One of Ontario’s most prominent labour leaders hit the hustings on Thursday to deliver an anything-but-Tories message, but also to make it clear he’s not happy about job losses in the province’s hard-hit manufacturing sector under the governing Liberals.
Canadian Auto Workers president Ken Lewenza accompanied Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty on the first leg of his tour in Northern Ontario, where he logged 2,000 kilometres in one day.
Mr. Lewenza told reporters not to read too much into the fact that he was at the Bombardier plant in Thunder Bay with Mr. McGuinty. In fact, he said, he is advising his 200,000 members to support the traditional party of labour – the New Democrats – in the 10 ridings where they already hold seats. In those ridings where it’s a race between the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives, he wants his members to back the Grits.
Tory Leader Tim Hudak's approach to governing, Mr. Lewenza said, is not much different from that of his mentor, former premier Mike Harris.
“I don’t want to roll back the clock to the days of Mike Harris,” Mr. Lewenza told reporters.
“At the end of the day, Mr. Hudak has drawn a line in the sand against workers, against good jobs, against good public services.”
Mr. McGuinty could not have asked for a better endorsement as he campaigns for a third term. His northern swing took him through four ridings in Thunder Bay, Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury – all won by the Liberals in 2007.
But the Liberals have been criticized for not doing enough to develop the region. And this time around, they are in a tight race with the New Democrats in the sprawling region, particularly in Thunder Bay.
Mr. McGuinty's tour of the Bombardier plant highlighted some of these challenges. Bombardier has more than 1,200 employees today, up from just 200 in 2003, when the Liberals first came to power. The company is part of the new economy, manufacturing subway cars and GO Transit trains.
The company's next-door neighbour is Bowater, a paper mill that is part of the old economy. The province's forestry sector has been hit hard with mills and factories closing.
There have been some successes, Mr. Lewenza said, referring to the bright future for his members at Bombardier.
“But the fact of the matter is there have been a lot of job losses in manufacturing.”
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath insists she isn't fazed by the shifting loyalties from organized labour.
“Ken Lewenza can stand beside whoever he likes,” she shot back Thursday, before adding that Mr. McGuinty’s refusal to participate in a northern debate indicates a disrespect for his constituents there.
With a report from Anna Mehler Paperny