Minority governments, labour and conservatives

On September 5 voters in Quebec elected a new Parti Quebecois (PQ) minority government, and on September 6 the people of Ontario denied the Dalton McGuinty government a desired majority after voting against the Liberals in two by-elections.

Though the election results occurred for many different reasons in both provinces, Conservatives in Ottawa and Toronto were quick to point fingers at organized labour.

In Quebec, the PQ eked out a narrow minority government by winning 54 seats, to the Liberals 50, with the upstart CAQ winning 19 seats, and the left-wing Quebec solidaire doubling their seat total to 2. Though many commentators and pollsters had predicted a PQ majority government and the demise of the Charest Liberals after nine years and three terms in power, voters didn’t see it quite that way.

Forming a minority government with barely 32% of the vote has left the PQ in a weak position in terms of advancing their sovereignty agenda and will force them to try to work with other parties to pass legislation; otherwise, another election could be on the horizon.

In Ontario, a crass came of political brinkmanship by Premier McGuinty did not achieve its goal of providing him with a majority government. After winning only a minority government in last fall’s provincial election, McGuinty orchestrated a provincial by-election in Kitchener—Waterloo, a riding the Liberals felt they could win by enticing the sitting Conservative MPP with a government appointment. McGuinty then launched an attack on teachers and support workers in Ontario schools introducing legislation that freezes their wages and bans their right to strike, even though teachers had already committed to a no strike approach, and had already indicated they were willing to take a two year wage freeze.

The teachers unions, who had been key supporters of McGuinty in previous elections, actively worked in Kitchen—Waterloo for the NDP candidate and helped the NDP to pull off an upset win by taking the Conservatives long held seat.

Conservatives were quick to react to both election victories. In Quebec, regional wings of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) – the largest union representing federal public servants – had come out in support of the PQ and Quebec solidaire because of their support for public services, not because of their desire for sovereignty. That didn’t stop Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre from ranting against the union for supporting pro-sovereignty parties and using the unions support as the reason to push for “right to work” laws for federal public sector unions.

In Ontario, Conservative Leader Tim Hudak had already released a policy paper that calls for “right to work” laws in the province. Hudak’s mean spirited attack on workers was one of many reasons why the Conservatives lost their former stronghold in Kitchener—Waterloo. The day after the by-election Hudak blamed a “tsunami of union bosses” cost him the election.

The election results in Quebec and Ontario turned out the way they did for numerous reasons but that doesn’t stop Conservative – whether they be in Ottawa or Toronto – from looking for scapegoats for their failings and, of course, their favorite scapegoats are the organizations that are fully dedicated to representing the interests of working families.

Somehow we should not be surprised.