HUNTSVILLE - It seemed appropriate that Tom Mulcair shook hands as he walked past the front row of the Service Employees International Union’s Local 2 convention held in Huntsville on Monday, as if he was on the hustings.
Opposition leader Tom Mulcair (right) is greeted by members of the Service Employees International Union’s Local 2 during a convention at Deerhurst Resort on Monday. The NDP leader was there to thank the union for its support.
While the meeting was not billed as a political rally, the mood was definitely identical to one, as the leader of the New Democrats and the leader of the Official Opposition took the opportunity to slam the ruling Conservative party at the union’s 110th anniversary meeting.
The union was in Huntsville for its annual meeting, working with delegates representing a wide range of workers, including brewery workers, municipal, school board, and university employees, union staff representatives, janitors, property service workers and woodworkers.
Hundreds of delegates were in one of the main ballrooms at the resort Monday afternoon to hear Mulcair express his appreciation for the group’s support during in his leadership bid for the NDP this past March. He was elected party leader beating challenger Brian Topp to replace the late Jack Layton. The local and its sister union Local 1, both supported Mulcair in the leadership race.
“My very first words to you are thank you, merci,” he said to a round of applause.
Once the pleasantries were out of the way, the Opposition leader weighed in on the ruling Conservatives, who he said are intent on rolling back years of labour relations, adding that his party “is not going to let that happen.”
“All the things (Harper) is touching now will affect your lives and those of your children ... they are leaving the largest ecological, economic and social debt in history. Your kids probably wear backpacks to try to go to school. Well brick by brick Stephen Harper is filling up that backpack (with debt).”
He told the union members that under the Harper government, about 80 per cent of Canadians have seen their earning go down, something that hasn’t happened in the past 35 years in this country.
“It’s going to be worse for our kids. If we don’t change things we will be the first generation in Canadian history to actually leave less to our children than what we ourselves received and that, to me, is just unacceptable.”
He said that while the Conservatives like being in power, the party doesn’t actually enjoy the hard work that comes with being the government. He compared the Harper government’s handing of Canada’s labour market like using a “rusty old machete” where a scalpel, guided with care, should be used.
“That’s what’s happening in Ottawa right now. Not only are they going to destroy thousands of lives, they are ruining people’s abilities to continue with the career they built. But they are attacking them. They are saying, “Why should only union members have fixed benefit pensions.” You know what? That’s the only thing Stephen Harper and I agree on. Why should only union members have a fixed benefit pension? Everybody should,” he said.
Mulcair pledged to fight the government as Opposition leader, adding that someday, with the country’s support, he would make things right as prime minister.
“We have to convince you that we (NDP) are capable and confident to manage a G8 economy. Most Canadians agree with our vision. They like our policies ... but they have hesitated in giving us the keys to run a complex country like Canada. We want trade, but we want fair trade. We want development, but we want sustainable development and we want a prosperous society but we want one more prosperous for everyone.”
However, he said that the country’s mindset about politics and elections have to change, such as the lack of voter turnout during federal elections.
“I hope you are as shocked as I am to hear that two-thirds, 65 per cent of Canadians aged 18 to 25, did not bother to vote. Forty percent of all Canadians didn’t turn out to vote. What was the result? With only 39 per cent of the vote … Stephen Harper has got a majority and we are stuck with him for another few years.
“That’s our priority in the next election in terms of structure … get the people who are discouraged and feel that their voice isn’t being heard, who feel that whoever the government is doesn’t represent them and can’t change anything, we have to convince them it is time to stand up to Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, get together, reach out and build a collation of people who will say, “ yes we can together, and stand up to Stephen Harper,” he said, which was immediately followed by a standing ovation.
Mulcair promised the union he intends to lead an Opposition party that is not afraid of Harper and “his bully boys on the front bench.”