Rob Breakenridge: Union's 'spiteful and vindictive' campaign to punish businesses seen to support Conservatives

The union purports to stand up for the little guy, but who do they think will be the ones to suffer if these businesses have to close or start laying people off?

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Absent any sort of monopoly, consumers are free to make choices based on whatever criteria they deem relevant when it comes to making purchases. If that means politics factors in, then so be it.

If businesses or business owners choose to be overtly political, then perhaps it’s to be expected that potential customers will also react politically — either favourably or negatively. However, it’s probably not a sign of a healthy political discourse when we see this impulse being weaponized on a large scale.

The Alberta Federation of Labour launched a website last week called BoycottUCPDonors.ca, which lists the names and addresses of businesses they deem to be pro-UCP. As the title implies, these businesses are to be shunned for the sin of supporting the election of the United Conservative Party.

To be clear, these businesses did not donate directly to the UCP but rather to political action groups that supported the UCP or at least supported the defeat of the NDP. Perhaps that’s splitting hairs, but it would be unfair to accuse those who donated to the AFL (which itself was a registered political action group) as “NDP donors.”

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To take the point a step further, it would be irrational for someone with lingering bitterness over certain NDP policies to boycott Sobey’s or the Real Canadian Superstore simply because UFCW Local 401, which represents employees at those stores, donated money to the AFL. One might call that spite.

Ultimately, that’s what this is: a spiteful and vindictive campaign to lash out against and to punish those who took the “wrong” side in the last election. Again, it’s nothing they’re currently involved in, for the most part, but rather the position they took a year and a half ago.

The AFL obviously doesn’t see it that way. As their president Gil McGowan put it, “by bankrolling the UCP’s destruction agenda, these businesses have made it clear that they don’t support ordinary Albertans, so why should ordinary Albertans support them?”

This is a hyper-partisan strawman argument. Feeling that a change in government was necessary or hoping for a more business-friendly environment does not constitute a blanket endorsement of everything a certain party will or might do. So a Calgary-based lighting company gives $500 to a group called Shaping Alberta’s Future and we are to conclude that the owners of this small business are 100 per cent supportive of 100 per cent of the government’s agenda?

When partisans believe the worst about their opponents, this is where we end up: political warfare that ultimately hurts working Albertans. The AFL purports to stand up for the little guy, but who do they think will be the ones to suffer if these businesses have to close or start laying people off? It’s not as though this has been a banner year for Alberta-based businesses to begin with.

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This is also rather counterproductive since any prospect of an NDP return to power will depend on winning over some UCP voters. It’s possible that people who supported the UCP in 2019 might not forever and always support the UCP. But it’s hard to win allies among those you’ve declared as your eternal enemies.

It’s certainly true that individuals and groups on the right have had their own boycott campaigns, including those targeting Lush cosmetics, A&W, Earl’s restaurants and Porter Airlines. But nothing on this scale comes to mind.

It’s hard to see what any of those boycotts have accomplished beyond a lot of angry grandstanding. The AFL is no stranger to angry grandstanding, mind you, but it’s not something that Alberta politics needs more of.

I don’t doubt that some progressive partisans will gleefully join in this boycott campaign just as I’m sure that some conservative partisans will, in turn, go out of their way to support many of these businesses. Maybe someone on the right will even start compiling their own blacklist of perceived left-wing businesses. None of it, though, will leave Alberta any better off.

“Afternoons with Rob Breakenridge” airs weekdays 12:30-3:30pm on 770 CHQRrob.breakenridge@corusent.com? Twitter: @RobBreakenridge

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