He who has not the privilege of being born a Liberal can never become one; and he who, not being born a Liberal, becomes one afterwards will fail in his Liberal principles and will become a traitor and a renegade.
— Sir Wilfrid Laurier, 1884
The recent conversion of IWA Canada president Dave Haggard from lifelong New Democrat to instant Paul Martin candidate for New Westminster Coquitlam has raised the eyebrows and the ire of many. Long-time Liberals doubt his sincerity, New Democrats denounce his temerity, and Conservatives, who handily hold the riding, question his sanity.
Before the newly Liberal logger gets to the House of Commons, here's a question period from which voters may want to hear his answers before casting their ballots:
Why are you seeking another job, in a spectacularly public and controversial fashion, at the same time the union you lead is at the most critical point in its proud history, about to vote on merging with the United Steelworkers of America? Is the kind of leadership you are giving the 60,000 members of your own union the same you would give voters in your riding?
Why have you taken a leave of absence and not resigned your position as union president, as IWA Local 363 in Courtenay is demanding? It says on its Web site: "The membership is very upset and concerned....This is not the time for the leader of the National Union to be asking for a leave of absence....To add insult to injury he has decided to go to work for a right wing government that is no friend of Labour."
Are insider rumours true that Mark Marissen, Liberal campaign chair for B.C., insisted you not run in your home riding of Nanaimo-Alberni but instead in New Westminster Coquitlam just so you can be available to Lower Mainland media to attack NDP leader Jack Layton?
Columnist Paul Willcocks, writing in the Vancouver Sun, says you helped the Gordon Campbell B.C. Liberals privatize the jobs of Hospital Employees' Union members, which led to the HEU strike: "Because without Mr. Haggard and the IWA, this crisis might not have happened. The IWA played a critical role in helping the government contract out thousands of health sector jobs at much lower wages and benefits, setting the stage for this week's events." Do you agree?
Can you explain how your refusal to stop IWA Local 3567 and its president, Sonny Ghag, from helping privatize health-care jobs--which resulted in the wages of mostly women workers dropping from $18 to $21 an hour down to $9 to $11 an hour--somehow qualifies you to take the concerns of workers to Ottawa?
Would you take the same approach toward federal public-sector workers? According to a new study by Simon Fraser University professor Marjorie Griffin Cohen, B.C. health-care workers' wages have been devastated under IWA contracts with giant multinational employers:
"Under these new rates, B.C. will have the lowest pay in the country for every job category in hospital support work--and by substantial amounts, between 14 and 39 percent," Griffin Cohen wrote. "Even relatively low-wage provinces like Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick pay considerably more an hour than the wages negotiated under the Compass/IWA contract. These wages are so low that they place the purchasing power of housekeepers, for example, at about what it was 35 years ago."
Why did you refuse repeated Canadian Labour Congress demands to stop raiding HEU workers, leading to sanctions against IWA Canada?
Conservative MP Paul Forseth won the New Westminster Coquitlam riding in 2000 for the third time by more than 6,000 votes over the second-place Liberal. Given these rather hopeless odds, why shouldn't voters think you have made a deal with the Liberals to secure a federal appointment after you lose the election? Have you?
In December 2003, you joined the forest industry in supporting Premier Gordon Campbell's decision to end the coastal IWA strike through legislation that imposed binding arbitration to reach a new contract. B.C. NDP leader Joy MacPhail commented in the legislature:
"Is there something wrong with their characters that they need the force of legislation to do what is right and what they have admitted is right and what they've acknowledged they want, which is to get a collective agreement?
"Or is this some sort of southern U.S. state, where the ward bosses come in and make decisions and then the legislature rubber stamps them? Is that what we're doing here today? You bet it is." So, do you believe governments should impose binding arbitration in the private sector rather than workers and employers voluntarily agreeing to it?
In response to the October 4, 2002, federal Liberal throne speech, you said in a release: "This is the largest trade dispute going, in our country's largest export industry, and the vision statement coming from Ottawa doesn't mention it at all. I'm even more disappointed that there is no mention of protecting our rural, resource-dependent communities so that they survive while the U.S. imposes these punishing duties on our lumber products."
What makes you think the same Liberal government is now committed to solving the softwood-lumber dispute?
Dave Coles, Communications, Energy and Paperworkers western region vice-president, said in a Canadian Press story of your decision to run as a Liberal: "I'm deeply disappointed. I think it's a bit of a betrayal of where their union has stood for years. They've had a long history and have been very supportive of the NDP and working-class struggle and now he's running alongside David Emerson, the ex CEO of Canfor."
When your own IWA members and other union leaders believe you have abandoned labour principles, how can you win the votes of working people?
Wanting to be a Liberal MP does raise a lot of questions.
Bill Tieleman is a political commentator Thursdays on CBC TV's Canada Now and regularly on CBC Radio One's Early Edition. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.