Jerry Dias….My worst nightmare? Not even close


I read with fascination Erin O’Toole’s recent comments about me in the Hamilton media.

The Conservative Member of Parliament – and as of Monday the latest candidate to lead his party – says he intends to become my “worst nightmare” if he becomes Conservative leader.

Really? I don’t think so. He’s so irrelevant he wouldn’t even register in the top thousand.

O’Toole and I have history. I should state that up front. During the long negotiations to rewrite the North American Free Trade Agreement, O’Toole was a member of the cabal of Conservative MPs pushing the federal government to go along with whatever Trump wanted and sign a deal as fast as possible.

O’Toole himself called the inclusion of gender, Indigenous and environmental issues during the NAFTA talks nothing more than “virtue signalling” that were somehow separate from economic concerns.

What a dumb way to think about things. Lax laws on the environment, for instance, is one of the things that attracts corporations to such places as Mexico. No wonder I referred to him at the time as Erin O’Fool.

If Canadian negotiators had listened to the likes of O’Toole and his Conservative cronies, there would have been nothing in the deal addressing these issues in the finished USMCA: improved labour rights for Mexican workers, stronger made in North America rules for auto parts, elimination of special investor protections, tools to protect Canada against unfair trade penalties, and more.

I was proud to be part of the team advising Canada’s negotiators on USMCA. If any of us had listened to fools like O’Toole back then, we never would have made these advances.

The new NAFTA, which goes before the House of Commons this week, is still far from representing the bold rethink on trade policy the world needs. But in many key areas it’s better than the old NAFTA, and better by a long shot than anything O’Toole and the rest of the Conservative would’ve had us sign.

If it was up to O’Toole, his naïve approach to negotiations would have seen Canada abandon the need for major changes to Mexican labour laws, free collective bargaining, and trying to rebalance the scales of unfair competition – and willingly giving up market access on supply managed sectors, and caving on drug prices, just as Stephen Harper did in European and Pacific Rim trade deals.

Trade deals by the Conservative Party under Harper undercut Canada’s manufacturing sector, leading to thousands of jobs leaving the country. The deal with Korea, for instance, gave virtually unfettered access to Canada for Korean manufacturing, but offered little in return.

Of course, that doesn’t stop O’Toole from somehow trying to put the blame on me for GM stopping assembly in Oshawa, even though it was his party that undercut manufacturing here and it was his Conservative buddies in Ontario who were willing to throw in the towel with GM at the first bell.

Not Unifor, we took action right away and never let up. We pushed hard, talked to everybody we could and mobilized the community.

In the end, we preserved Oshawa GM as a footprint for the future – far more than any a Conservative ever did for that city, including O’Toole. Even the bailout years ago for the Detroit 3 automakers, made only after intense pressure to do so, could not make up for disastrous Conservative manufacturing policies – their true legacy.

O’Toole might think he can build a political career out of attacking people like me, but he’s wrong.

The fact is, Canadians simply don’t want anti-labour, anti-women, anti-gay, anti- immigrant governments. Andrew Scheer proved that. He proved that the religious right simply does not translate into political success in Canada.

O’Toole should understand that. After all, he was there to witness first hand as the last Conservative election campaign collapsed in the wake of his leader’s homophobic and anti-woman views.

Instead, O’Toole has added the founder of Doug Ford-backing Ontario Proud to his campaign’s team and promised to run to the right of other leadership contenders. Only a fool would think that would help. He makes dog whistle references to his Christianity, a wink to social conservatives to support him as he runs for the leadership of his party. In launching his leadership bid, O’Toole even expressed nostalgia for the Harper years, of all things.

O’Toole might fancy himself as my worst nightmare, but I can assure you I won’t be losing any sleep over it.