Canadians need not apply? Actual Canadian store displays may not appear exactly as illustrated. But the intent of the AstroTurf TFW lobby is to bust unions and weaken the bargaining power of Canadian workers. Below: Employment Minister and former Canadian Taxpayers Federation operative Jason Kenney; former Canadian Federation of Independent Business president and current “Working Canadians” spokesperson Catherine Swift; and CTF board member and Canadian Labour Watch Association President John Mortimer.

Judging from what they read and hear in the news, Canadians can be forgiven for concluding a large number of organizations representing a broad range of opinions are lobbying public-spiritedly for more access to Temporary Foreign Workers by Canadian businesses.

But while many individual business owners would no doubt love to have a direct pipeline to the huge international pool of compliant, vulnerable and easy-to-exploit foreign workers instead of yielding to market pressure to pay Canadians a living wage, the seeming multitude of public voices calling for more access to TFWs originates mainly with a small group of individuals and well-financed interlocking organizations.

It turns out that this network involves many of the same people sitting on the boards of each other’s groups. What’s more, these groups are repeating the same key messages and skillfully feeding press releases to Canada’s dysfunctional mainstream media to generate sound and fury against the modest restrictions on Ottawa’s TFW Program.

As readers will recall, those restrictions were put in place by Employment Minister Jason Kenney last spring. The minister was responding to public revulsion at the program’s apparent goals of exploiting vulnerable foreign workers and suppressing Canadian wages.

So it cannot be mere coincidence that in almost every case the main groups calling for more TFWs turn out to have a long history of anti-union advocacy. In some cases, before the TFW issue came along, their sole purpose was attacking the right of working people to bargain collectively.

This web of anti-union advocacy groups includes the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, Restaurants Canada, the Workplace Democracy Institute of Canada, the Merit Contractors Association, “Working Canadians,” and the Canadian Labour Watch Association.

Even the mysterious National Citizens Coalition, the granddaddy of all Canadian far-right AstroTurf groups, once headed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, puts in a cameo appearance in this convoluted tale!

Each of these groups is not forthcoming about its finances and, it is reasonable to conclude given their purported mandates to represent to represent a different segment of the Canadian economy from “taxpayers,” to restaurant owners, to ordinary working stiffs who just want a little “freedom” in their workplace, is deceptive about its true objectives.

So it should surprise no one that this same web of organizations has emerged as the leading advocate for the exploitation of vulnerable and poorly paid foreign workers to replace uppity Canadian young people in low-wage, low-skill Canadian workplaces, or, in the case of the CTF, to use the purported need for foreign workers as a way to attack unemployment insurance for working Canadians.

Perhaps the best way to understand the revelation that the TFW lobby has many heads but is only one beast is to look at what little we know about the secretive Canadian Labour Watch Association, founded by several of the other groups in 2000.

While the CLWA describes itself as an organization that “advances employee rights in labour relations,” it is fair to say after a review of its materials that its principal goal is to advance the goals of employers who are opposed to unions in their workplaces. In other words: union busting.

According to Canadians for Responsible Advocacy, the “industry organizations” that founded the CLWA in 2000 included Restaurants Canada (formerly the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association), the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the Retail Council of Canada and the Merit Contractors Association of Alberta, which represents a group of non-union contractors.

The CLWA does not disclose financial statements, identify major contributors, indicate its membership policy or criteria, list its bylaws or identify its connections to other right-wing advocacy organizations, the CFRA reports. However, we do know about its members and board of directors, a list that tells an interesting story.

The CLWA’s president and only listed employee is John Mortimer, a prominent member of the board of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. Member associations include the CFIB, Merit Contractors associations in several provinces, the Retail Council of Canada, Restaurants Canada and the National Citizens Coalition.

The CLWA’s board, according to its website, includes representatives of the CFIB, the Retail Council of Canada, Restaurants Canada, the Merit Contractors, the Canadian Taxpayers Association (although this relationship is not declared) and the Conseil du Patronat du Québec (the Quebec Business Council), another consistent opponent of unionization.

Restaurants Canada, by the way, was founded in 1944 as the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association to fight against the Mackenzie King Government’s food rationing and menu price-control policies when the war against Nazi Germany, to which many Canadians were sacrificing their lives, started to cut into profits.

Whether there is a formal connection between the CLWA and its associated groups with the so-called “Working Canadians” AstroTurf organization and the “Workplace Democracy Institute of Canada” can only be speculated upon because all these groups are very economical with information about their operations.

