Beware the false equivalence of comparing corporate political donations with union contributions

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      During last night's B.C. political leaders' debate, there was a great deal of emphasis on union donations to the B.C. NDP.

      The party's leader, John Horgan, left himself vulnerable to criticism after the United Steelworkers of America contributed $672,000 last year.

      The union is also paying NDP campaign workers' salaries and the party has also received tremendous financial support from other unions.

      Naturally, this is leading some observers to wonder if this means organized labour will have excessive influence over an NDP government on issues ranging from education to liquefied natural gas to language in the B.C. Labour Code.

      At the same time, the B.C. Liberals have collected tens of millions from the corporate sector over the years.

      But the mainstream media has not focused nearly as much attention on how this has influenced public policies ranging from liquor reforms to environmental regulations to business-incorporation rules that place a premium on investors' secrecy.

      During the debate, B.C. Green party Leader Andrew Weaver liked to portray himself as being above the fray.

      He talked as if he's the only guy acting in the public interest, whereas his opponents are too busy serving their grubby private interests.

      But there's a false equivalency being made between union donations and corporate donations.

      Unions have a history of standing up for local workers and promoting government contracts going to B.C. workers.

      Unions also have an impressive record when it comes to defending public health care and public education.

      Organized labour has been instrumental in such modern blessings as the five-day work week, the minimum wage, paid vacations, better treatment of the LGBT community, and employment standards.

      B.C. Federation of Labour president Irene Lanzinger, unlike some corporate CEOs, has no interest in exporting B.C. jobs to the Philippines or India.
      Yolande Cole

      Corporate boards have a fiduciary duty to serve shareholders, not their employees and not the society in which they operate. They might do some good works in the community, but the overarching goal and a publicly traded company board's legal responsibility is to maximize profits for the owners.

      This leads CEOs to automate wherever possible to wipe out people's jobs, contract work to places like the Philippines or India, and try to pay the least amount of taxes as they can. This starves provincial and local governments of revenue and undermines the delivery of public services.

      Sure, the unions would likely have disproportionate influence in a John Horgan–led government, at least until it bans corporate and union donations. And this could have consequences in government contracts with private suppliers, negotiations with public-sector unions, where surgical procedures are performed, how B.C. Hydro conducts itself, and where people buy their liquor or legal marijuana.

      But when corporations have a disproportionate influence, as we've seen in B.C. over the past 16 years, child poverty and homelessness tend to skyrocket. Job security and employee pensions have become a thing of the past for most B.C. workers. Public transit has been undermined. Free-market zealotry has also resulted in a greater percentage of educational funding going to private schools, as well as far higher postsecondary tuition fees.

      The growing divide between the haves and have-nots under the B.C. Liberals is also harming public health. It's being reflected in an overdose epidemic that is sometimes claiming more than 100 lives per month in B.C.

      It would be nice to hear Weaver say, for once, that unions aren't as bad as corporations, but that might interfere with his storyline in this election campaign.

      In the same vein, it would also be helpful if provincial political commentators other than Bill Tieleman would acknowledge the benefits that organized labour has brought to our province.

      Union leaders are not the equivalent of greedy and often ruthless corporate fatcats who collect annual compensation in the seven or eight figures.

      Anyone who even hints that they're birds of a feather is being far too loose with the truth.