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It’s not very often I find myself stuck for a quick rebuttal while engaging with Canada’s right-wingers. However, I have to admit I was flummoxed last week on the Michael Coren Show when National Citizens Coalition (NCC) President Peter Coleman began singing the praises of my friend Buzz Hargrove.
Apparently, Buzz, who leads the Canadian Auto Workers Union (CAW), had just given a ringing endorsement to Conservative Environment Minister John Baird’s so-called Green Plan. Coleman could hardly contain himself, effusively praising “Buzz’s sensible approach to the environment.” His praise was all the more astonishing given that the NCC is launching a newspaper and radio ad campaign against Hargrove in the run-up to the next federal election.
Their web site claims, “Hargrove wants to destroy the free market system: He wants to destroy our heritage, he wants to transform Canada into a second-rate socialist state.” Quite frankly, they haven’t thought this one through. I say that because one would have to be a mental gymnast to keep track of the myriad positions Buzz has spun in the past couple of years.
I can understand why he is miffed at the Ontario NDP for kicking him out of the party last year. But, I fail to see how sidling up to the Liberals or Tories is going to help auto workers in the long run.
After all, the two greatest threats to auto worker jobs in Canada came from the implementation of the free trade agreement and the cancellation of the auto pact. Both of these policies were supported by the federal Liberal party and have resulted in the loss of tens of thousands of well-paying auto worker jobs.
Therefore, it looked a little odd to the rest of us in the trade union movement when Buzz draped Paul Martin in a CAW jacket during the last federal election. Even more confusing was Buzz’s call for so-called “strategic voting.” Let us be clear, “strategic voting” has never elected a single politician anywhere in Canada. It is little more than code for “vote Liberal,” intended to siphon votes away from the NDP except in areas where they are the incumbents. But, neither the labour movement nor their coalition partners have perfected the art of analyzing voter patterns or trends well enough to ascertain on a riding by riding basis which candidate has the best chance of beating a Tory.
Buzz’s endorsement of the Tory Green Plan is even harder to understand. He says he is not a climate change denier in one breath, but in the next he castigates two of North America’s most visible and respected climate change champions, namely Al Gore and David Suzuki.
Their crime, apparently, is that they have challenged the Tory Green Plan for not going far enough to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Gore even called it a “fraud.” I understand Buzz’s arguments around the “intensity versus absolute reductions” emissions debate, but I believe it has to be tempered by demanding that the Big 3 automakers get off their duffs and give consumers energy efficient, green cars and trucks.
Ontario autoworkers have proven time and again they can beat the pants off imports with respect to quality and efficiency. However, they need a green product to showboat their talents and skills.
What they don’t need are confusing messages about the Liberal and Tory policies. As I read it now, Buzz’s many positions are:
Vote Liberal because they put money into the auto sector, but forget their policies that killed thousands of auto jobs.
Vote Tory because they are not part of the current environmental “insanity,” but forget they killed thousands of auto jobs with the Free Trade Agreement.
Vote against the NDP because I don’t like Howard Hampton, but ignore the fact that they are the only party that consistently stands up for workers’ rights.
Whether one agrees or disagrees with Buzz Hargrove, there is no denying he occupies an influential position in Canada’s labour movement. He therefore needs to be careful that he is not sending the wrong signals to working families when, based on a narrow self-interest, he endorses Liberal and Conservative policies while ignoring the enormous damage they can do to Canada and Canadians.