April 2013 Archives

Robyn Benson, PSAC

A Senate reformed?

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The Supreme Court of Canada will shortly tell us what constitutional hurdles must be jumped if we are to reform the Senate—or abolish it outright.

Let’s assume that abolishing the Senate will prove to be too steep a constitutional hill to climb. It may well require the unanimous consent of the provinces, an unlikely prospect. Besides, there are good arguments for retaining an Upper House. Just not this Upper House.

Imagine, for example, a runaway majority government bulldozing badly-thought-out legislation through the House of Commons with a mandate from only a minority of voters. Oh, wait—we have one of those already. OK, next step: the legislation goes to another body, a Senate, for consideration, reflection, informed discussion: the famous “sober second thought.”

We wouldn’t want a Senate with anything like the power of our elected representatives in the House of Commons. Its current powers—to consider draft legislation, to send it back to the House for further consideration if found to be deeply flawed, to initiate legislation on rare occasions—are quite enough. What is needed is considered, thoughtful, constructive opinion.

Worst-case scenario: the Senate is hand-picked by the Prime Minister. He proceeds to stuff it with unthinking yes-people: right-wing media hacks, Conservative bagpersons, boorish sexists, greedy privilege-seekers. The main thing—in fact the only thing—is that they will vote as they’re told.

That’s what we have right now. But in fairness, Harper has only been following a long tradition of administering what one wag has called the “taskless thanks.” No wonder there have been so many calls for just getting rid of the whole kit and caboodle.

Yet even under the current system, we can get a glimpse or two of what might be possible. Not all of the Senators turn out to be trained seals when appointed. A striking example is Conservative Senator Hugh Segal, who has spoken out forcefully and passionately against Bill C-377, a discriminatory, anti-union piece of legislation that would swamp unions (but not corporations and other organizations) with paperwork, and violate the privacy of nearly everyone doing business with them. In this he has been joined by Liberal Senator James Cowan, whose measured objections impressed Senators on both sides of the Upper House.

Harper, of course, is having none of this sober second thinking, and is reportedly going to force the Senate to meet through the summer to pass the Bill. But that only underlines the fact that a Senate may be potentially more than an expensive relic. Imagine an Upper House where principled people like Hugh Segal and James Cowan were the rule, not the exception.

Suppose that the Senate were chosen in a different way. What if Senators were elected instead of appointed by one person? One objection comes quickly to mind: we run the risk of simply repeating the hyper-partisanship that presently defines our House of Commons. Do we want another partisan chamber? Is it value-added, or a pointless duplication? Sober second thoughts, or knee-jerk political reflexes?

So, then, what about an improved appointment system? Perhaps an all-party committee of the House of Commons could choose Senators, based upon non-political criteria: certain proven abilities and skills in analyzing legislation, for example, or experience in the area of social policy.

That, too, prompts objections. There seems to be a certain elitism built into this idea. We don’t set credentials for serving on a jury, for example, but we entrust much of the justice system to ordinary citizens. Why not have a Senate composed in the same way, drawn from a pool of citizens, with relatively short terms in office? For those who are hesitating, how could this be worse than what we have now?

I raise these possibilities only as suggestions for discussion. If we are stuck with a Senate, what is the best Senate we can hope for? On the eve of the Supreme Court decision, perhaps the time is ripe for a national conversation to take place. These are my preliminary thoughts on the debate we need to have. What are yours?

Bob Jackson

On April 28th, Mourn for the Dead and Fight for the Living

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DoM2013BCFED.jpgThis coming Sunday, April 28th, is the National Day of Mourning. I'm proud to say that the Canadian Labour Congress and affiliated Unions established the annual day of remembrance right here in Canada in 1985. It has since spread to over 80 countries, where it's usually called Workers' Memorial Day.

Along with many others, I'll be at the Fishermen's Memorial in Steveston BC. We'll be remembering and honouring those who lost their lives or were injured because of their work and we'll be renewing our commitment to prevent further deaths, injuries and diseases by improving health and safety in the workplace.

It's no secret that workplace health and safety is very important to me. It's the reason I first became involved in our union.

When I first started my working life as meat inspector in 1979, meat packing plants and slaughterhouses were very dangerous places, full of fast-moving equipment, sharp blades, and sometimes extreme environmental conditions.

Unions, working with employers, have come along way to making these workplaces safer over the past 30 years, but there's much more work to be done - particularly as we discover the toll these types of jobs take on workers mental health and as the Conservative government moves closer and closer to total industry self-regulation (something that puts all Canadians at risk).

The statistics show that in all our workplaces - large or small, government or private sector - there's still a lot of work to do.

According to Worksafe BC, 181 workers died on the job or due to occupational disease in 2012 in BC. In Canada, approximately 1,000 workers die each year for the same reasons.

According to the International Labour Organization, more people die because of work than fighting in wars. Every 15 seconds one worker dies, 150 work-related injuries are reported, and 76 non-fatal occupational diseases are reported.*

Every fifteen seconds a worker dies. Let's think about that: in the time it took for you to read this article five people died because of their job.

On Sunday April 28th, I encourage you to take a moment to remember those who have been killed or injured on the job, or better yet attend a Day of Mourning event in your community.

