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Mulcair assails anti-labour policies of federal Tories

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair speaks at the Canadian Network of National Associations of Regulators conference in Ottawa, Nov.8, 2012.


A day earlier, provincial NDP Leader Adrian Dix likened himself to Gordon Lightfoot opening for Justin Bieber, referring to federal party chief Thomas Mulcair's appearance Thursday before the same B.C. Federation of Labour convention.

And, while there were no dancing girls and untoward, Bieber-like gestures from Mr. Mulcair, he did have some rock-star trappings for his first speech to the most militant of the country's labour federations.

Loud, pulsating music, a surrounding honour guard and a raucous ovation from convention delegates accompanied the NDP Leader to the stage, in marked contrast to Mr. Dix's low-key entry. Once in place, and the audience settled down, Mr. Mulcair wasted no time attacking the federal Conservatives for their anti-labour policies.

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"We are facing a government that is hostile to the labour movement," he declared, noting its passage of three back-to-work bills within 12 months, which he termed "a record in Canadian society."

"[Federal Labour Minister] Lisa Raitt is the incarnation of bad faith [bargaining]," Mr. Mulcair said.

Although the NDP's relationship with its traditional allies in the labour movement is ever-shifting, the federal leader said he valued the partnership at a time when the Harper government is driving down wages and working conditions.

"We do best when we continue to work together with progressive organizations like yours," he told the convention.

Later, however, Mr. Mulcair was more circumspect about the place of labour within the party.

Speaking with reporters, he indicated that a federal NDP government will not necessarily favour unions in its approach to serving the public interest.

He said he works with labour, but also meets with the banks, the oil companies, and "all aspects of our economy and social spheres of our country.

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"I'm never going to be in the sphere of any of those," Mr. Mulcair said. "I have to work with all of them, and I have to represent the public interest, first and foremost."

Earlier, long-time Federation president Jim Sinclair was re-elected to a record seventh term as head of the 470,000-member organization, handily defeating challenger Michelle Laurie of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, winning about 70 per cent of the votes cast by the convention's 2,000 delegates.

Ms. Laurie, backed by the Federation's largest affiliate, CUPE, and one of its most prominent private sector unions, the United Steelworkers, had campaigned for fewer protests over non-union social issues and more concentration on serving union members.

Mr. Sinclair, 58, who has led the federation since 1999, said his victory represents support for an activist federation representing not merely union workers "but also those struggling for a better life who don't have a union card."

He added that it is also a mandate to unite the labour movement ahead of next spring's provincial election. "We want to make sure that when the ballots are counted on May 14, working people have had a say at that ballot box."

Also Thursday, delegate s both for and against the proposed Enbridge pipeline combined to vote down a compromise resolution that expressed qualified opposition, while insisting that union workers construct the pipeline, should it proceed.

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Members of the province's building trades unions spoke strongly in favour of the pipeline, which is opposed by the provincial NDP.

"Pipeline transmission is the safest form of transportation [there is]," said a delegate from the plumbers' union. "We apply reality to the environmental question."

He was joined in voting down the resolution by a Kamloops delegate fervently against the pipeline. "We are not in favour of a watered-down, murky resolution."

Meanwhile, another delegate from "up north" discounted the jobs pipeline construction would bring. "You can't have a good job on a dead planet," she said.

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