Philip Mcleod

The McLeod Report - London, Ontario

A regular commentary on civic affairs in London, Canada by journalist Philip McLeod.

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Do endorsements matter?

TODAY’S REPORT #1,044: Paul Cheng is slamming his opponent Matt Brown because he’s been endorsed by labour unions. But do endorsements really indicate a candidate’s character, or are they simply recognition that one likes one candidate more than another.

Friday, Oct. 24, 2014 – London Ontario

Members of London’s various labour unions must be chuckling these days, now they are considered part of the Old Boys Network. 

At least, so says Paul Cheng, candidate for mayor.

Mr. Cheng slammed his opponent Matt Brown this week for accepting endorsements from the London and District Labour Council and the teachers’ union, all of them in conspiracy with organized employees at City Hall to get him. They were, he said grimly, part of the city’s problem, an Old Boys Network that had to be destroyed.

Mr. Cheng seems to have a troubling fixation with labour unions, and certainly has one with their endorsement of Mr. Brown, which he sees as a clear indication the front-runner in Monday’s civic election will somehow be a softie when it comes to negotiating wage contracts.

For the record, the largest labour union at City Hall has already signed a four-year contract – with increases of zero, zero, one per cent and one per cent – that will extend to the end of this new council’s term. So there won’t be much to negotiate, softly or otherwise. That union, by the way, hasn’t endorsed anyone.

In claiming Mr. Brown has a conflict of interest because of the endorsements, Mr. Cheng really is trying to draw attention to the fact he would be hard on unions. For example, he won’t pay the fire fighters one penny more, he said last week.

For the record, the fire fighters contract has gone to arbitration, a process to which the city is legally bound. Sometime soon the arbitrator will render a decision, which is expected to impose a very generous increase that will be retroactive to 2010. If Mr. Cheng, as mayor, thinks he could get away with not paying it he’ll find himself and the city in court pretty quickly. 

Mr. Cheng seems not to understand that.

In his current day job, Mr. Brown is a teacher. So the fact the teachers’ union has endorsed him is hardly surprising, or important. As mayor Mr. Brown would not be negotiating teacher contracts since the city doesn’t employ any. Teachers are employed by the schools boards and education is a provincial responsibility.

Mr. Cheng seems not to understand that.

Of course, earlier this week about 40 prominent business people in London also endorsed Mr. Brown. Mr. Cheng doesn’t seem to have noticed this. Perhaps he’s envious.

Do these endorsements even matter? Well yes and no. The personal ones, such as those from the prominent business people, do speak to a candidate’s character, which should matter to voters. Those from organizations speak to a candidate’s appeal, which shouldn’t matter but probably does to some people. 

Mostly, though, endorsements simply mean if I have to choose I like this candidate better than that one. Endorsements really don’t matter unless the candidate starts waving their flag or calling their plays, in which case you might to decide whether this team is for you. 

Mr. Brown has certainly not espoused big raises for labour unions, or talked about labour unions at all. His only comments that reflect on wages came during last year’s budget debate over the police budget where he was on the side of the group that fought to cut it. That’s a budget in which 92 per cent of the costs are labour.

Mr. Cheng has some endorsements, too. He’s got Roger Caranci’s support, however limited that is these days, and by extension the support of many in the development industry who like his ideas of trying to gut the London Plan. 

The London-based Ontario Business Network seems to like him too, especially his anti-union stance. 

So is he waving someone else’s flag? Not likely. Mr. Cheng seems, on most things, to be his own man. It’s just a coincidence, one presumes, that Mr. Cheng’s views on unions seem to closely mirror those of the right-wing noisemakers from Working Canadians