And on Monday, when you go back to work, take a look around: identify any hazards - physical or mental - that exist in your workplace, think about how to fix them, and then talk your manager or your workplace Health and Safety Representative.

It's the employer's duty to ensure we all have a healthy and safe workplace, but it's our responsibility and our duty to hold them to it. We owe it to those workers I'll be thinking about on Sunday, and to their families.

* some more stats at the BC Federation of Labour website.

Robyn Benson, PSAC

Canadian demockracy

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As a concerned member of the public, you might have views on pipelines and the environment, and want to make them known. Put a sock in it, says the Harper government.

Want even to write a letter to the National Energy Board when it holds its hearings? Please fill out this ten-page form. No, this isn’t satire, long dead and buried.

And if the NEB, in its infinite wisdom, deigns to allow you to send it some mail, what difference does it make? Under Omnibus Bill C-38, passed last year, the Harper government gets to overrule any NEB recommendation it doesn’t like, whether negative or positive, in the “national interest.”

It’s been pretty clear what it means by that. Support environmental protection instead of pipelines? According to Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, you’re a dangerous “radical.”

The cards are stacked; the fix is in. Your participation in the process is irrelevant. Welcome to Harper’s Canada, 2013.

Meanwhile, the toxic oilspills continue. Here’s more than you want to know about them.

Have an opinion? I’m sure you do. But the Harper government wants you to keep it to yourself.

Larry Rousseau

Collective bargaining is political: A reply to Terrance Oakey

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Terrance Oakey recently took objection to the Public Service Alliance of Canada's YouTube video on cuts to the environment implemented by Stephen Harper's Conservative Government. Apart from not liking the video's message and concept, which, given his credentials as head of an anti-union "right to work" lobby group, doesn't come as a surprise, Oakey is particularly bothered by the fact that the PSAC--a union--produced the video.

He claims that because "the union leadership" can spend members' dues "on a range of political and social causes that have nothing to do with collective bargaining," politicians should "support worker choice legislation that would allow unionized workers to opt out of financing political or social causes unrelated to collective bargaining but funded out of forced union dues."

Oakey's arguments are bizarre. It is difficult to understand how the PSAC's engagement on the question of federal cuts to environmental protection is somehow disconnected from collective bargaining. Does Oakey really believe that the PSAC should not defend its members' interests? And more broadly, does Oakey really believe that the PSAC should not alert its members' as well as the public's attention to the impact of these cuts? That over 99% of Canada's lakes and rivers are no longer subject to federal oversight, and that some 3,000 environmental assessments were abruptly cancelled last year by the Conservatives?

PSAC members working for Environment Canada, for example, inspect lakes and rivers and watersheds and habitats, among a multitude of other tasks--diligently and in the public interest. These employees are being cut in the corporate interest of lowering company operating costs, in order to increase already impressive profits that in turn are being taxed at a ridiculously low rate. That's the real, corporate conservative, agenda here, and one that undoubtedly has Oakey's full support.

Moreover, Oakey would have us believe that unions exist in some sort of vacuum, in which negotiating contracts is an apolitical process. This is sheer nonsense--even the Supreme Court of Canada understood over 20 years ago that one cannot separate collective bargaining from politics. In the key Lavigne vs. OPSEU decision of 1991, Justice Gérard La Forest explained that the unionization model in Canada ensures that unions have "both the resources and the mandate necessary to enable them to play a role in shaping the political, economic and social context within which particular collective agreements and labour relations disputes will be negotiated and resolved." (my emphasis)

Firstly, the "resources" Justice La Forest refers to are union dues. Those who choose to become employed in unionized workplaces--that is, workplaces whose workers democratically voted to form a union--must contribute through dues towards the benefits (i.e., better salaries and working conditions) of belonging to that union. Oakey, however, claims that these dues are "forced", conveniently ignoring the fact that dues levels are set and democratically voted on by members. A decent analogy here would be that just because I don't personally agree with Stephen Harper's government policies and decisions, it does not mean I can mount an argument that my taxes are "forced" upon me--and that I should be able to "opt out" of paying taxes. We all pay taxes, whether we like it or not, because we agree as citizens, as members of a democratic society, that mandatory taxation is for the common good. To suggest a "right" to opt out would be a dangerous precept, because anarchy would not be far behind. Yet this is the logic of Mr. Oakey's proposal.

Secondly, the "mandate" Justice La Forest refers to comes from membership engagement via democratic structures. While Oakey implies that the union leadership is somehow unaccountable, able to do whatever it wants, the reality is that union leaders at all levels--from shop stewards to presidents--are elected to their roles for fixed terms by either workplace colleagues or the broader membership. Moreover, through committees, councils and conventions, union members regularly vote on the direction of the union by adopting policies, allocating budgets, and setting strategy.

As a federal public service union, the PSAC's members have first-hand knowledge of the cuts to various public services, be it food inspectionaviation safety or social security programs like Old Age Security. Given this, it is nothing less than our obligation, as fully participating members of civil society, to continue alerting Canadians to these cuts and their impacts, all too often hidden from view through omnibus budget bills and government "feel good" misinformation.

