Sunday, October 20, 2013

A Peak Behind the Political Curtain

If, like me, you are of the firm suspicion that governments regard the needs of its citizens as largely secondary to those of its corporate backers, you will derive much from Martin Regg Cohn's column in this morning's Star. Entitled How corporate Ontario gets its way at Queen’s Park, the piece confirms the subversion of the people's interests at the hands of money, powerful lobbying, and venal politicians.

As discussed in an earlier blog entry, construction giant EllisDon has been engaged in an intense lobbying effort to get the Ontario legislature to rescind a 1958 agreement that binds them to using only union labour which, they assert, puts them at a competitive disadvantage. As part of what Cohn terms the lobbyist-industrialist complex that lubricates Ontario politics, the company, a contributor of massive sums of money to the Liberal Party and, to a lesser extent, the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario (with promises of more in exchange for their legislative support), attempted to 'call in its markers' through a Conservative private member's bill geared specifically to freeing it from its union obligations.

Thanks to some deft lobbying by StrategyCorp, EllisDon was able to secure Liberal backing for the Tory MPP’s proposal — a conspicuous display of bipartisan co-operation. The two rival parties went even further by agreeing to prioritize the controversial EllisDon bill, speeding it through the legislature.

Premier Kathleen Wynne publicly defended the bill as a necessary corrective for EllisDon. It was an unusually passionate defence of a bill circumscribing union rights, coming from a premier widely viewed as a labour-friendly progressive.

The motivation for such generous Liberal cooperation? Perhaps it had something to do with EllisDon's own 'generosity':

... EllisDon, its subsidiaries and executives, have been shockingly generous donors to her [Wynne's] party: more than $125,000 to the Liberals in 2012 and more than $40,000 so far in 2013.

And what the Tories didn’t say publicly was that EllisDon had given them a still-generous $32,000 last year and some $14,000 so far in 2013. Now, they were hoping for even bigger contributions if they went to bat for the company. Indeed, the latter was confirmed by an email from Conservative Randy Hillier in September.

Interestingly, all of these acts of political prostitution were ultimately unnecessary. Because the company had appealed an Ontario Labour Relations Board ruling that had granted it a two-year exemption from its union obligations, last month Ontario’s Divisional Court granted it a permanent exemption.

But the political hijinks and corruption didn't end there:

Seizing the opportunity, Wynne ducked. In light of the latest court ruling, she publicly dropped her support for the EllisDon bill — provided, she noted, there were no further court appeals from the unions.

Alas, the union has launched an appeal, but, because further legislative support of the company would have made her lack of principle obvious to even the most benighted, Wynne has decided to offer no further support to EllisDon.

All in all, a tawdry affair that shows the massive role that money and corporatism plays in Ontario politics, protests of principled purity by all participants notwithstanding.

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