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Monte McNaughton: The future of conservatism will be with the working class

Commentary

The following is an excerpt from a speech by Monte McNaughton, Ontario’s minister of labour, immigration, training and skills development. It was delivered to the Empire Club of Canada in Toronto, Ontario on April 13, 2023. It has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Today I want to talk about the next chapter in our government’s Working for Workers plan and the road that brought us to this stage.

Almost four years ago, Premier Ford asked me to serve as his Minister of Labour. I really approached the role with the mindset of doing things differently—being pro-worker, working with private sector labour and employers, and bringing a new working-class, and blue-collar, conservatism to Canada. But, most importantly, with the mindset of identifying problems and fixing them as quickly as possible.

In the conversation we had at that time, and in our many conversations since, the Premier shared his belief—which is one that we share—that the issues of working people have not been given the same attention—from governments of all stripes—as those issues faced by business and academics.

I think part of the challenge is that the vast majority of people who live and work around government—civil servants, c-suite executives, academics, journalists, and, yes, politicians like me—live professional and personal lives surrounded by friends, neighbours, and colleagues who also come from the business and academic classes.

No matter where we came from, like it or not, the majority of us in this room are leading lives that shelter us from the reality facing many of the workers who keep our great province and country moving. Once you see it you can’t unsee it.

But that doesn’t make their issues less important. In fact, it means we need to work even harder to bring them into the light. Anybody who knows Premier Ford knows how hard he works to stay connected to working people. God knows he gives his mobile number out to thousands of people.

It’s part of why I work to stay grounded and remember where I’m from—working in a family hardware store in Newbury, Ontario—and the value of knowing how to get your hands dirty to get the job done. I should add that as Minister of Labour, I can’t actually say at what age my dad had me working in the store or loading building supplies. I think we had rules against that.

Now, in my nearly four years as Labour Minister in a conservative government, the biggest misconception I’ve noticed is the argument that Conservatives aren’t the party of blue-collar workers. And, look, there may have been some truth to that critique 30 or 40 years ago, but it sure isn’t true now, especially under the leadership of Premier Ford.

If it were true, I wouldn’t have announced a few weeks ago that Ontario’s minimum wage is set to increase by $1.05, and that we will be North America’s first jurisdiction to bring in Portable Benefits to millions of workers that don’t have health benefits today.

I believe that the future of conservatism is a working-class future.

The last election in Ontario proved that and it’s just the beginning if we push forward an agenda that involves a genuine and lasting shift of power to working people. Here is something I have learned over the course of the past five elections. Politics in Ontario, and Canada, and I’d argue the Western world, is rapidly changing.

Most of the downtown elite and corporate classes decamped to the Liberals a long time ago. And these days it’s likely fair to say that it’s probably a lot easier to bump into a liberal than bump into a conservative on Bay Street. A complete reversal of where things were a decade or two ago.

And the NDP, traditionally a party of workers, are in the midst of an identity crisis, tying themselves in knots trying to be woke instead of focusing on the real issues impacting workers—like jobs with pensions and benefits, so people can build stronger families.

This means there are a lot of people in this country. Good people. Hard-working people. Including private sector union members and their leaders who never saw themselves working with or supporting a PC government. Who, sometimes with good cause, never trusted conservatives and who maybe, just maybe, are now prepared to give us a fair shot—but only if we treat them with the respect they deserve.

And it’s a shot I don’t want to miss. Which is why my door has been open from day one. If you have a problem, let’s fix it. It sounds crazy, but this simple approach has been the key to our success.

I’ve heard from people who have problems most of us never think about. How many of you who are taking your time between work meetings to join us for this lunch and listen to me speak are concerned about whether the bathrooms at this event are clean, or safe, or if the doors in the stalls lock?

Let’s see all those hands…and that’s my point. If this was a room full of truck drivers or construction workers, a lot more hands would shoot up if I asked the same question about their workplaces.

The reason I am illustrating this point is that it’s important our government listen to the voices of people who haven’t been listened to for a long time, many who have been forgotten by politicians and governments of all stripes.

It is why, in our first Working for Workers legislation, we made it the law that truck drivers and app-based delivery drivers get to use washrooms along their routes. Common sense.

So while I hear about a lot of problems. My job—and our government’s job—is to find solutions. These problems can be solved by all of us working together: government, labour, and business. Under the leadership of Premier Ford, we passed bills full of Working for Workers measures in 2021 and 2022:

• Washrooms for truck drivers;
• banned non-compete clauses;
• brought in the right to disconnect;
• recognized international credentials for immigrants by eliminating the Canadian work experience requirement;
• hired more health and safety inspectors;
• brought in the right to privacy so employers couldn’t monitor employees;
• mandated naloxone kits in workplaces;
• and brought in foundational rights for gig workers like a minimum wage.