Robyn Benson, PSAC

Guns and the government

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Canada does not have a “gun culture.” The US is another matter entirely. The “right to bear arms,” even in the wake of Sandy Hook, is solidly entrenched. Anyone can buy a gun on the Internet, or at a gun fair. The US Senate recently voted down a measure that would merely have called for background checks for these purchasers. No wonder the homicide statistics south of the border are so appalling.

That Senate vote, which received articulate rebukes from President Barack Obama and from Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (herself a victim of gun violence), reminds me that we have no reason to be complacent here in Canada. 1,385 people die of gunshot wounds every year in this country. 183 of those deaths are homicides.

Most people recognize that law-abiding Canadians own firearms for lawful purposes. In the countryside, a long gun is a tool, not a weapon. But gun crime, particularly involving the use of handguns (which account for two-thirds of gun homicides), remains a serious problem—32% of all homicides are due to firearms.

The now-abolished gun registry, which had been established by a previous Liberal government, was always controversial. It was an attempt to take the problem of gun homicide seriously, but it was deeply resented in rural Canada, and, as set up, was arguably an expensive and ineffective approach to the problem. Liberal leadership candidate Marc Garneau, for one, preferred harsher penalties for gun crime (although for some reason he emphasized long guns), no access to firearms for those with a history of spousal abuse or gang involvement, and better interdiction at the Canadian border.

That last point is important. Given the strict controls on the possession and use of handguns in Canada, it is safe to say that most handguns used in crimes are illegal ones, smuggled into the country. The Harper government talks tough on this, but turns out to have been ineffectual in stemming the tide.

Shamefully, we have done no better on the world stage. At a UN-sponsored meeting last year on the illegal arms trade, Harper government representatives offered nothing constructive to the discussions. Instead, they spoke only of gun-owners’ rights.

Curbing the illegal flow of firearms across borders isn’t an attack on responsible, lawful gun ownership. But our government doesn’t seem to see things that way. The approach we took at the UN would have received an approving nod from American gun cultists. “Tough on crime,” Mr. Harper? Making it harder to commit in the first place might be a good place to start.

Jeannie Baldwin

Just them (Updated)

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There are times when a small strike looms larger than a big one. Without the distraction of side-issues, the core issues of principle take centre stage.

With a massive strike, the media can be counted upon to go on a tear about public inconvenience, for example. The major inconveniences that forced the workers out on strike fade into obscurity. As well, it’s all “union” versus “employer,” portrayed as two mighty forces locked in perpetual struggle.

With a strike involving only a handful of people, we get a clear glimpse of why unions came into being in the first place. That’s the case with the couple of dozen Porter Airlines fuel handlers, presently fighting for their health and safety and a few cents more per hour. They’ve been continually harassed by police and private security since they walked out at the beginning of this year. Their demands are modest.

Despite the barrage of anti-union propaganda that we all grow up with, people have a sense of fairness, and they got upset when Justin Trudeau flew on the struck airline. Enough noise was made on that occasion that Trudeau met with their representatives later on and pledged his support for the Porter boycott.

That’s the way things work without distractions, and it’s happening again at a Halifax coffee joint called the Just Us! Café on Spring Garden Road.

This is a co-op, trumpeting its support for fair trade coffee and social justice. But it’s not a co-op in the pure sense. There are two tiers of workers: 15 “worker members” and more than 50 other employees, who must put in two years and some cash to achieve “worker member” status, which means actually joining the co-op and making decisions.

Needless to say, difficulties will crop up in these circumstances. Whether it’s tips, breaks or other daily matters, there will inevitably be disagreements between what is in fact a small management group and those who are being managed. So a couple of employees thought it might be a good idea to form a union, and they started talking up the idea among their co-workers.

Elijah Williams and Shay Enxuga were those employees—and now they’re ex-employees. They were let go for not being a “good fit.” There is now a complaint before the Labour Board of Nova Scotia, lots of critical commentary on the coffee house Facebook site and there was a labour support rally outside the premises on April 6.

If you can take the time, this interview with the General Manager of the co-op is worth listening to. All the paternalistic clichés are there—why do we need a union? We’re transparent. We’re democratic. We’re trying to be even more democratic. Etc.

But no problem with unions in principle, the GM says. Yet lo and behold, a memo has just been posted at Just Us! that appears to declare war:

Neither unions or union organizers or union sympathizers are permitted to disrupt the business of the employer (Just Us!). Workers adopting positions adverse to the employer will be disciplined. Employees should not be wearing union T-shirts at the place of employment nor should they be talking to customers about their respective positions with regard to the two employees that are part of the Labour Relations Board complaint…. Workers most definitely should not be causing stress in the workplace by announcing their positions and opinions to other workers or to customers. The employer (Just Us!) has every right to require the disruptive workers to cease-and-desist their disruptive activity….

And two employee activists are already gone—which indicates, all by itself, why a union is needed at the Just Us! Café. I’ve already written a letter to the general manager, pointing out that the Atlantic Region of PSAC, representing 20,000 workers, has been purchasing Just Us! coffee for our four regional offices, and we’ve been promoting their fair trade coffee to the membership.

