At first glance, it might seem like Erin O’Toole’s Conservatives are rolling out the red carpet for unions and public service workers this election. After all, he’s been quick to dangle a few appealing promises in front of Canadian workers, hoping some will bite. But roll back the rug just a little bit, and the façade quickly crumbles.
We’ve seen this story before, and we know how it ends.
Combing through the Conservatives’ platform reveals the same Harper-era buzzwords that led to the largest public service cuts in recent memory. ‘More efficient.’ ‘Partner with the private sector.’ ‘Over-rely on government.’
Soon enough, it’s clear O’Toole is a wolf masquerading in sheep’s clothing. A leader who likes to coin himself pro-worker, but whose platform is a preview of massive cuts to public services and privatization of government jobs.
He may want to put his past behind him, but his track record clearly shows what lies ahead.
O’Toole and the Conservatives have voted for anti-union back to work legislation, rallied against legislation that proposed to ban replacement workers, and refused to support positive changes to labour standards that would have protected workers. Erin O’Toole was also a key member of Stephen Harper’s cabinet when thousands of federal public service workers’ jobs were cut.
A proven pro-privatization track record
The Conservatives don’t believe in robust public services. Many of the currently sitting MPs voted in favour of severe cuts to the public service when Harper was prime minister and regularly embrace privatization and contracting out. O’Toole also stayed noticeably silent while Alberta premier Jason Kenney attacked nurses during the pandemic.
Privatization of public services costs more and provides poorer service, plus the government always ends up underwriting the risk. . It also leads to massive job losses among women, racialized workers, those living with disabilities, and members of LGBTQ2+ communities. Additionally, privatization means lower wages for these same groups who remain economically vulnerable during and after a pandemic. Meanwhile, federal public sector jobs remain strong and stable economic drivers.
Support needed for parents and racialized workers
To be truly worker-friendly, our government needs to think beyond job numbers.
While the O’Toole Conservatives often talk the talk about supporting parents who need child care, their plans to eliminate Canada’s national, universal child care program speaks for itself. We need quality, affordable child care so that women can return to the workforce and boost our economy. But O’Toole’s approach of providing tax credits to parents – and only those who qualify – won’t be enough to cover any of the current child care options available.
A recent analysis of the party platforms determined families would save far more with $10-a-day child care than with tax credits. O'Toole’s rhetoric about ‘choice in child care’ does nothing to increase accessibility and will do little to improve outcomes for children and parents, or provide fair salaries for early childhood educators.
The next government also needs to address systemic racism in the workplace so Indigenous, Black, Asian, and other racialized communities feel safe going to work without fear of discrimination, and receive equal opportunity for leadership positions. But the Conservatives make no mention of racism in their 2019 or 2021 platforms, and O’Toole has even gone as far as to deny systemic racism exists. While this isn’t surprising, considering the Conservatives have not been known to champion workers' rights to a harassment-free workplace, it is absolutely unacceptable.
A wolf in sheep’s clothing
In the Conservative’s glossy magazine-style campaign platform, somewhere among the dozen or so portraits of O’Toole, is their plan to “lift up working Canadians.” But make no mistake, this is simply a modern approach to selling a traditional government.
They say they will regularly consult with unions and implement modern changes that will remove barriers and provide more flexibility. But the last time a Conservative government tried to modernize the public service, we ended up with the Phoenix pay fiasco. Over 200,000 federal public service workers and their families have been impacted by Phoenix since then. Some have not been paid properly, others have gone unpaid for months at a time. Many have experienced debt, loss, bankruptcy — even homelessness. This is what we can expect from another Conservative government: cheap talk and even cheaper solutions. And our members will be left to pick up the pieces.
His other campaign promises are an empty hodgepodge of “benefits” that either already exist or will actually set working Canadians back. O’Toole’s plan to cut gig economy workers out of EI and the Canada Pension Plan, for example, is an attack on workers, public pensions, and job security disguised as a benefit.
He knows the electoral power of appealing to workers and is only now reaching out to labour in a manipulative attempt to get elected.
O’Toole’s Conservatives haven’t had a change of heart, they’ve simply rebranded their image to appear more palatable to Canadians.
But actions speak louder than words, and the Conservatives’ track record on supporting workers and their families speaks for itself.