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Ironworkers’ union backs B.C. Liberals

Everybody knows how B.C. works, right? Corporations support the B.C. Liberals. Union leaders — if not all union members — support the NDP. Individual voters go into every election knowing that’s the broad lay of the land. B.C.
christy clark
Ironworkers Local 97 business agent Doug Parton on why the union is backing the Liberals: “It’s a choice between a growing economy that creates jobs, or a government that says no to economic development.” Photo Dan Toulgoet

Everybody knows how B.C. works, right? Corporations support the B.C. Liberals. Union leaders — if not all union members — support the NDP. Individual voters go into every election knowing that’s the broad lay of the land.  

B.C.’s ironworkers upended that traditional view Wednesday by gathering during lunch break at a Victoria condo project with Premier Christy Clark to endorse the B.C. Liberals in the May 9 election.  

Ironworkers Local 97 business agent Doug Parton said it was a simple matter of self-interest. His 1,800 members want to work. The B.C. Liberal government has the best track record and the best plan for keeping them at work, he said.

It was a startling move for several reasons. It’s the first time the union local has taken a political stance, which heightens the significance of the stand.

The international union’s ranking national leader — Darrell LaBoucan — came to town just for the occasion, and put his seal of approval on the stand.

Said Parton: “Our union hasn’t been political in the past, but the Ironworkers aren’t afraid to walk that ragged edge.”

The B.C. local is running at about 80 per cent employment, including a couple of hundred members still working in Alberta who are keen to come home.

Parton’s job is to keep them working, and he determined it was time to take a stand. The union doesn’t agree with the B.C. Liberals on everything, but on the “lunch bucket, kitchen table” issues, you can count Ironworkers Local 97 in the Liberal camp.

“It’s the only plan that works for us.”

His stand wasn’t just for the B.C. Liberals, though. He raised the stakes by slamming the NDP for being solidly against the jobs his members need.

“It’s a choice between a growing economy that creates jobs, or a government that says no to economic development.”

Parton said the NDP used to be thought of as the labour party, but what’s happened over time has left members concerned. There’s a special place in the union’s heart for bridge jobs, so NDP criticism of the Massey Tunnel replacement project (a $3.5-billion bridge) attracted particular attention.

“When they come out against the Massey Bridge, that’s a direct attack against the Ironworkers. I can’t take that any other way. That’s our bridge.”

Flanked by about two dozen workers at the job site, Parton said: “My job is to support those people behind me. If they’re not working I’m on the hot seat.”

“We’re not a political animal. But we support those who support us. How do I go to my members and say: ‘I need you to support the NDP’ when they’re against everything the ironworkers stand for?”

Clark, in one of her first hard-hat moments of the year, touted her government’s $25 billion worth of infrastructure spending. “We support working people. The only way to do it is to support work in B.C.”

The announcement was staged the same day the B.C. Federation of Labour posted a pre-campaign video clip poking fun at Clark as an old-fashioned video-game avatar bouncing through problems — in a hard hat.

But the Ironworkers are a member of the B.C. Fed. Parton disagreed with the clip, wondering if the federation should be treading into those waters.

NDP Leader John Horgan shrugged off the news, saying the local never supported the NDP and can do what it wants.

He reiterated objections to the Massey Tunnel replacement job and the Site C dam, two of the positions that rankle the union.

But the union local’s move still stings.

Twenty years ago, the same local was suing then-Liberal leader Gordon Campbell for defamation, over remarks about “kickbacks” on the Island Highway project. It lost.

Now it’s standing with his successor, and is not shy about explaining the choice it made.

Just So You Know: The B.C. Liberals collected a grand total of $24,000 in union donations in the last reported year, which shows how skimpy their support from organized labour is, and how welcome Wednesday’s move is. At one point, Parton said: “We think we’re an asset for B.C. We want the premier to use us.”

Don’t worry, she will.

lleyne@timescolonist.com

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