We aren’t going to do that any more—not until the rights of Just Us! employees to form a union are recognized.

Send a letter of your own (deb@justuscoffee.com) to Debra Moore, General Manager, Just Us! Café, to stand up for those rights. By doing so you won’t just be supporting Just Us! employees: you’ll be encouraging countless other workers in low-paid service operations to stand up for theirs.

UPDATE: (May 7) It just keeps getting worse for Just Us! Cafe as these things inevitably do for employers who are both anti-worker and anti-union to the core. We now learn, through a May 6, 2013 complaint, that Just Us! has been violating basic labour standards. More employees are being heard from, and the end of this sorry little saga is not in doubt. When will the “progressive” managers of Just Us! Cafe wake up and, er, smell the coffee?

[Photo credit: Sabrina Fabian/CBC]

Robyn Benson, PSAC

April is the cruelest month

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Tax time.

We’re grumbling, or we’ve already grumbled and filed, but few of us, I suspect, smile at the prospect of paying taxes.

I know who’s smiling, though—some of the folks who don’t. Not the increasing numbers of people who make too little to pay any, but the folks with their offshore tax havens, tax shelters and armies of accounting wizards.

But to be fair they aren’t the only ones. I pay my taxes, and I smile too, if sometimes through tears. Taxes don’t go into a hole. Federal taxes, for example, are in effect deposited into a national chequing account, which the government draws from to pay for national necessities: infrastructure (like roads and bridges), food inspection, border security, search and rescue, national defence…

The list is lengthy, and like most Canadians I don’t like everything that’s presently on it. The Harper government’s priorities are not mine. I would rather fork over a few dollars to preserve the internationally-recognized Experimental Lakes Project than host a couple of panda bears. Like many, the super-expensive F-35 purchase strikes me as a major boondoggle. I would prefer government ministers to find their own way to and from their fishing lodges rather than using publicly owned and operated helicopters. I’d put more into First Nations infrastructure, instead of funding expensive legal battles to deny their children equal treatment.

Every Canadian, of course, has his or her preferences. The expenditure of taxes, however, reflects government priorities, which may or may not be yours or mine.

The collection of taxes, too, reflects the government agenda. Low corporate taxes, for example, mean that personal income tax must pick up a good deal of the slack. Those tax breaks for the wealthy cost us, too, as well as the offshoring of their wealth to avoid taxes. (The Harper government’s response? To lay off thousands of workers at the Canada Revenue Agency, which is responsible for tax enforcement.)

Finally, the way we talk about taxes is at least partly conditioned by the government of the day. The Harper government promotes the idea that taxes are a regrettable thing. It has cut taxes all over the place, choking the public services that Canadians rely on. Just ask any unemployed person waiting for an EI claim to be processed. Or watch the holes grow in our border security.

Taxes? Good in principle. They help to keep our country strong, prosperous and safe. The devil is in the details, which I hope we can fix in the next election. Let’s not confuse one with the other in the meantime. Get your returns in—and keep smiling.

[Illustration credit]

Bob Jackson

Cutbacks kill

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KIts closure protest.JPGA sailor on a cargo ship in English Bay may be the first casualty of the Harper government's ill-advised decision to shut down the Kitsilano Coast Guard station this past February.

The sailor suffered a heart attack aboard ship. In the absence of the Kits station, which could have reached him in 10 minutes, first responders took 25 minutes to get there and start CPR, and paramedics arrived 20 minutes after. It was too late.

Bronwyn Barter, president CUPE Local 873 who represents workers at the Ambulance Service of BC, said paramedics relied heavily on the Kits Coast Guard.

"(The closure) is very unfortunate. Generally, minutes and seconds can make the difference between life and death." she told the Vancouver Sun. "Kits Coast Guard was a huge resource for us. They were more set up for paramedic transport than the VPD boat."

The base served a heavy-trafficked area--Canada's busiest harbour, in fact. In 2011, the Coast Guard at Kits answered 271 calls, 36 of which were marine distress calls and 40, humanitarian distress.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, Adrian Dix, leader of the BC NDP, Jim Sinclair of the BC Federation of Labour, and many others have called for reconsideration of the closure. Vancouver's police and fire chiefs both wrote to the PM calling for the Coast Guard to "keep it open". But the Conservatives didn't listen. Harper said at the time that the closure was to enhance public safety. He might want to reconsider that now.

My thoughts are with the family of the sailor who died, and I can't help but wonder if things had been different if the station were still open.

[photo source]

Robyn Benson, PSAC

Cheap labour games [updated]

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The latest Royal Bank of Canada scandal is chock full o’ lessons for us all. Corporations don’t just make and sell ever-cheaper products in their endless pursuit of profit. They cheapen and devalue people as well.

This isn’t about foreigners, them versus us. Working people are all on the same side, or should be. The trouble begins when we let that other “them”—corporate power and its political cover—divide us.

So let’s avoid that trap. The workers who are brought into Canada under the Temporary Foreign Workers Program, to work at 15% below average wage thanks to the Harper government, are not our enemy. They are being bought and sold on the market, a gift of cheap labour to Canadian business.

