The anti-union commitments behind Tim Hudak's job claims

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In one of the weirdest political endorsements in recent memory, the Globe and Mail noted this week that Tim Hudak heads "an untested Progressive Conservative Party that needs to moderate and mature. The only way it will do so is if it is given the chance to govern (italics added)."

The cure for immaturity apparently is a stint as premier.

This sort of softball treatment by the media has helped Hudak craft an image of himself as a friendly, plain-talking dad who's at worst a little goofy and bad at math.

This folksy persona has tended to obscure two key things about Hudak that have become evident in the current campaign -- he remains committed to anti-union legislation aimed at making Ontario more like Arkansas, and he's capable of a cynical dishonesty that is breathtaking.

His claim that he will create one million jobs not only rests on faulty arithmetic, it is based on nothing really.

Yet, even after his numbers have been exposed as grossly inflated (multiplied erroneously by eight), Hudak has simply shrugged, trotted out platitudes like "economists never agree," and refused to acknowledge the deeply fraudulent nature of his jobs claim.

Hudak is deeply anti-union. He used to be upfront about this, openly advocating that Ontario adopt so-called "right to work" legislation -- laws found primarily in the U.S. south which are aimed at curbing unions.

By preventing companies and unions from signing contracts with automatic dues check-off, such laws make it difficult for unions to survive, leaving workers with little clout to push wages much above the U.S. federal minimum of $7.25 an hour. (In Arkansas, the state allows a lower minimum wage of $6.25 an hour.)

Hudak's anti-union fervour wasn't going down well in Ontario, where workers are used to higher living standards. So, with an election approaching, he backed off. Without repudiating "right-to-work" legislation, Hudak announced last February that it "didn't make the cut" for his policy platform.

But just because he took it out of the window, doesn't mean he doesn't still have it in the shop.

In fact, "right-to-work" legislation is the basis for a key part of his claim that he can create a million jobs, as Jim Stanford, economist for Unifor, has carefully documented.

Hudak's jobs claim is based in part on numbers generated for the Ontario PCs by ultra-conservative U.S. economist Benjamin Zycher, a longtime advocate of "right-to-work" laws. His sensibilities are closer to the Old South than Ontario; he once described Michelle Obama as a product of "lifelong affirmative-action coddling," suggesting she only got her Princeton degree "because of her skin color."

Zycher's jobs prediction assumes that Hudak would introduce "right-to-work" legislation in Ontario -- even though Zycher's analysis was released by the Hudak team as a backgrounder months after Hudak announced he wouldn't implement such laws.

Presumably, if Hudak finds himself in the premier's office, he'll re-examine his priorities and decide that "right-to-work" legislation should make the cut after all.

At the root of Zycher's analysis is the belief that the anti-union legislation increases "economic freedom." (True, getting rid of unions does give corporations a freer hand to keep wages low, while denying workers the economic freedom to organize collectively).

Zycher tries to establish that "economic freedom" (the kind favouring corporations) increases GDP per capita.

He does this by pointing to an index of "economic freedom" prepared by the right-wing Fraser Institute, which shows that GDP per capita is about $2,000 higher in U.S. states in the third quartile of the index (including Arkansas and Mississippi) than in states in the fourth quartile.

He then makes the wild leap that if Ontario were to increase its "economic freedom" to the level of third-quartile U.S. states, it could increase its GDP per capita by about $2,000.

But, as Stanford notes, this completely ignores the fact that Ontario already has a higher GDP per capita than states in the third quartile, despite our lack of "economic freedom."

Having made the utterly baseless assumption that increasing our "economic freedom" would lead to a gain of $2,000 in Ontario's GDP per capita, Zycher calculates that this would translate into 10,600 jobs.

The Hudak team then takes this fabricated number of 10,600 jobs and multiplies it by eight (because Hudak's jobs plan spans eight years), despite the fact that even Zycher assumed it would be a one-time jobs gain.

It is this preposterous decision to multiple by eight which has captured most attention and caused Hudak to be ridiculed about his math.

But the whole package is riddled with ludicrous assumptions based on Zycher's (and presumably Hudak's) belief that by increasing "economic freedom" to the level of Arkansas and Mississippi, Ontario's GDP per capita will grow -- even though our GDP per capita is already higher than these "economically freer" states and Hudak has said he won't introduce the anti-union laws that allegedly increase "economic freedom" anyway.

Perhaps the most curious aspect of the whole thing is the decision by the Globe and Mail to endorse Hudak after acknowledging his inability to defend his job creation numbers.

Oh well, why not give the guy a chance to run Canada's largest province? 

Winner of a National Newspaper Award, Linda McQuaig has been a reporter for the Globe and Mail, a columnist for the National Post and the Toronto Star. She was the New Democrat candidate in Toronto Centre in 2013. She is the author of seven controversial best-sellers, including Shooting the Hippo: Death by Deficit and other Canadian Myths and It's the Crude, Dude: War, Big Oil and the Fight for the Planet. Her most recent book (co-written with Neil Brooks) is The Trouble with Billionaires: How the Super-Rich Hijacked the World, and How We Can Take It Back.

This article is reprinted with permission from iPolitics

Photo: manningcentre/flickr

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