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Merit Contractors Association of Alberta challenges union coalition once again over election ads

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by Richard Gilbert

As Albertans get ready to go to the polls on March 3, 2008, another political battle is heating up, one that pits the National Citizens Coalition and Merit Contractors Association of Alberta against the Alberta Building Trades Council (ABTC) and the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL).

Alberta Election

As Albertans get ready to go to the polls on March 3, another political battle is heating up between employers and unions.

In the run-up to the provincial election, the Alberta Building Trades Council (ABTC) and the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) sponsored a campaign called Albertans for Change.

The campaign questioned the leadership abilities of Conservative party leader Ed Stelmach. Organizers didn’t disclose the cost of the attack ads, but, critics of the campaign estimate it cost about $1 million for prime-time TV spots and full-page newspaper ads.

In response to this campaign, the National Citizens Coalition and Merit Contractors Association of Alberta launched a counter-strike. The message of this counter campaign is that the unions have a secret plan and are forcing workers to contribute to political ad campaigns, and they are using their dues to finance non-workplace activities.

The AFL launched a second campaign on Feb 14, called “Show Us the Plan,” which sent 130,000 homes direct mail with the message that the Conservatives lack direction on oil patch development and the environment.

Show Us the Plan is a separate, but complementary campaign to the Albertans for Change campaign.

The AFL is sponsoring this second campaign along with the ABTC and the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees.

On Feb. 27, Merit Contractors Association of Alberta launched a second counter-offensive, which challenges union leaders behind the Albertans for Change coalition to come clean about their secret agenda for Alberta.

“For the first time in Alberta’s history, union leaders are aggressively spending mandatory union dues to try to unseat a provincial government with expensive American-style attack ads,” said Stephen Kushner, president of Merit Contractors Association.

“These ads have nothing to do with Alberta’s labour laws or workplaces. Merit believes union leaders have a secret hidden agenda that if implemented will not be good for Albertans.”

The largest union organization in Alberta is encouraging its members to end the long rule of the Conservatives in the province.

“For the first time in more than 30 years, a Conservative victory is not a foregone conclusion,” said Gil McGowan, AFL president. “It’s at times like these that citizens can really flex their democratic muscles and demand more from politicians. That’s exactly what we’re encouraging our members to do.”

The Show Us The Plan campaign and the leaflets sent to homes make the case that the Stelmach Conservatives have failed to articulate a clear vision for Alberta’s oilsands-driven economy.

The campaign argues that the Tories have not adequately addressed the rising cost of living, infrastructure development and over-burdened public services.

It also says there is the potential for thousands of Alberta jobs to be “shipped down the pipeline” to upgraders and refineries in the U.S.

“This election is pivotal for the future of our province,” McGowan said.

“We want our members to understand the importance of the issues and the important roll they have as voters in setting the future direction for our province.”

In response to the labour unions campaign, the ads produced by Merit argue that the “Albertans for Change” is nothing more than an Albertan version of the “Working Families” special interest organization set up by Ontario union leaders to help Ontario Liberals gain power in 2003 and get re-elected in 2007.

“The payback costs in Ontario were high — especially in the construction industry,” said Kushner.

After being elected, Dalton McGuinty’s government rewrote Ontario’s labour laws that, among other things, took away the right of construction workers to have a secret ballot vote on unionization.

Even though the Albertans for Change ads say nothing about changing Alberta’s labour laws, the Merit spokesman said they believe that the legislative proposals of the organizations financing the ads call for similar changes to be made in Alberta.

“This election is similar in tone to recent Ontario elections when labour laws were not debated. Yet, after reading the platforms of both opposition parties, it’s clear they have bought into the union leaders’ demands,” said Kushner.

“Albertans should know this information when they cast their ballots on March 3 and not let union leaders tell them how to vote.”

The AFL said they just want to encourage their members to seize this moment and help lead the way toward a new and better Alberta.

“It’s important to note that in all of our campaign efforts, we’re not trying to tell people who to vote for.” McGowan said.

“What we’re trying to do instead is provide our members with the tools they need to cast informed ballots. We are convinced that, together, Albertans can turn up the heat on our politicians and get better government and a better future in return.”

The leaders of the main political parties include Ed Stelmach of the Conservatives, Kevin Taft of the Liberals, Brian Mason of the NDP and Paul Hinman of the Wildrose Alliance.

All of these parties are promising to bring change to Alberta.

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