“Flexibility” is the watchword—a reserve army of temporary, low-paid workers replacing those with permanent, stable jobs. Why should we be surprised? An entire parallel public service has been built by the Harper administration on precisely that principle.

“They look like government employees, but they’re not,” [economist David Macdonald] said. They are exempt from the government’s normal hiring requirements such as bilingualism and proven ability to do the job. And they aren’t on the government payroll; their remuneration comes from a private outsourcing firm (which usually means they have no job security or benefits).

Sound familiar? Whether temporary foreign workers or temporary Canadian workers, they’re all being treated as a cheap, exploitable resource.

A Chinese-owned mine in BC plans to import its “temporary” labour force from China, claiming that there are no Canadian workers qualified to do the “specialized” work involved.

As for the RBC, “the key message to everyone was that offshoring was not about job cuts. It was about augmenting our workforce in a flexible way,” says Marjorie Mong, vice president, head of Application Services at RBC. A more classic example of Orwellian doublespeak would be hard to find.

45 workers must now train their cheaper replacements. Once again, it’s under the Temporary Foreign Workers Program. Now the RBC ploy has been exposed to the full light of day, of course, and outrage is building, the government is making harrumphing noises. But don’t expect too much to change—given that Ottawa approved this shoddy deal in the first place.

Meanwhile the RBC hasn’t learned how to stop digging when they’re in a hole.

The bank released a statement on Sunday claiming that they weren’t replacing Canadians with temporary foreign workers. They were just relieving Canadians of their positions of employment and hiring a company, iGATE Corp., to do jobs instead. Is it their fault if iGATE hires temporary foreign workers to fill the positions?

Hey, I didn’t kill anyone! I just hired the hitman.

When it comes to shady corporate doings, the RBC has a bit of a past. But they’re doing just fine. The bank posted a record profit of $7.5 billion last year, up 17% from 2011. The shareholders got a 22% return on investment. And RBC head Gordon Nixon made $12.6 million last year, 25% more than the year before—40 times the salary of the Prime Minister, 33 times that of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada—and 274 times the average Canadian wage.

In a bit of unacceptable irony, the man who is ultimately responsible for a scheme to deprive Canadians of their jobs is currently Chair of the Ontario government’s Jobs and Prosperity Council.

His prosperity, certainly, but it’s austerity for ordinary working Canadians—and for the cannon fodder imported into Canada to work for less.

[Illustration credit]

UPDATE: While Gord Nixon apologizes, the Temporary Foreign Workers program is now revealed to be massive in scope—338,189 workers at last count, having tripled over the last ten years.

One example of how the TFW program is running: out-of-work Canadian pilots are being passed over for cheaper imported ones. But, as was likely the case with RBC, adverse publicity is forcing at least one airlines operator, Stephen Rowe of CanJet, to re-think his hiring policies and ensure Canadian pilots are eligible in the future. “It’s becoming a sensitive issue,” he says. You think?

And remember that “shadow public service” I mentioned? While Harper is now promising to reform the TFW, it turns out that federal departments and Crown corporations are making good use of it. Health Canada, Canadian Forces/Department of National Defence, Canada Post, the CBC, Canada Lands, the Bank of Canada, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and the Canadian Museum of Civilization are all employing temporary foreign workers—closing the cheap labour circle.

Robyn Benson, PSAC


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The Harper Says website—produced by the PSAC Quebec and National Capital Regions—went live yesterday. The purpose was simple enough: allow anyone with access to the Net to attach a caption to a photo of our Prime Minister.

I expected to see some truly funny political satire in the spirit of editorial cartooning. Indeed, from what I have seen, there was much of that. But there was also captioning that was unfunny, offensive, racist and hateful.

The PSAC apologized immediately, and rightly so, on our official Website, our Twitter feed and our Facebook page. I will go one better and apologize personally to the Prime Minister. I am sure he has a thick skin, but some of what appeared on the site went well beyond the bounds of decent discourse.

In an age of instant communication, due diligence is essential. We did not provide it. We allowed outside content to be posted without moderation.

The buck stops with leaders. I accept responsibility for this serious gaffe.

On behalf of NCR REVP Larry Rousseau, Quebec REVP Magali Picard and myself, I apologize to all PSAC members, and to anyone who visited the website and viewed unacceptable and inappropriate content. This will not happen again.

Robyn Benson, PSAC

Nos excuses

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Hier, l’AFPC-Québec et l’AFPC-RCN ont mis en ligne le site Harper-dit.ca, sur lequel Monsieur ou Madame Toutlemonde pouvait ajouter un commentaire de son cru à une photo du premier ministre.

Je m’attendais à de la satire politique pleine d’humour, dans la veine des caricatures éditoriales. Et il y en avait. Mais il y avait aussi des commentaires peu humoristiques, offensants, racistes et haineux.

Il va sans dire que l’AFPC s’est excusée immédiatement sur son site Web officiel, son fil Twitter et sa page Facebook. Je présenterai aussi des excuses personnelles au premier ministre. Je sais qu’il a la couenne dure, mais certains des commentaires étaient vraiment déplacés.