Working Canadians may be little more than a website and an advertising budget provided by someone with deep pockets. It appears to have been set up to counter the Working Families Coalition created in Ontario by 15 unions, which openly declared their involvement on the Working Families website.

Working Canadians, by contrast, provides no information about its funding and purports to be a “volunteer organization” that is “concerned that union leaders have too much influence over government.”

But it is evocative that Working Canadians’ only known volunteer is Catherine Swift, president of the CFIB in 2000 when the CLWA was founded and well known for her opinion that “what would be ideal is getting rid of public-sector unions entirely.” So it is hard to imagine that the mysterious principals behind both Working Canadians and the CLWA, and the network that supports them, are not well known to one another.

As for the WDIC, its way into the web of TFW Program advocates comes via the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, through CTF board member Karen Selick and a CTF staffer, Atlantic Canada Communications Director Kevin Lacey.

There are probably many other such groups, because the corporate-financed right prolifically cooks up fake AstroTurf organizations with positive-sounding mandates, inclusive-sounding names and disguised agendas.

The links among this well-established network of anti-union agitators have been obvious for many years.

That the same players who hold the most virulently anti-union views and the most offensive opinions about the supposed shortcomings of Canadian workers should turn out to be the loudest advocates, and in some places the only advocates, for the TFW Program suggests the true agenda behind the vociferous TFW lobby.

It is quite apparent the goals of the Canadian Taxpayers Association, the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses, and the various trade associations involved are to weaken the bargaining power of Canadian families (including many of their own naïve members), keep wages low, keep all workers vulnerable and re-elect the Harper Government.

If the Harper Government is re-elected, of course, even today’s modest restrictions on the TFW Program are sure to soon disappear, snipped away as so much “red tape.”

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  1. Excellent work David.
    We know the 1% (hard right, conservatives, neocons, call them what you will) have been fighting, are fighting and will continue to fight a war against income equality. As in every war, the ends justify the means. So they have absolutely no hesitation to lie, cheat, steal or use every dirty trick they can think of.
    These well dressed criminals are far, far worse than the Klien gov’t ever was … but let’s make no mistake here; the Alberta PC party have been enthusiastic supporters of the goals, and the methods, of this effort for more than a coupla decades. These people are operating right out in the open because they have the support a huge percentage of the population in Alberta. Obviously they are well supported in the ROC too.
    All of a sudden, this is about more than just a few right-wing-nut-jobs.

  2. David, you’ve done a good job of illuminating the links between these well-established, if not well-known, astro-turf right wing organizations. It would be great to see this in the form of an organizational flow-chart, and would make those links even more apparent, especially to those currently somewhat disengaged from the political process.

    And although we have a “lobbyists’ registry”, we have little idea of just how much influence the corporate sector has on our deliberative bodies. Behind the theatre of the “Big Show” of Question Period, the minutes of the various standing committees of all our parliaments are instructive as they clearly demonstrate WHO is making the most representations to those committees. THIS, along with the PMO, is where the decisions are really being made. The outcome of votes in the House of Commons is a foregone conclusion.

    And Committee minutes are just the public record: what goes on in private, in the back rooms and corriders, is unknowable. However, I doubt very much that influential labour leaders are getting anywhere near the “airtime” that is enjoyed (and probably expected) by corporate leaders.

    1. Jack
      I don’t understand your posting. A simple internet search (search term: ‘AB teacher salary grid’ for example) provides their entire ‘union’ collective agreement.
      My point being- public service union salaries are ALREADY completely public, as are a great number of other union salary grids- boilermakers, building trades, etc.

      So what is your basis for insinuating some need for the ‘sunshine’ for which you call?

      It seems as if you are participating in the Astro-turf practice of crying for transparency merely to occlude the real problem, or is you point more subtle?

      1. PatP
        I don’t understand your post. I am a union member, and I have no democratic choice whether or not to be a member unless I want to quit my job (love that gun to my head).
        As a union member I am offended that the union doesn’t disclose how much they pay (of my dollars) to the union staff. This should be disclosed, period. It’s only the union members’ money.
        The real problem is lack of transparency. The government isn’t there, but is moving in the right direction. Time for the union to do the same.

