Ontario is a great place in which to live and raise a family largely because of unions, according to Training, Colleges and Universities Minister Glen Murray.

He told an audience at Local 793’s banquet hall on Feb. 9 that unions deserve respect, not criticism from politicians.

“We’ve lost respect for labour and hard work in our society,” he said. “But we shouldn’t begrudge people who have pensions and security for their families.”

Murray was keynote speaker at a fund-raiser for Oakville MPP Kevin Flynn, who is his parliamentary assistant.

About 250 people attended the event, many from Local 793 and the construction industry.

In a speech, Murray, who is MPP for Toronto Centre, said unions are the reason today’s workers have decent wages and weekends – and Opposition parties don’t seem to respect that.

Other political parties, he said, want to freeze the wages of unionized workers, but they aren’t too concerned about their banker friends who are making big money.

Instead of a race to the bottom, he said, the Liberal government prefers that today’s workers and young people get proper wages.

“This government won’t tolerate paying young people low wages,” he told the audience.

Instead of attacking unionized workers, Murray said the focus should be on providing opportunities for a more skilled workforce.

That, he said, is one of the reasons the Liberals are behind the newly established College of Trades.

The College was set up to help modernize the province’s apprenticeship and skilled trades system.

Murray noted that in the last eight years the Liberals have opened the doors for more young people to have careers, and Ontario now has the most highly skilled workforce in the world.

On a political note, he said the province does not want to go back to the dark days of the Tories when hospitals were closed.

“We must never forget that the Conservatives gutted this province when they were in power.”

After Murray’s speech, Local 793 business manager Mike Gallagher thanked the audience, in particular the building trades and those from the construction industry who attended the event.

He said Local 793 and other building trade unions appreciate the investments that the Liberals have made in training and are pleased to work with the minister on the College of Trades.

Gallagher reminded the minister that unions south of the border are fighting right-to-work initiatives, something they shouldn’t have to do, and in Ontario unions want to make sure their contractors do not lose infrastructure contracts to large offshore companies.