En cette ère des communications instantanées, la prudence est de mise. En permettant que des commentaires provenant de sources externes soient affichés sans vérification, nous avons échoué à cet égard.

Au bout du compte, ce sont les leaders qui sont responsables. J’assume donc l’entière responsabilité pour cette énorme gaffe.

Au nom de Larry Rousseau, VPER de la RC, de Magali Picard, VPER du Québec, et de moi-même, je tiens à m’excuser auprès des membres de l’AFPC et de quiconque a vu sur ce site Web du contenu inacceptable et inapproprié. Cela ne se reproduira plus.

Larry Rousseau

Le Conte de deux chefs

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En fin de semaine on peut s’attendre à du nouveau ou même du renouveau politique. Je me rendrai à Montréal ma ville préférée, ma bien-aimée, afin de participer au Congrès du NPD. Un congrès politique et non de leadership, car Tom Mulcair y sera pour la première fois à titre de Chef du Parti nouveau démocratique.

Cependant, à Ottawa, la ville Reine, nous aurons droit à un spectacle qui n’en est pas un. Un résultat d’élection auquel tout le monde, absolument tout le monde, s’attend. À toutes fins utiles, l’élection ou le “couronnement” du dauphin, Justin Trudeau, fils de Pierre Elliott Trudeau, aura l’effet non d’une bombe, ni d’une surprise inattendue, mais d’un train qui arrive plus ou moins à l’heure prévue, même avec un peu de retard.

Si je devais rester chez moi à tout écouter à la télé, suivre le résultat final d’un processus qui a pris des mois au lieu de quelques jours, serait mauditement platte. Rien d’étonnant, aucune bavure, rien à craindre ni à redouter. Ce serait semblable à écouter un bon vieux film “platte” qu’on choisit car il n’y a rien d’autre à faire. Au moins il y a un bon morceau de tarte aux pommes au frigo…tant qu’à nous faire chanter la pomme…

Le Congrès politique du NPD, au moins, se passe à Montréal, pis même si on doit y discuter de politiques et résolutions, on ne sait jamais à quoi s’attendre dans la métropole, en termes de politique…on risque d’avoir des surprises…

Par exemple, le nouveau Chef, Tom Mulcair, pourrait avoir un peu de fil à retordre avec les plus extrémistes du parti, qui voudront tirer la couverte plus à gauche. Le Nouveau parti démocratique est un parti qui a une longue tradition de débats démocratiques, qui règle ses affaires sur le plancher, et non dans une salle obscure à l’arrière plan. Sans parler qu’il y a toute une “gang” de députés du Québec, du jamais vu, qui se sont fait élire par la seule chance d’avoir eu leur nom sur un bulletin de vote, un vote qui n’était pas supposé de faire grande vague, mais, voilà, sont là! Seront-ils aussi disciplinés, pourront ils se tenir alignés, contrôlés? On peut dire qu’on ne sait pas vraiment à quoi on peut s’attendre…

Cependant, dans la Ville Reine, les médias propriétés des grandes compagnies feront leur travail de pousser le meilleur espoir du secteur corporatif devant la possibilité que les plus grand défendeurs de l’intérêt corporatif, les Conservateurs, n’auront pas grand chance à former le prochain gouvernment “si la tendance se maintien”. Après tout, le Parti Libéral serait de loin préférable à ces socialistes qui dépenseront follement l’argent des riches…raison de plus de présenter leur dauphin sur un plateau d’argent.

Partout au Canada, plusieurs seront au rendez-vous à la télé pour surveiller ce qui se passe dans les deux villes rivales. Je crois que des millions de personnes écouteront de près. De Montréal, il y aura des idées et de la stratégie. D’Ottawa, beaucoup de déjà vu, beaucoup de “dauphinisme” et de fanfare feignante. La vieille politique Libérale aura un nouveau visage avec beaucoup de cheveux, et pas grand chose de plus. On devrait se rendre compte assez rapidement que de la Ville Reine il n’y aura pas de nouveau pour convaincre la population que le véritable changement s’annonce. Rien ne viendra saisir l’imagination pour susciter un espoir que finalement, la vieille politique des vieux partis conservateur ou libéral ait la chance même de se renouveler. Est-ce que les Libéraux dénonceront les pratiques des grandes compagnies qui embauchent des travailleurs temporaires qui envahissent nos marchés du travail? Est-ce que ces mêmes Libéraux annuleront les lois qui créent deux classes d’immigrants au Canada, au reflet de ce qui se passe aux États-Unis?

Je crois que les Libéraux en fin de semaine ne dénonceront pas les grandes compagnies et leurs agissements malhonnêtes sur le marché du travail. Ils ne dénonceront pas les politiques qui permettent à l’intérêt corporatif de prendre le dessus sur l’intérêt publique. Oui, les Libéraux dénonceront les Conservateurs, mais on peut s’attendre que les grandes compagnies seront plutôt épargnées de leurs attaques. Les grands médias chanteront les éloges du dauphin Trudeau afin de le pousser à prendre le dessus dans les sondages. Tout en espérant que Trudeau et ses Libéraux se placeront comme alternatif valable aux Conservateurs, question de se retrouver dans la vieille rengaine de “Libéral-Conservateur, même saveur!” Le tout afin d’assurer que l’intérêt corporatif, quoiqu’un peu au ralenti sous les Libéraux, comme d’habitude, continue sa marche inexorable de prendre le dessus sur l’intérêt publique.

