Canada Proud’s top donor is apparently not so proud of Canadian steel
The group even railed against foreign imports, noting “made-in-Canada” products are available a little closer to home.
But a newly filed financial disclosure reveals one of Canada Proud’s top donors is an anti-union lobby group currently lobbying for steel imports from foreign suppliers that often rely on low-wage labour — a change critics suggest would only serve to benefit big developers at the expense of Canadian workers.
According to Canada Proud’s September 15 filings with Elections Canada, the third party advertiser received $45,000 from Merit Contractors on August 28. Only Coril Holdings Ltd. ($50,000) and Coril’s chairman emeritus R.N Mannix ($50,000) gave Canada Proud more money.
Taken together, these three donors account for nearly 60% of Canada Proud’s $249,259 total contributions.
Merit Canada is a major anti-union lobby group representing “open shop” clients in the construction industry.
The lobby group is also currently pushing a plan it calls “Decision 2019,” spelling out its wish list for all the major parties.
A few suggestions include “secret ballot certifications” that would make it harder for workers to unionize, measures pushing the government to outsource work to non-union employers and prioritizing foreign steel over Canadian steel.
The lobby group’s document states:
“Merit Canada recommends that policy makers … Ensure that Canada maintains open access to steel products from international markets. Fundamentally sourcing cost-competitive supply to meet construction industry demand for steel inputs is differentiated across the country.”
The document notes Central Canada already sources its steel domestically, but suggests Western Canada could benefit from cheap imported steel.
Hassan Yussuff, president of the Canadian Labour Congress, told PressProgress that foreign steel producers often cut corners to get an edge over Canadian steel — and Canada’s government shouldn’t reward that behaviour.
“We pay fair wages, we enforce the law to make sure it’s a level playing field,” Yussuff said. “When you have other companies that break those rules to unfairly benefit themselves, they should not have access to our markets.”
Yussuff suggested the only people who would stand to benefit from such a change in Canada are condo builders.
“They’re an employer group organization with a self-interest,” Yussuff said of Merit.
“It’s about the bottom line, that whole industry is fighting tooth and nail to maintain access to products from exporters that have been shown to dump steel in our country and undercut wages.”
Last year, PressProgress exclusively reported that a “confidential” Ontario Proud fundraising document pitched to big money donors was discovered on the website of the Ontario General Contractors Association.
The “confidential” document shows Ontario Proud told its big money donors that it was more than just a Facebook page that persuades voters with shareable memes — its also a “sophisticated” data-mining operation.
The OGCA confirmed to PressProgress it shared the “confidential” document with its members, including non-unionized “open shop” contractors.
Merit has long played an important role pushing an anti-union agenda within the federal Conservative Party and its provincial counterparts.
During the Harper-era, Merit Canada was one of the top corporate lobbyists that paid regular visits to the Prime Minister’s Office.
Today, the main contact e-mail on Merit Canada’s website goes straight to the inbox of Terrence Oakey, who is also a partner at a boutique ad firm called One Persuades.
One of One Persuades fellow partners is Hamish Marshall, a founding director of the far-right Rebel Media. Marshall currently serves as the campaign chair of Andrew Scheer’s 2019 Conservative election campaign.
Neither Merit Canada nor Canada Proud founder Jeff Ballingall immediately responded to requests for comment from PressProgress. Questions sent to the e-mail address “firstname.lastname@example.org” went unreturned.
Update (Sept. 24): Following publication of this story, the United Steelworkers tweeted that Canada Proud is apparently “neither proud of Canadian steel, nor Canadian workers,” adding that the group is working against the interests of “working-class people”:
So apparently @WeAreCanProud are neither proud of Canadian steel, nor Canadian workers. Question: why are you courting working class people when you actively try to make life harder? #canadaproud #elxn43 #cdnpoli https://t.co/ulD6JeXaMw
— United Steelworkers (@SteelworkersCA) September 24, 2019
Asked for comment on the Steelworker’s tweet, Canada Proud’s Jeff Ballingall said: “If PressProgress wanted to do any research at all, they’d see that we’ve heavily criticized the Trudeau government for their record on foreign steel.”
Ballingall provided a link to a “viral video” on Canada Proud’s Facebook page that criticize the Trudeau government for backing a plan to use “Chinese-made steel” for “projects here at home,” emphasizing “Canadian projects should be done by Canadian workers.”
Canada Proud’s founder did not address Merit Canada’s position on foreign steel.