Our third bill is now making its way through the legislature and is filled with common sense, practical ways we can make life better, make sure there’s a path for people to get ahead, and give working families some breathing room. These changes are also important for employers, as we work to retain and attract workers, to fill labour shortages.

I know I covered a lot today, but you can’t truly work for workers unless you are also prepared to work hard. The measures I’ve outlined today are about putting a conservative, workers-first vision into practice. They’re the result of listening to workers and people from all walks of life. They build on our previous two bills and set the stage for more to come. They’re about focusing on real problems—problems ignored for too long—and creating solutions that make a real difference in people’s lives. They’re about leaving no one behind. If you can, and want, to work, we need you. There are endless opportunities. We need all hands on deck to meet these challenges, and working together we can build a stronger Ontario.

Thank you.

Pierre Desrochers: Market-driven innovation much greener than government ‘net-zero’ mandates

Commentary

The German government recently delayed a final vote by the European Union to ban the sale of new CO2-emitting cars in 2035. Turns out, despite their zeal to subsidize and mandate the “electrification of everything,” politicians in Europe and elsewhere are proving unable to defeat immutable natural laws.   

Among other problems, electric cars have for more than a century been more expensive, less safe and reliable, and more limited in range than vehicles powered by internal combustion or diesel engines. They take much longer to charge, perform poorly in extreme weather, have shorter lifespans, and limited cargo space. Their batteries make them typically twice as heavy, resulting in more severe tire use and potentially threatening the integrity of multi-storey parking lots. A considerably larger fleet of electric cars will further require a drastic ramping up of power generation, delivery, and charging infrastructures, along with new mining activities on a staggering scale

According to electric car supporters, this economic and environmental toll is justified if the electricity can be generated from solar panels and wind turbines. Unfortunately, the sun and the wind have always been unpredictable, intermittent, and variable. As Karl Marx acknowledged long ago, wind power had to give way to water and steam power because it was “too inconstant and uncontrollable.” The development of electricity did not solve these fatal flaws. At best they can be hidden through costly additional water, coal, and natural gas power generation.

Solar panels and wind turbines also require more than 10 times the quantity of materials (from lithium to rare earth minerals) compared to carbon fuel-based alternatives. They would never exist without massive amounts of carbon fuels in the form of machinery, steel and cement production, composite materials, transport, installation, and maintenance (including lubricants). They gobble up 90 to 100 times more land area than natural gas while often dramatically impacting local bird and bat populations. If pursued regardless of costs, the electrification of everything will result in more mining activities than in all previous human history

Not surprisingly, in light of these realities, consumers in jurisdictions from North America to Europe have seen their energy bills soar while enduring rolling blackouts and energy rationing. Even green energy pioneer Germany had to revert to coal burning.  

The pre-ordained failure of government-mandated energy transitions has led some commentators to advocate de-growth and reduced consumption as an alternative. Yet, carbon fuels have improved human life in countless ways, from income per capita to life expectancy. As economist William Stanley Jevons observed more than a century and a half ago, “[w]ith coal almost any feat is possible or easy; without it we are thrown back into the laborious poverty of early times,” adding that coal had saved much forestland by eliminating the demand for fuelwood. 

Carbon fuels would soon afterward deliver an astonishingly wider range of economic and environmental benefits. An American researcher wrote in 1925 that the “object of all fuel research is either to eliminate waste and increase efficiency in the mining, preparation, and utilization of fuels, or to convert the raw fuel by treatment or processing into a more convenient or effective form for use with, in many cases, the recovery of valuable by-products for other purposes.”

Twenty years later, agricultural economist Karl Brandt observed that trucks, tractors and combines had replaced “millions of horses” while “millions of feed acres [had been] released for food production,” some of which would later revert to forests. The displacement of urban workhorses by trucks and cars also proved beneficial as vermin and flies were endemic in urban stables and, along with excrement and carcasses, were a source of deadly diseases such as typhoid fever, yellow fever, cholera, and diphtheria. 

Market incentives are inherently compatible with beneficial energy and economic transitions. As engineer and historian of technology Henry Petroski put it, the “form of made things is always subject to change in response to their real or perceived shortcomings, their failures to function properly. This principle governs all invention, innovation, and ingenuity; it is what drives all inventors, innovators, and engineers.” Furthermore, “since nothing is perfect, and, indeed, since even our ideas of perfection are not static, everything is subject to change over time. There can be no such thing as a ‘perfected’ artifact; the future perfect can only be a tense, not a thing.”

Canadian engineer and communist activist Herbert Dyson Carter further observed in 1939 that commercially successful inventions must either save time, lower costs, last longer, do more, work better, or sell more easily. Most of these outcomes have environmental benefits. 

Spontaneous market processes have always mandated the creation of smaller or less important problems than those that existed before. Unlike the myopic transitions pursued by many politicians and activists, however, such market processes have always factored in a much broader range of trade-offs than those currently discussed. Policymakers should understand how our energy systems came to be before any attempt is made to profoundly reshape them.