Unifor members held rallies outside of a handful of Ontario Conservative candidates' offices on Wednesday night, in a bid to pressure them to reveal their position on the controversial Pacific Rim trade deal that Ottawa is negotiating.
Ahead of the rallies, Unifor president Jerry Dias said the country's largest private-sector union was "calling on Conservative candidates in auto ridings to tell their constituents where they stand on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the threat it poses to jobs in their ridings."
The Trans-Pacific Partnership has yet to be made final, but it could end up allowing foreign automakers to import vehicles tariff-free into Canada with substantially less North American-made content than is the case now.
In response, the union sent some of its members and their supporters to hold rallies outside selected Ontario candidates' campaign offices in the ridings in Oshawa, Ajax, Brampton, Kitchener, Woodstock, London, Goderich and Essex.
'Taking away' sovereignty?
In the largely rural riding of Essex, the rally was held on a property directly next to the office of Jeff Watson, a Conservative candidate and four-term incumbent who had worked as an autoworker before being elected to Parliament.
The crowd brought signs and union flags and many specific concerns about the proposed trade deal.
Jim Mitchell, a retired autoworker from the town of LaSalle, said he was alarmed by some of the details that had leaked out about the proposed trade deal.
He said that trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership are "taking away the government's sovereignty and turning it over to multi-national, trans-national corporations."
Chris Taylor, the president of Unifor Local 200, stood in the back of a pickup truck while he told the crowd that Conservative Leader Stephen Harper was "about to sell out our industries" with the trade deal.
'Let the negotiations take their course'
Watson, the Conservative candidate, did arrive to speak at the rally, which was held barely 30 paces from his campaign office.
The crowd started yelling as Watson began speaking. But he pressed on, saying that negotiations continue on the trade deal, though he is not privy to the details at this time.
"Our position is let the negotiations take their course and we'll see an agreement in principle," Watson said before leaving the rally.
In an email to CBC News, Watson rejected the premise of the gathering.
"This is no rally. It's a political event by a registered third party in a federal election with a so-called report on a "deal" that isn't in fact a deal," said Watson.
"The only thing Unifor manufactures is deceit. Workers deserve honesty. Unifor supports NDP policies on CPP and business tax hikes that will kill 10 times the jobs in the Unifor report. And they just don't care about those workers."
Ahead of the Wednesday night event in Essex, Tracey Ramsey, the local New Democrat candidate, said an NDP government would fight for the auto industry and other sectors that would be affected by the trade deal.
Audrey Festeryga, the Liberal candidate, pointed out that the auto industry is not the only part of the Canadian economy that would be affected by the trade deal.
"Agriculture is a $1-billion industry in Essex, and we don't want to see any impact on that," she said in a brief telephone interview on Wednesday afternoon.
During a leaders' debate held last week, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper said there are parts of the proposed trade deal that the domestic auto industry would not like.
In an interview Wednesday on CBC's Power & Politics with host Rosemary Barton, Trade Minister Ed Fast insisted Canada must ensure its interests are protected and that vital chances to expand into markets like Asia aren't lost by failing to be part of the proposed trade pact.
"We're working very hard to ensure that this deal is a good one for Canada," said Fast, who is a candidate in the Oct. 19 federal election. He also confirmed he would be going to Atlanta next week as Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations continue there.
Liberal candidate Scott Brison and NDP candidate Don Davies blasted the Harper government's handling of the trade negotiations, arguing the Conservatives haven't been clear with Canadians over what's on the table for the auto and agriculture sectors in the talks.