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Labour leader urges unions to expose Poilievre's working-class overtures as 'fraud'

OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre is a "fraud" for portraying himself as a friend of the working class, the head of the country's largest labour organization said Thursday, urging unions to do everything they can to expose him before the
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre rises during question period, Tuesday, April 16, 2024 in Ottawa. The head of Canada's largest labour organization is calling Poilievre a "fraud" for portraying himself as a friend of the working class. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre is a "fraud" for portraying himself as a friend of the working class, the head of the country's largest labour organization said Thursday, urging unions to do everything they can to expose him before the next federal election. 

Canadian Labour Congress President Bea Bruske delivered her call to arms as union leaders gathered in Ottawa to plot strategy ahead of the vote, which must happen before October 2025. 

"We must do everything in our power to expose Mr. Pierre Poilievre for the fraud that he is," Bruske said. 

"We must be under no illusions." 

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed the gathering Thursday, taking aim at the Conservatives as Canada's three main political parties battle for blue-collar votes.

The war of words comes days after the Liberals tabled a federal budget that increases taxes on the wealthy and includes funding for NDP priorities like pharmacare and dental care. 

Poilievre was not invited to speak at the gathering. 

While polls suggest Poilievre's affordability message is resonating with both private and public-sector workers, Bruske said his history of supporting back-to-work legislation and advocating for employees to be allowed to opt out of unions and makes him hostile to labour.

"Whatever he claims today, Mr. Poilievre has a consistent 20-year record as an anti-worker politician," she said. 

"I ask you, have you ever, ever, anywhere in Canada see him walk a picket line?"

For his part, Poilievre has spent the past two years criss-crossing the country, pitching himself as the leader who understands the pain and anxieties working-class Canadians feel in the current affordability crisis.

"Justin Trudeau and Jagmeet Singh have abandoned working Canadians," Conservative spokesman Sebastian Skamski said in a statement Thursday.

Canadian workers have never been worse off, he said, blaming the political pact forged between the Liberals and NDP to prevent an early election.

Singh "has sold out working Canadians to secure his own pension and a spot in Justin Trudeau's government," he said.

"Pierre Poilievre is the one listening and speaking to workers on shop floors and in union halls from coast to coast to coast."

Poilievre likes to note he's spoken to more local unions than he has to corporate business crowds. Under his leadership, the Conservatives also voted to support a bill seeking to ban federally regulated workplaces from using replacement workers during strikes or lockouts, a significant shift for the Tories.

Since becoming leader, Poilievre has also resisted calling on Trudeau for back-to-work legislation in response to labour disputes, including the strike that saw thousands of public servants hit the picket lines last spring. 

He has taken his vow to "axe" the federal carbon price on fuel to NDP-held ridings across British Columbia, including on Vancouver Island, and to northern Ontario, where the Liberals also hold seats. 

Trudeau and Singh, meanwhile, each tried to discourage members of the labour movement from looking Poilievre's way. 

"The Conservative leader likes to pretend he's there for workers," Trudeau said.

The Liberal government, by contrast, actually has been, he argued, citing new labour protection measures, sustainable jobs legislation and restoring to 65 the age of eligibility for guaranteed income supplements.

Poilievre would either cut or roll back those measures, Trudeau said. 

"He continues to show with his voting record, with his approach on things — regardless of the populist reach-out that he's giving to workers — that he hasn't changed in the 19 years he's been in Parliament in his continued stance against workers."

Singh took credit for much of the labour-friendly laws Trudeau touted in his speech, and accused Poilievre of wanting to undo all of the NDP's work. 

He offered himself as a better choice than Poilievre for those voters who might be feeling "fed up" with the Liberals.

"There's a guy who hates unions and loves big bosses ... a guy who wants to cut and gut the services that people need," Singh said of the Conservative leader. 

"Or, there's another guy who believes fundamentally that every decision we make should be about putting working-class people at the heart of it."  

When asked why Poilievre's message seems to be resonating among workers, Bruske said union leaders are aware of the anxieties workers face. 

"We well understand the frustration and the fear about the future of their jobs and the fear of being able to make end's meet," she said.

But "politicians who offer simplistic answers without actually providing a real strategy on how they're going to achieve what workers need are not politicians that we can count on." 

Trudeau routinely chides Poilievre for drumming up support by promising simple fixes to complicated problems, like the lack of housing supply. 

Liberals are also frustrated that Poilievre has blamed their signature climate policy, the consumer carbon levy, for driving up costs. 

They deny his claims, insisting that the government's quarterly rebate payments are ensuring most Canadians are getting back more than they pay under the carbon price. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 18, 2024. 

— With files from Mickey Djuric

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press

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