How will Canada's labour movement stop Harper this election?

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Between 500 and 600 union activists met in Toronto this weekend to talk strategy for the upcoming federal election.

Similar events are being hosted across the country as part of the Canadian Labour Congress' (CLC) election preparedness campaign.

"There is hard work ahead of us but it will pay dividends if we do it right and do it smart," said CLC president Hassan Yussuff, speaking to a packed house at the conference's Friday night reception in Toronto.

Yussuff and the other speakers, including Ontario Federation of Labour President Sid Ryan and CLC Senior economist Angella MacEwen, emphasized that mobilization has to start within the rank and file if the labour movement wants to defeat Harper's Conservatives in this upcoming election.

"I'm going to tell you some news that you don't want to hear," said Yussuff, "We did the most comprehensive survey of our membership and that's not you in the room, that's the unengaged membership, the ones who don't show up in the meeting… and here's what our unengaged members are saying: they think for the most part that Stephen Harper has done a reasonable job."

Despite the labour movement's long standing affiliation with the NDP in this country, Yussuff explained, many union members have voted for Harper in the past and would potentially do so again, because they believe that he has helped Canada weather the 2008 financial crisis. 

"They also believe it's time for change, and they think we can do better. That's the hopeful part of the work that we've been doing," said Yussuff.

Through speeches and conference material, the CLC has made clear what labour's priorities are for this election:

  • Creating and protecting good, stable jobs;

  • Providing quality, safe, and affordable child care;

  • Protecting and improving our public health care system;

  • Averting a retirement crisis and making retirement security available to everyone.

Yussuff ended his speech with a call to action for the union activists, asking that every attendee make a pledge to engage their families, neighbours and co-workers in conversations about these issues.

A Unifor 723M representative who attended the conference said "it is more about engaging the entire community about the issues that matter to us, such as health care, employment, good jobs  and also sustainable growth."

Though all of the conference speakers noted their support and endorsement for Thomas Mulcair and the NDP, emphasis was placed more squarely on election issues, than party allegiance.

"We need to fundamentally get our members engaged," said Yussuff in an interview with "Every one of them is going to make a decision as to who they are going to vote for. I think our job is to connect them to the issues that are very important to working people and they are going to make the right choice," he added.

"Certainly, the NDP has been a close ally and supporter of the labour movement and we are partners with the party. But at the end of the day, our members know who can best represent their interests when given the opportunity to chose from those parties."


Ella Bedard is's labour intern. She has written about labour issues for and the Halifax Media Co-op and is the co-producer of the radio documentary The Amelie: Canadian Refugee Policy and the Story of the 1987 Boat People.

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