AFL responds to UCP lies on union advocacy campaigning

AFL shows that while Kenney was fabricating his camping trip, he was also distorting the truth about union political spending

EDMONTON - So, it turns out that Jason Kenney lied about his camping trip. Earlier this month, in an effort to show that he was just an ordinary Albertan, Kenney went on a camping trip … except he didn’t really.

According to insiders who shared information with former PC deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk, Kenney had staff drive the camper and he stayed in hotels. He just showed up for the photo ops.

This is the same guy who, when he was a minister in the Harper government, helped set up a fake citizenship ceremony for his buddies at the now defunct, hard-right-wing Sun New network.

This is what Kenney does. He lies and distorts to make himself look good – and to make his opponents look bad.

He’s doing that right now with the Alberta Federation of Labour, in an effort to make us look bad as we fight him on his anti-worker, union-busting Bill 32.

For example, Kenney says that AFL president Gil McGowan and Unifor national president Jerry Dias oppose pipelines. The truth is that McGowan, the AFL and Unifor (and their predecessor union, CEP) intervened in every pipeline hearing over the past 15 years TO CALL FOR MORE ALBERTA-BASED UPGRADING AND REFINING. That’s a position supported by most Albertans, including former Premiers Lougheed and Stelmach, and it is NOT the same thing as opposing pipelines.

In a similar way, Kenney has repeatedly said that the AFL is opposed to the oil and gas industry and that it has been running campaigns to “kill” jobs in the sector. But the truth is that AFL president McGowan spent hundreds of hours over the course of a year and a half, co-chairing the Energy Diversification Advisory Committee (EDAC), for a “salary” of exactly zero dollars.

The recommendations from that committee were implemented by the NDP, and they helped kick-start billions of dollars of investment in Alberta’s petrochemical sector, including the huge IPL plant near Fort Saskatchewan which has created jobs for thousands of Alberta tradespeople. Arguably, through his work with EDAC, McGowan has helped to create more jobs in the oil and gas sector than Kenney has in his tenure as Alberta premier (thousands of jobs is, after all, more than no jobs).

Kenney also says that McGowan and the AFL spent $1.8 million “without members consent” on “pet projects to help elect the NDP.” The truth is the money in question was spent on campaigns to improve and protect labour laws; increase and protect the minimum wage; improve workplace health and safety laws; defend worker pensions; advocate for universal child care; oppose cuts to health, education and other public services; promote workplace safety during the COVID crisis, and to convince all parties in the last election to talk about the need to prepare our province for the unfolding global transition away from fossil fuels.

It’s true that many of these campaigns have been critical of the UCP. But unions would not be doing their jobs if they didn’t stand up to governments that threatened the interests of workers. And criticism of the UCP is not the same thing as partisan support for the NDP. The fact that the Kenney and the UCP don’t acknowledge this distinction is troubling.

In fact, these are exactly the kind of lobbying and public advocacy campaigns you would expect from an organization that was created to run lobbying and public advocacy campaigns on behalf of workers.

Contrary to the UCP argument that these campaigns were “pet projects of union bosses,” they were all approved through the labour movement’s robust internal system of representative democracy. Members got to have their say through conventions, annual general meetings, local meetings and executive board meetings. Also, union leaders are not “bosses.” They are elected leaders who are accountable to their members, and who can (and often are) defeated if they lose the confidence of the people they represent.

McGowan, for example, faces re-election every two years. The fact that he has been elected and re-elected eight times suggests that his members continue to have confidence in him.

The UCP is also deliberately creating the impression that unions are not transparent about their spending with their members, when nothing could be further from the truth. All unions share detailed financial statements with their members, including audited statements. In most cases, they make these statements available quarterly. In some cases, they are made available each month at membership meetings.

If union members haven’t had their say, it’s because they didn’t participate and didn’t vote. And if they don’t know how their union is spending their dues money, it’s because they didn’t ask. By saying that unions shouldn’t be allowed to use the dues money of all union members to fund the work of the union – including campaigns to stand up to hostile governments – the Premier and the UCP are thumbing their nose at the whole concept of representative democracy. Of course, they don’t want to give ordinary citizens the right to withhold their taxes from the UCP government if they don’t like all or some of its policies (we’re a duly elected government, they would say!). But that’s exactly what they’re doing to unions (ignoring the fact that all union representatives, from shop stewards on up, are duly elected leaders, as well.)

Clearly, the restrictions on union dues included in Bill 32 are not really about freedom or choice for individual workers – they are simply about tying the labour movement up in knots and, in the process, attempting to silence an effective critic.

It’s also important to note that the UCP’s attack on union spending goes far beyond paid advertising campaigns. Other than negotiating contracts and handling grievances, Bill 32 deems everything that unions do as “political” for the purposes of the Act. That includes organizing new members, lobbying governments without ad campaigns and even making donations to charity. The UCP is making it sound like this is about union paid ad campaigns, but it’s really about short-circuiting the labour movement’s internal system of representative democracy on almost all issues. No other organization in society (corporations, non-profits, professional associations etc) is being tied in knots like this, just unions.

In the end, McGowan urges Albertans to consider the source when they hear Kenney’s claims about unions.

“Unions stand up to Kenney and push-back against his policies that hurt working people. So, he has a personal interest in making us look bad in order to justify his attempts to attack our free speech rights and tip the political playing field in his own favour. I urge my fellow Albertans to remember Kenney’s self-interest and his long track record of lying, distorting and fabricating before you believe anything he says about unions in his desperate bid to justify his unjustifiable and undemocratic attacks on his critics.”


Ramona Franson
Director of Communications, AFL
[email protected]