Mr. Hargrove's very bad advice

Saturday, December 10, 2005

  • Buzz Hargrove

    Buzz Hargrove

When it was first announced that the federal election would be held on January 23 – nearly eight weeks after the writ was dropped – many observers speculated that the campaign would be played out in slow motion until the beginning of January, at which point all of the parties would engage in a sprint to the finish.

While that prediction has proven to be accurate in many respects (lawn signs, for example, seem to be sprouting up at an unusually slow pace), there have been two areas in which the campaign seems to be unfolding in fast-forward. First, instead of waiting until the last week of the campaign for one of his candidates to bring up his party’s opposition to equality for lesbians and gay men, Stephen Harper brought it up himself (without any prompting) on day one. The idea is, apparently, to pre-empt any accusations that the Conservatives have a hidden agenda, Harper decided to lead with his weakness (or, at least, one of them). It remains to be seen whether the tactic will work.

The latter park of week one was dominated by another discussion that is traditionally reserved for the end of the campaign – the desperate plea by Liberals for supporters of the NDP to hold their nose and vote Liberal. Besides timing, the other twist was that, this time, the Liberals were joined in their appeal by someone who claims to be an NDP supporter. I say “claims to be”, because it’s difficult to believe that CAW President Buzz Hargrove has the best interests of the New Democratic Party (or, for that matter, the best interests of the country) in mind when he sucks up to the Liberals so shamelessly that Paul Martin’s security detail likely had to intervene to pull Hargrove away.

Hargrove justifies his coziness with the Liberals by arguing that the NDP and the labour movement have grown more distant over the past number of years. He’s probably right, but not for the reasons that he suggests. To say that the new campaign financing regulations (which severely restrict both corporate and union contributions to political parties) are to blame is to distort the very foundation of the relationship between the party and unions. It is shared philosophy, not financial contributions, which have always tied and continue to tie the labour movement to the NDP. If Hargrove is sensing that his own influence on NDP leaders has diminished, it’s probably because he has a history of pulling stunts like he did last week.

Let’s get to heart of what Buzz Hargrove said last week (in between hugging Paul Martin and later holding a joint press conference in front of a Liberal campaign backdrop). “This minority government deserves to come back to Ottawa with even bigger numbers. It could be an accord on issues or it could be a coalition that has NDP representation in the cabinet. There's all kinds of opportunities, but the first thing we've got to do is get enough Liberals and enough New Democrats elected so that only two parties control the balance of power in the House….Whether you elect a Liberal or an NDP, the overall numbers don't change in terms of the ability to form a coalition government. We're out to stop the Tories.”

But, Buzz Hargrove should know that it really does make a difference whether a Liberal or an NDP Member of Parliament gets elected. For example, the Liberals lined up with the Conservatives to defeat a piece of legislation that would have been a tremendous benefit to CAW members: federal anti-scab legislation. The Liberals acted on training, housing and pensions only when forced to do so by the NDP. They refused to take action to stop health care privatization even though their obstinacy brought down their government.

Surely, Buzz Hargrove remembers that it was Paul Martin who eliminated the Canada Assistance Plan and ended the national housing program, who drastically cut health care and post-secondary education spending, and who scaled back eligibility for Employment Insurance. Surely he knows that Paul Martin moved his shipping business offshore so that he could avoid not only Canadian taxes, but also Canadian labour and environmental standards. Indeed, given Martin’s vicious anti-worker history I’m surprised that the CAW jacket that Hargrove presented to him didn’t burst into flames when Martin put it on.

Hargrove was wrong to appear on a platform with someone who has never done a thing for labour unless it was forced to. He was wrong to suggest that a vote for the Liberals is substantively different than a vote for the Conservatives. And, he was wrong to continue to undermine a political relationship with the NDP that is built not only upon a shared history and a shared philosophy, but upon policies that workers need today.

The Liberals don’t deserve “even greater numbers”. They don’t even deserve the numbers that they have. They don’t deserve the votes of CAW members, even in ridings that Buzz Hargrove determines that the NDP cannot win. They deserve to be defeated.

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