November 18, 2019

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Trades group says pro-PC ads violate law

Merit Contracting Association accused of exceeding spending limit

Manitoba Building Trades has filed a complaint to Elections Manitoba, alleging a contractors association responsible for advertisements that tout the pending construction tendering law violates election rules.

The controversial Public Sector Construction Projects (Tendering) Act would ban government sectors from issuing tenders for construction contracts that require bidders to employ unionized staff on-site.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Sudhir Sandhu, CEO of Manitoba Building Trades.</p>

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Sudhir Sandhu, CEO of Manitoba Building Trades.

The bill was delayed in the legislature by both opposition parties.

Manitoba Building Trades has criticized the bill as anti-union, and questioned why the province wants to ban optional contract requirements.

Meanwhile, the Merit Contractors Association of Manitoba is advocating for the bill’s implementation.

It launched a partisan ad campaign. It has published a series of ads that encourage voters to "support open tendering" by re-electing Progressive Conservative Premier Brian Pallister on Sept. 10.

"Construction contracts should be awarded on the basis of merit," the campaign’s website states. "All qualified employers and their employees should be allowed to compete for work on a project regardless of union affiliation."

Manitoba Building Trades alleges the cost of the multi-platform campaign — spread via a website, social media and radio waves — surpasses the threshold for organizations and businesses that put out partisan content.

“We find it interesting that a corporate entity is choosing to (flout) elections law. They have a right to engage in political discourse... but there are specific laws on how entities are to conduct themselves.” — Sudhir Sandhu

The Elections Financing Act requires third parties to register with the chief electoral officer immediately after spending $2,500 on election communications.

Merit Contractors, which represents open-shop contracting companies across the province, has not registered with Elections Manitoba as a third party.

The total it has spent on political ads is unclear, but it has spent at least $1,781 on Facebook ads about social issues, elections and politics since June, according to a Facebook page transparency summary.

In a letter filed to the commissioner of elections on Sept. 5, the complainant alleges that sum, in addition to the costs of producing a website and radio ads, including staffing, breaks financing act rules.

"We find it interesting that a corporate entity is choosing to (flout) elections law," said Sudhir Sandhu, chief executive officer of Manitoba Building Trades, which represents more than 8,000 construction and trades professionals in 13 member unions across the province.

"They have a right to engage in political discourse... but there are specific laws on how entities are to conduct themselves."

Yvette Milner, president of Merit Contractors, said in an emailed statement to the Free Press the company had yet to be informed of a complaint lodged against it.

"We do not believe we have broken any rules and cannot comment further until we hear from Elections Manitoba," Milner said Thursday.

As for the "aggressive campaign" itself, Sandhu said it is in favour of lower wages and job opportunities for Manitobans. Bill 4 would ban optional agreements that require contractors to pay their staff fairly and hire local community members for jobs, he said.

maggie.macintosh@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @macintoshmaggie

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh
Reporter

Maggie is a cub reporter who covers every beat in the newsroom. She appreciates alliteration, when newspaper ink stains her fingertips and, more importantly, tips on social and environmental equity issues.

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