TORONTO – Some labour leaders so feared a Progressive Conservative victory in the June 12 election they “sold their souls” to back the Liberals, the president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union said Thursday.
“The labour movement was so afraid of Tim Hudak being elected that they sold their souls to the Liberals,” said OPSEU president Smokey Thomas.
The PC leader was straight forward during the campaign about his vow to cut 100,000 public sector jobs, but Premier Kathleen Wynne was not as clear about the Liberal’s plan to reduce the number of government workers, added Thomas.
“Hudak was honest in what he was going to do, and he paid a price for it,” he said.
“Now Kathleen Wynne’s $1.25 billion in savings is going to cost jobs (and) she needs to come clean with us about her plans.”
Hudak complained during the campaign about the fact 19 unions – including those representing Ontario Provincial Police as well as nurses and firefighters – paid for anti-Conservative attack ads that saturated TV and radio airwaves, spending more than the political parties.
The OPSEU boss said his union colleagues played right into the Liberal’s hands.
“Kathleen Wynne played parts of the labour movement very well,” Thomas said as he predicted the unions will be sorry for giving the Liberals such strong support.
“She ran a campaign based on fear and fear mongering and it worked for her, she got a majority,” he said. “I sincerely hope I’m wrong, but I think we’re going to really live to regret that she got a majority government.”
Thomas, who represents 34,000 civil servants, was one of the few union leaders who criticized the Liberal’s May 1 budget, which was rejected by the opposition parties, triggering the election.
“I got criticized very heavily from some other labour leaders for opposing the budget and saying it was not progressive,” said Thomas.
“And it’s clear to me with the amount of backtracking the premier has done in the short time since the election that it really isn’t progressive.”
Wynne’s repeated statements about there being no money for wage increases in upcoming contract negotiations shows the Liberals will not respect collective bargaining, added Thomas.
“Unions essentially agreed to four years of zeros and she says she’s not going to interfere with collective bargaining,” he said. “Well, I’d argue that was definitely interfering in bargaining.”
Thomas said a big concern with the Liberal budget is a plan to find pension plans to invest in the Liquor Control Board, Hydro One and Ontario Power Generation.
“Public services should be provided for people, not profit, and what the Liberals have bought into even more than Mike Harris ever dreamed of is the ‘pay more get less plan,’ and that’s really what it is,” he said.
“The real scandal in Ontario is privatization. It’s sinister.”
Thomas admitted he asked the government to sell the LCBO to OPSEU’s pension plan, and said he also told the Liberals not to sell “the goose that lays the golden egg,” but added if they were going to do so, then OPSEU would try to get a slice.
“If the government was ever stupid enough to sell the LCBO, you can be damn sure that OPSEU is going to insert itself into that process to try and make it a win-win as best as you could for the workers and the public,” he said.