Saturday, 15 October 2011

Canadian labour harmony jeopardized by the Harper Government.

Demoted from Natural Resources, Lisa Raitt is
now Prime Minister Harper's point person implementing
his aggressive right wing policy as his Minister of Labour.

Where is at the centre of Canadian political life? Certainly not with Lisa Raitt as Harper's Minister of Labour
by Tom Thorne
This week the Harper government's labour minister,Lisa Raitt decided to use procedural ways to stall the Air Canada steward's ability to strike. She tied their union, The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) up in a hearing with the Canadian Industrial Relations Board (CIRB) using the lame excuse that she needed a ruling from the board to "prevent immediate and serious danger to safety and health of the public."
Raitt knows that this procedure will hold up the strike because CUPE now has to answer to the board and while doing so is precluded from going out on strike until it is hearing is done and a ruling made. That enables Raitt to get her back to work legislation rolling for the return of parliament next week.
The minister knows that the board will reject her reasons for halting the strike by CUPE. So the bottom line is the Air Canada employees still have to show up and go to work. A strike will be precluded by back to work legislation. 
The minister also concluded that because the membership of CUPE rejected two offers of their bargaining team that this evidence of union intransigence.  It is evidence of a lot of frustration by employees who have given up a  lot to keep Air Canada flying as the company now looks at forming a discount airline service. It’s much more complicated than Conservative right wing ideologues admit.
Lisa Raitt is the head end of the Harper government's attacks on organized labour using the slim argument that the economic recovery is in jeopardy if workers are allowed to strike. Earlier they also did a similar turn to the Postal Workers. In short this government is no friend to organized labour and especially unions that associated with the public service or Crown corporations.
Who is Lisa Raitt?
Lisa Raitt was first elected in Halton in 2008 defeating one time Conservative Garth Turner who ran in that election for the Liberals. Turner had experienced the wrath of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and so he attempted to get back into parliament as a Liberal. 
Prime Minister Harper appointed Lisa Raitt as Minister of Natural Resources in 2008 a ministry under the Conservatives without any real direction except to  keep a lid on any real environmental problems and help private industry sell our resources.
Lisa Raitt went unscathed after her debacle commenting on the nuclear isotope problem in June 2008. When the Chalk River nuclear reactor had to be shut down for repair the isotopes not only for Canada but for much of the world dried up. Raitt made some unfortunate comments about isotopes that implied she didn't care about people undergoing cancer treatment or medical imaging.
She had to recant and although the opposition called for her resignation Prime Minister Harper let her stay in cabinet and on the job as Minister of Natural Resources until he appointed her Minister of Labour in 2010.
Her heavy handed approach to labour matters seems to reflect the doctrinaire anti-labour sentiment of the Harper Government. She has been using a sledgehammer especially on CUPE and any government employee unions.
More background...
You would think she would know better given her background which is quite impressive. Raitt has a Bachelor of Science degree in Toxicology from St. Francis Xavier University and a later Master of Science from Guelph University.  She then went to York University for a her law degree and was called to the bar in 1998. 
While at York University she won a scholarship to attend the Middle Temple in London where she enhanced her law training in international trade, commerce, transportation and arbitration law. So, no slouch.
The most important part of this background is she became the General Council to the Toronto Port Authority and later President and CEO of that organization, a considerable achievement. 
However from all this excellent training and background when she gets into the political arena she seems to rely heavily on her first degree in toxicology certainly when it comes to labour unions and their right to collective bargaining.
For someone trained in the law she seems heavy handed or even mechanistic when dealing with labour laws of this country. She has been roundly criticized for her current actions against Air Canada's CUPE employees because she nailed their feet to the floor before they had any time to strike. I guess we now know that she and her boss are tough cookies on the labour front. 
A move to the right...
Her actions may ring true with the Harper right wing agenda and the constituency of Conservatives who can trace their roots to the Reform Party, but they do little to really bring Canadian labour into a sensible agenda to help economic recovery. These actions polarize they do not create conditions for reasonable agreements.
It appears that the gift by the Canadian people of a majority government now enables the heavy hand of the right wing agenda to fall of first public sector unions and then no doubt private sector unions as heir agreements come up. Every possible strike will now be seen to jeopardize the "fragile economic recovery" by this minister and her Prime Minister. 
It’s time remind the Conservative Government again that they were elected by 38 percent of the popular vote. If there was ever a time when the Opposition in parliament needs to be on the ball it is now. The Liberals seem to be adrift and the NDP seem to be navel gazing as they look for a new leader in March 2012.
There is a serious need for a cohesive critical attack on the Conservative government's directions. Skirting proper labour policies, omnibus crime bills, repealing the gun registry, low taxation for the rich all seem to indicate that the trend is clearly to the right in this country. We will pay for this drift to the right with labour disruption, more poverty, unemployed yet well educated youth, and a lower standard in social programs.
© Copyright 2011, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved        

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