        1. Sir: Most unionized workers in Canada are not required to be union members to keep their jobs; but since the union is legally obligated to fairly represent all employees in a bargaining unit, members or not, all such employees are obligated under the Rand formula to contribute to the costs of that work. However, only union members have a voice in making decisions on the union’s work. It’s much like Canadian citizenship and paying taxes. Both citizens and permanent residents must pay taxes, but only citizens get a voice in the governance of the country.

          As for the salaries of union staff, most union’s employees are themselves unionized, under a different union, and there is a collective agreement between the employing union and its staff. For example, the United Steelworkers represents some of the staff in my own union. Individual pay packets are private information (as they should be), but union members have input through the democratic processes into the union’s budget (usually approved at an Annual General Meeting) and indirectly therefore into the collective agreement between the union and its own employees. If your own union does not follow democratic processes in making these decisions, it would be an exception.

          1. Jerry & PatP: Jack is sort of a nuisance visitor to this blog, making a large number of semi-anonymous comments under a variety of identities that usually express exactly the same sentiment (all “union bosses” are bad; any political party that does anything to hurt unions is good). I try to be fair about comments on this blog and allow even those highly critical of my views, and usually draw the line only at defamation of third parties. However, I make an exception for Jack and only allow comments that in my judgment add something to the conversation. Otherwise, this would soon become Jack Parker’s Alberta Diary. I always regret it when I do allow his (or her) comments because, as has happened this morning, Jack is encouraged by the attention and some of his other personalities begin to weigh in.

  3. It is very frustrating to read articles like these. Maybe they are accurate as far as they go but the certainly don’t portray the entire picture. I can tell you I don’t trust the media to portray everything and I don’t trust the government to be forthright, either. From personal experience, I can tell you that my husband has hired temporary foreign workers over the past few years because he couldn’t get Canadians to even show up for interviews. The few who did, he hired. And then they didn’t show up. The TFW program requires him to pay MORE to the foreign labourers than he would otherwise have been paying. Who can pay $25/hour to cut grass? Also, if you bothered to read the requirements for bringing over foreign labourers, you would know that it costs THOUSANDS of dollars per person, nor is it an easy or quick process. You may well suggest that he should pay more. He has. In fact, he cut his salary down to nearly nothing (literally) so he could keep his business going in order to keep his promises to the TFWs and pay living wages (in Calgary) to his employees – Canadian or otherwise. To lump in this decent, hard-working man who has sacrificed so much for his employees with everyone who uses the TFW program is insulting and infuriating.

    1. Your husband may be using the TFW program appropriately, but many employers do not. I am aware of employers who ‘provide’ housing for their TFW’s that often involves two to three employees per room (I have also heard stories of “hot bedding”) as well as ‘transportation fees’ and other such devices where the TFW’s are paying their employer (or the employers spouse, brother etc) a large chunk of their salary because they are afraid that they will be deemed to have broken a rule and therefore be subject to being deported. I also know of an employer who advertised for janitors, but one of the requirements was a university diploma – not a serious attempt to recruit from the local labour pool.

      Business is quick to demand that market forces have to be allowed to take their course, except when it comes to paying for labour.

      I also know of employers who do manage to hire local employees at a wage way below $25.00 an hour (and I live in a hot oil patch economy) because they treat their employees well and allow them to deal with personal issues reasonably.

      I would be remiss if I did not also point our that the Harper Conservatives also did allow employers to pay 15% below market rates to TFW’s.

      The TFW program has too many flaws and needs to be entirely revamped or replaced with something that encourages employers to provide training for workers to assist them to meet the employers needs rather than employers expecting governments to ensure a highly trained and motivated workforce willing to work for minimum level wages.

    2. I’m sorry to hear about your husband, Laura; he seems to be a decent, hardworking person. I’m sure nobody here wants to see his business do anything but prosper. That said, there is such a thing as a ‘market signal’ that gives an investor/business person a strong hint that maybe they should invest their capital elsewhere. Lack of available labour is one of those market signals. I’m not saying it would be easy or that your husband deserves it, but neither does he deserve special consideration just because he is a businessman – after all, that is what business is all about.

      Listen, I’ve been there in my own way. I, like many people, am a business person of sorts; I sell my labour. I remember, back during the 90’s recession, when one couldn’t even pay someone to hire you, I was told by many and sundry that it was my responsibility to upgrade my skills and then to pound the pavement. Many have said (and I agree with them) that I was not owed a job. Well, if that line of thinking is good enough for those of us who sell their labour, it should also be good enough for those who buy labour: nobody owes him a labour force.

      Best wishes – hope it works out for you.

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