WINNIPEG — Manitoba Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister told a business audience Thursday the province is being run by the Canadian Union of Public Employees — something that will change if his party wins Tuesday’s provincial election.
“I believe in the rights of workers to organize. I believe in collective bargaining. But I do not believe in a province that’s run by CUPE,” Pallister said during the last leaders’ debate before the election, in front of some 500 members of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce.
“That has been what’s being going on for far too long here in Manitoba. It has to stop.”
The comments — the only real drama during a 90-minute debate in which the leaders stuck closely to talking points — were quickly condemned by Pallister’s opponents.
“I think we should definitely respect that organizations are organizations but there are individual people who are a part of these organizations who are Manitobans and they matter to us, so it’s quite insulting” Liberal Leader Rana Bokhari said.
“Mr. Pallister always looks for one person or one group that he can punish or make a victim, and he demonstrated that again today,” Selinger told reporters afterward.
Pallister, who is leading in opinion polls, pointed to the role CUPE played in helping Premier Greg Selinger survive an internal coup last year. CUPE had hundreds of delegates at the leadership convention that saw Selinger hold on to his job by a 33-vote margin.
CUPE and other unions have helped tilt labour laws against businesses, Pallister said.
Pallister repeated that a Tory government would no longer require all workers on large government projects to be covered by a collective labour agreement.
The Tories would also end automatic certification in union drives and allow secret-ballot votes in all cases. Currently, if a union gets 65 per cent or more of employees in a workplace to sign membership cards, certification is automatic and no vote is held.
The changes, Pallister said, would put employers and unions on an equal footing.
Selinger said the current laws are fair to both sides.
“The key is to make sure that it’s a fair process and that people have a chance to make a decent living.”
© 2016 The Canadian Press