Business labors over NDP

A rift has occurred in a Toronto business coalition over whether to continue a major offensive against Ontario's ndp government.Martin O'Neill, Toronto-based president of Bata Industries and a member of the All-Business Coalition, says the organization's $2.1-million 'Kill the Bill' media...

A rift has occurred in a Toronto business coalition over whether to continue a major offensive against Ontario’s ndp government.

Martin O’Neill, Toronto-based president of Bata Industries and a member of the All-Business Coalition, says the organization’s $2.1-million ‘Kill the Bill’ media campaign is an effective way of alerting Premier Bob Rae to business concerns.

The coalition, representing 65 business associations employing more than one million workers, is concerned about plans by the provincial government to make changes to the Ontario Labour Relations Act.

If passed, the proposed changes, known as Bill-40, would give labor the upper hand in union-management disputes, including outlawing replacement workers during a strike.

But Ed Hardinson, president of the Canadian Institute of Plumbing and Heating and a coalition member, argues lack of funds puts any further media blitz by the coalition in doubt.

‘A tremendous amount of time, talent and money has gone into this program,’ Hardinson says.

‘But we have limited resources,’ he says. ‘So we’ll probably muddle through the next two years and, hopefully, see a government elected that listens to our concerns.’

However, O’Neill says the passage of Bill-40 will mean lost inward investment in Ontario and job losses.

‘The cost to the coalition from continuing the media campaign must be considered with the costs of not opposing the legislation,’ he says.

O’Neill and others in the coalition argue Ontario businesses stand to lose after Bill-40 becomes law.

So, they say, building on the success of the campaign’s recent tv spots, which featured a hard-hitting ‘Kill the bill before it kills your job’ pitch, would remind the ndp government of lost inward investment and job losses.

The campaign, conceived by ad agency dmb&b of Toronto, has used tv, print and a direct mail shoot.

Parallel campaign

A parallel media campaign has also been waged by the 100-member More Jobs Coalition and the 500-strong Project Economic Growth.

The All Business Coalition has also been backed by print advertisements run by the Canadian Daily Newspaper Association.

The entire campaign, concluding in November when the results of a public petition will be handed in at Queen’s Park, has greatly escalated Bay Street’s long, grinding argument with Rae.

In the past, Ontario employers offered honeyed criticism of provincial governments by organizing write-in campaigns, or ministerial visits through a network of business contacts.

Strained

But under the ndp government, the lines of communicaton between Bay Street and Queen’s Park have become strained.

The result is, for the first time, pin-striped activists are reaching beyond Bay Street circles and using the media to appeal to the public.

Insiders say shopping mall operators and department store chains such as Eaton’s and The Hudson Bay Company are especially keen to continue media pressure on Rae.

They fear Bill-40 will allow picketers to halt all business in a shopping mall if workers in only one store go out on strike.

Hudson Bay, for example, is party to 25 collective agreements across Canada, including nine at shopping mall outlets.

But Alasdair McKichan, Toronto-based president of the Retail Council of Canada, cautions raising money to oppose Bill-40 was easier when the legislation was first muted and media attention grew.

‘We’re reserving judgment on whether to use more media in the future,’ McKichan says.

Dale Kerry, vice-president of human resources at Jannock and chairman of the More Jobs Coalition, agrees the passage of Bill-40 will take the steam out of Bay Street resistance and fundraising.

‘I’m not convinced that blowing a whole lot of money on advertising at this time is useful,’ Kerry says.

Kerry urges maintaining contacts with Ontario’s opposition parties at Queen’s Park in the hope they will roll back the changes to the Ontario Labour Relations Act should one of them win the next provincial election.

Ontario’s minister of labor, Pat Phillips, was not available for comment at press-time.