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Labour + Industry

Poilievre's Promotion Worries Labour

Employment minister 'an attack dog' against working people, says union.

Jeremy Nuttall 12 Feb

Jeremy J. Nuttall is The Tyee's Parliament Hill reporter in Ottawa. Find his previous stories here.

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Pierre Poilievre took over as the minister in charge of employment and social development. Photo: Wikimedia commons.

Pierre Poilievre, the Conservative's new employment minister, is an intense partisan who cares more about his party than he does about working Canadians, says the president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.

Gil McGowan said Poilievre, 35, is a bad choice for the employment file, which has a mandate to create jobs.

"The only time he's ever paid attention to working people at all is when he's been viciously attacking unions in an effort to undercut any political threat that they might pose to his Conservative Party," McGowan said. "Putting this guy in charge of the employment department is like putting an arsonist in charge of the fire department."

Poilievre was appointed to Employment and Social Development, one of Canada's top jobs, Monday in a cabinet shuffle on the heels of former foreign affairs minister John Baird's resignation.

McGowan said that Poilievre is responsible for Bill C-377, dubbed the "anti-union bill" by critics, which would require all unions to make their finances public.

Critics say the real intention of the bill is to stop union political activity because it only affects labour organizations, not other professional associations, such as law societies.

As an election approaches, McGowan described Poilievre as an "attack dog for the Conservatives' war on working people," adding that the new minister has, in the past, expressed a desire to implement U.S.-style right to work legislation in Canada.

Poilievre was first elected to parliament in 2004 and has served as parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister for three years. In 2013 he was appointed minister of state for democratic reform.

He is best known for the battle in the House of Commons over the Fair Elections Act. One provision of the law was to do away with the ability to have someone vouch for a person at the polls if a voter didn't have identification. The move would have disenfranchised thousands, said opponents of the bill.

Critics demanded changes to the legislation, and Poilievre eventually made them, but he tried to downplay his reversal.

The bill was passed last May, but Poilievre's refusal to bend has also concerned the union representing government scientists.

Debi Daviau, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, said Poilievre has a problem working with experts paid to advise government.

"Promoting Pierre Poilievre might be the right signal to send to hardline ideological partisans but it makes no sense whatsoever for the vast majority of Canadians who are desperate for a government that works with its professionals to develop and implement evidenced-based policies," Daviau said in an email.

Dismissive of Civil Servants

She was unable to expand on her comment, but in the past Poilievre has discounted the role of civil servants and experts in policy drafting.

In a May 2014 House of Commons debate about the Election Act, New Democrat Alexandrine Latendresse, representing a riding in Quebec City, pressed Poilievre about why he did not take any of the recommendations from Canada's chief electoral officer and commissioner of Canada Elections. In his reply, Poilievre suggested their opinion didn't matter.

"Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is complaining that we did not give unelected people the power to draft the bill, but we live in a democracy," Poilievre responded in the House of Commons. "Elected officials make the laws."

Nelson Wiseman of the University of Toronto's Political Science faculty said he doubts Poilievre will be responsible for any legislation in his new job, suggesting the appointment was more about moving former employment minister and veteran MP Jason Kenney into his new role as defence minister.

He said the move shows Harper is working with a short bench of talent. Poilievre's promotion also gives a little more strength to voters in Ottawa having just lost Ottawa-West Nepean MP Baird with an election coming later this year.

In the meantime Wiseman said Poilievre's appointment is a reward from the Prime Minister for being a good "lap dog" and suggested the appointment was also meant to give Poilievre something to do now that the Fair Elections Act has passed.

"He's a good speaker but also someone who's underemployed now and a minister," Wiseman said. "The cabinet is as large as it's ever been in Canadian history, so [Harper] wasn't going to bring anybody else in, or he didn't want to because that would have then been the story."

In fact, Wiseman said, it's possible Poilievre may not even stay in the role if the Conservatives win another term and could just be a stop gap until the House closes and an election is conducted.

McGowan hopes that is the case.

"Certainly they could have found someone else who was less offensive to working people and the labour movement to fill that position," he said.  [Tyee]

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