‘Non partisan’ union group weighs into election

The Yukon Federation of Labour took direct aim at the Yukon Party on Tuesday by urging 8,000 union voters to boot Premier Dennis Fentie’s…

The Yukon Federation of Labour took direct aim at the Yukon Party on Tuesday by urging 8,000 union voters to boot Premier Dennis Fentie’s government from office.

Bolstered by successful labour-issue campaigns in Saskatchewan and at the national level, the “non-partisan” federation took the unprecedented step of weighing into the territorial election by launching an awareness campaign.

The federation will spend about $40,000 on leaflets, brochures, radio and newspaper ads and website information highlighting the shortcomings of the Fentie administration and its failure to address labour issues.

“We have played a role in the past by raising issues in elections, but never to this extent,” federation president Alex Furlong told a news conference.

“You may ask why we are doing this.

“To a certain extent, we were forced to by the way the present government has handled issues over the past four years.”

Relations between the labour movement and the government are the worst they’ve ever been, said Furlong.

“We don’t have a working relationship with the present government.

“We’re not invited to give caucus briefings for budgetary purposes of how labour would be affected.

“We’re certainly excluded on a number of key areas where we could be included.

“We did have some participation in the economic stakeholders’ advisery group.

“But we don’t have a close relationship with the government.”

He cited eight examples of how the government has failed labour interests, including delayed health and safety regulations, mistreatment of union employees during the 2003 computer misuse investigation and the erosion of public services through a public-private partnership policy.

Furlong went on to name broader election issues, such as the shortage of doctors in the territory, neglect of the impoverished and the environment and “conflicts of interest and low ethical standards” of elected politicians, none of whom he named.

“Our goal, simply, is to engage more than 4,000 union households and 8,000 union household voters in this campaign, by raising awareness, encouraging them to look hard at the issues, by encouraging them to question candidates who come calling for their vote, and by deciding, ‘Who is on our side?’

“And, most importantly, by exercising their democratic right to vote.”

But Furlong stopped short of endorsing a specific party.

“The Yukon Federation of Labour campaign is a non-partisan campaign,” he said.

“I have no hesitation to say that I’m a proud member of the New Democratic Party.

“But the key to this campaign is for all parties to pay real close attention.

“Our membership told us that no matter which party forms government, these are the key issues that we will keep driving home.”

But the labour issues campaign, unanimously endorsed at a federation convention in December 2005, clearly does not favour the Yukon Party.

For example, it claims the Yukon government under Fentie “bungled the workers’ compensation review process” and “played fast and loose with contracting and purchasing regulations.”

Furthermore, “years of planning, millions in spending and a chorus of public outrage have not been enough to motivate the current Yukon government to build a new jail.”

The campaign also endorses an NDP initiative by calling for an end to party hopping through new legislation that would require MLAs dissatisfied with their parties to resign their seats and seek a new mandate from their constituents rather than switch teams — a veiled shot at the Yukon Liberal Party that added two former NDP MLAs to its roster in the spring.

“I’m certainly not afraid to say that labour and the NDP have had a long and proud history,” said Furlong.

“But to tie (this campaign) to any particular party is inaccurate.

“I would strongly advise all political leaders – Mr. Hardy, Mr. Fentie and Mr. Mitchell — to pay close attention.

“We have 8,000 union votes that they are going to need to form government, and if we influence that, so be it.

“As an organization we are non-partisan.

“I’m not telling our members how to vote.

“That’s what I’ve outlined in the campaign. They’ll have the information when the candidates of any political stripe go to their door.

“We want them to ask the tough questions.”

The federation will organize an all-party forum to discuss labour issues, and invite the three party leaders to speak.

The date and location of the forum have yet to be determined.

Yukon Party headquarters was given a copy of Furlong’s speech and leaflets from the labour campaign, and offered the opportunity to comment, but did not.