À Montréal, cependant, un congrès supposément “platte” pourrait facilement nous étonner avec des sobresauts démocratiques et politiques, sous la forme de résolutions provoquant débats, arguments, accusations, contre-accusations, et tout ce qu’un débat véritablement libre et démocratique puisse amener. Des délégués qui parlent librement et ouvertement, et bien décidément on pourrait avoir de quoi intéressant à suivre, à écouter. Des gens ordinaires, prenant des moyens ordinaires, en train de proposer des solutions pour régler des problèmes pour le moins extraordinaires. Des problèmes qui ont été créés en bonne partie par le vieux jeu politique “Libéral-Conservateur, même saveur”. Des solutions proposées au sein de débats qui exprimeront tout haut ce que de plus en plus de Canadiens et Canadiennes pensent tout bas.

Ouais, je suis très content, et très fier que je serai à Montréal en fin de semaine, plutôt que dans la Ville Reine!

Larry Rousseau

A tale of two leaders

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This coming weekend will be a political milestone in several ways. I will be heading to Montréal to participate in the NDP Policy Convention, where the political pundits of Canada will observe Tom Mulcair leading the “dippers” on the road to what many expect will be the formation of the next government of Canada.

Meanwhile, in Ottawa, the same pundits will be observing what everyone, just about everyone will be expecting, specifically, the (anti-climax) “coronation” of Justin Trudeau, son of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, as leader of the “new” Liberal Party of Canada.

If I had to choose which one I would spend time watching on the tube, if I were at home surfing the channels, watching the Liberals announce the outcome of a process that has taken months, instead of a couple of days, it would be like choosing to watch a rerun of a so-so hockey game. You know the outcome, you know how and when the goals will be scored, and you’d be watching helplessly, somewhat hopelessly expecting something else to happen, like a hack attack on the on-line voteing sysetem. At least then the libs and the dipps would have something in common.

Watching the NDP Policy Convention would at first seem to be a big yawn. Like, policy? Are you kidding me? On a weekend? But the only other channel available is that rerun of a hockey game…

But wait a minute, that policy thing, may have more to it than meets the eye. For one, that guy Mulcair could have a problem on his hands with resolutions that want to take the Party in different directions, or grassroots revolts he can’t control, or, whatever else can’t be controlled within a Party that is notorious for being run by the folks on the floor, and not a bunch of old boys in a backroom. What about that bunch of MPs from Québec, you know, who were practically elected by having the luck to have had their names put on a ballot that was supposed to go…nowhere. Will this gang of Québec MPs prove to be disciplined or undisciplined, in line or out of line. Everybody do the wave…this could prove to be better than a hockey game…with no predicting who will score, at all.

Meanwhile, in Ottawa, the corporate media and their pundits will be trumpeting the “great young hope” that will save the day. Save mainly the corporate class from the prospect of a crash and burn Conservative Party that will have no hope in hell of forming the next government (that corporate party is fast drawing to a close), and worst of all, a godless socialist left-wing “tax and spend” NDP that corporations, especially the very profitable ones, will do everything in their power to stop, at all costs. Yes, the corporate media will wax eloquently about how fortunate Canada is to have the great young new face and hair leading those once detested Liberals back to the prospect of forming Canada’s next new government.

Across Canada, Canadians will be taking a look at both Montreal and Ottawa. My money will be riding on the prospect that the people of our great country will not only look, but they will listen. Listen to the ideas and plans coming out of an NDP policy convention. Compare that to the good looks and hair in Ottawa a week ago at the Liberals so-called “National Showcase” event - aka round one of the so-called Liberal Convention, with just a lot of rehashed and recycled same-old, same-old “politics”, and Liberal politics, at that. The National Showcase preceeded the problems with temporaryforeign workers, and if yes, will the Liberals actually call on corporations to stand down and stop their unfair labour practices? Will the Liberals promise to roll back immigration legislation and regulations that will stop the formation of two classes of immigrants from becoming a reality in Canada that increasingly resembles that in the United States?

My bet is that the Liberals this coming weekend will not really call out the big corporations in their misdeeds. Nor will they really denounce the policies that are leading the corporate interest to take precedence over the public interest. Chances are that the Liberals will denounce the Conservatives, and propose themselves as the only alternative, leaving the big and very profitable corporations out of it. In fact, the corporate media, pushing the corporate agenda of their corporate bosses, will probably play the Liberal “coronation” of Justin Trudeau in such a way that could lead to the Liberals becoming the alternative to those darned Conservatives, and hopefully, pushing the NDP back to third place in the polls. The final corporate solution, of course, would be that once again, we all go back to the old “Liberal-Tory, same-old-story” politics. And once elected to government, the Trudeau “comeback” would ensure that the corporate interest, though somewhat slowed down, will continue on its inevitable trek to overcome the public interest.

