives also voted to support a bill seeking to ban federally regulated workplaces from using replacement workers during strikes or lockouts, a significant shift for the Tories.

Since becoming leader, Poilievre has also resisted calling on Trudeau for back-to-work legislation in response to labour disputes, including the strike that saw thousands of public servants hit the picket lines last spring.

He has taken his vow to “axe” the federal carbon price on fuel to NDP-held ridings across British Columbia, including on Vancouver Island, and to northern Ontario, where the Liberals also hold seats.

When asked why Poilievre’s message seems to be resonating among workers, Bruske said union leaders are aware of the anxieties workers face.

“We well understand the frustration and the fear of about the future of their jobs and the fear of being able to make end’s meet,” she said.

But “politicians who offer simplistic answers without actually providing a real strategy on how they’re going to achieve what workers need are not politicians that we can count on.”

Trudeau routinely chides Poilievre for drumming up support by promising simple fixes to complicated problems, like the lack of housing supply.

Liberals are also frustrated that Poilievre has blamed their signature climate policy, the consumer carbon levy, for driving up costs.

They deny his claims, insisting that the government’s quarterly rebate payments are ensuring most Canadians are getting back more than they pay under the carbon price.

By Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 18, 2024.

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