Les Leyne: Union memo makes NDP a bit jumpy

Les Leyne mugshot genericNDP Leader John Horgan was already thinking about some kind of repositioning on a big job-creating project before the Steelworkers’ memo landed.

Now he has to consider the manoeuvre, with the full story of why it’s necessary made public. One of the biggest unions representing resource-sector workers has lost patience with the NDP and has been contemplating turning the funding tap off.

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The United Steelworkers of Western Canada produced a detailed analysis of the B.C. NDP, and it’s not a pleasant read for Horgan or anyone else in the party. The union is dissatisfied with the B.C. NDP’s performance, notably when it comes to advocating for jobs.

“When the leader ran for the job, he staked out positions that are at odds with subsequent action, leaving mostly private-sector unions bewildered at not only the lack of progress on a vigorous jobs agenda, but frustrated at the ease with which the governing party has labelled the NDP as saying no to economic progress.”

The memo wasn’t sent directly to the party, and union director Stephen Hunt is backing away from the sentiments. But it was circulated widely enough that it leaked to the Vancouver Sun’s Rob Shaw.

It landed just after Horgan appeared to have made up with the Building Trades Council, which was also miffed about how he wrote to a federal agency and unilaterally rejected the Pacific NorthWest liquefied natural gas proposal, on grounds that could well apply to all LNG proposals. He apologized to the council’s convention in Victoria for not advising them of the letter. He also outlined the sliver of a chance that the NDP could eventually support the plant, if conditions are met, and mused about growing weary of being constantly negative in opposition.

The Steelworkers’ memo described a “critical situation with a growing lack of confidence from the party’s closest and largest labour funders.” Despite the labour background of many NDP MLAs, “there does not seem to be a real appreciation/understanding of the labour movement.”

The memo said that when the NDP takes positions on important labour issues and does not consult with allies while in Opposition, “it is fair to ask if they would in government. ... It adds to the perception that the party only views the labour unions as an ATM; the only time our views are heard is when they are attached to a cheque.”

The “growing level of frustration” at funding the party and not hearing the right messages “has allowed us to join those who have or are losing confidence the NDP can win the next election.”

It cited several other complaints about staffing and organization and threatened: “There will be no more financial and in-kind assistance until a plan is developed.”

The union is a longtime donor to the NDP — $66,000 in 2015.

Some of the complaints are standard irritants any political outfit endures.

Remember Premier Christy Clark’s view of Victoria as a “sick culture” she avoids whenever possible?

The Steelworkers memo said: “Victoria is a beautiful city, but it is unlike anywhere else in B.C. Whether its lack of diversity, or its economic reliance on the provincial government as the largest local employer, conversations in the capital do not necessarily reflect the rest of B.C.”

It said the large cohort of NDP MLAs and senior staff from Victoria make for a challenge. They engage with mainland visitors, but don’t build relationships, it said.

Horgan has been lifelong friends with some of the union leaders involved in this tiff. That’s being cited to reassure people he can patch things up. But those friendships also make the breach all the more striking. The toughest non-Liberal criticism he has had since becoming leader is from his closest friends.

Whenever you hear: “It doesn’t have to be jobs versus the environment,” nine times out of 10 it’s someone from the latter camp issuing the reassurance.

The Steelworkers note suggests some people on the other side of the argument aren’t buying it.

And all this was brewing well before the Leap Manifesto was welcomed for further study by delegates at the federal convention.

Horgan is noncommittal on Leap. But if union workers were already ticked off, it’s enough to make them jumpy.

lleyne@timescolonist.com

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