Meanwhile, back in Montreal, a supposedly boring policy convention could have some unexpected democratic convention floor drama, including delegates who will speak their minds. There could be debates, ideas, arguments, rallies, denunciations, even protests, that could denounce the corporate agenda, as well as the complicit Conservative aiding and abetting of said agenda. In fact, the goings-on in Montreal could include grassroots suggestions on how to stop the omnipresent and incessantly encroaching corporate takeover of society. We could see ordinary Canadians stepping up to say out loud what a lot of Canadians are quietly thinking. That the times, are indeed a-changing. That change, is not really about changing faces (and hair), but changing, and winning, hearts and minds.

I will be mainly watching and participating in what will happen in Montreal this coming weekend. With a perfunctory quick glance at the “Liberal-Tory same old story” that will be taking place in Ottawa. The times are indeed, a-changing. Just watch.

Robyn Benson, PSAC

Fraser Follies

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Once again, the Fraser Institute has issued an irritatingly flawed report purporting to show that public employees are living large compared to their “counterparts” in the private sector. And needless to say, the public service fans over at the National Post read the executive summary and ran with it.

I have quite a few observations to make and questions to ask about this mischievous document, about its methodology and its ideology. Please bear with me. Some of this stuff can be dry as dust, but it’s considerably more toxic. And poisons need antidotes.

Let’s start with the “counterparts” idea right off the bat. We quickly discover that there’s a lot less here than meets the eye.

For a start, we aren’t getting job-to-job comparisons. Instead, the authors compare whole job categories. All sorts of factors are added in, like age, education and so on to “correct” the analysis. But if you take a closer look, apples are not being compared with apples.

Three examples. First, public sector Chefs and Cooks are mostly people who work in large institutions like prisons and hospitals. In the private sector, they are people working throughout the entire food service industry. One might reasonably expect a higher level of pay for the higher level of responsibility that goes with prison and hospital work.

Then there’s the Protective Services group. In the public sector that’s mostly police officers. In the private sector, it’s security guards. Is higher pay for police a “wage premium,” or a recognition of their responsibility to the community and their difficult working conditions?

The Sales and Service group in the public sector is probably dominated by municipal employees working in sports and recreation departments, and in community centres. In the private sector, these jobs would be mostly general sales and service positions: think fast-food industry, or a Wal-Mart “associate.”

Funny thing, though: when job-to-job comparisons are actually made, we get startling differences in the findings. We don’t have good data at the federal level, but in Quebec these more detailed comparisons are actually studied. Results? Overall compensation (salaries and benefits) is 3.3% higher in the Quebec public sector. But when you factor in private-sector unionization, that figure drops into the negative range, to a stunning -13%. Salary-only comparisons are even starker.

Returning to the Fraser Institute study, the difference in the so-called “wage premium” for men and women is remarkable. But the authors don’t, or won’t, deal with it:

Note that male-female wage and union/non-union wage differentials are outside of the scope of this study. At the federal level, the wage premium for public sector workers was 7.8 per cent for males and 16.0 per cent for females compared to the private sector.

Women are, as the authors themselves might put it, far more “overpaid” than the men. Why is that? Well, the answer is simple: we won the pay equity fight. Women in the private sector are still inadequately compensated; the value of their work is not recognized.

Women in the public sector aren’t getting a “wage premium.” They’re getting justice.

Pensions are also part of the total compensation package. Once again, the Fraser Institute folks chase the lowest common denominator. Some folks have no pensions; some have a defined contribution plan, which depends on the market; others, including most public employees and more than half of the private-sector ones have a defined benefits plan—you get a guaranteed pension based upon years of service.

But rather than supporting the idea that all Canadians should have comfortable retirements—say, by reforming CPP, and protecting private sector employees against company bankruptcy—the authors see public sector pensions as just more “premium.”

In fact the clear message from the Fraser Institute is that public sector employees should receive no more total compensation than their private-sector equivalents.

But there we go: where are those equivalents? The authors engage in misleading category comparisons, and quite a bit of guesswork. Looking at the job-to-job comparison numbers from Quebec, I wonder if the Fraser Institute would support immediate equalization for the clearly underpaid public sector. But I don’t really wonder very hard.

So what do the authors want done? They want the “premium” gone, and they have clever suggestions for eliminating it. My personal favourite is this one:

Specifically, the recommendation is to provide unions with a lump-sum compensation total by hour, or perhaps per year, for workers covered by collective agreements. The union would then be asked to determine the mix of wages and benefits for its members.

Given that nearly three-quarters of the workers in the public sector are unionized, asking the unions to contribute to the solution, rather than maintaining the adversarial relationship, is critical to the longer-term sustainability of public sector compensation.

Frankly, after reading that, I didn’t know whether to shake my fist or burst into giggles.

But that’s the Fraser Institute for you. Their studies keep coming, a steady stream of talking points for the right-wing media and politicians. Here’s another one. Because of “creeping progressivism” in the tax system, too few Canadians are paying federal taxes—but they all get to vote, and so they make decisions about the future of this country.

They’re “exempt from the costs of their decisions,” says the Fraser executive v-p, who is the co-author of the public sector compensation report as well. But we aren’t talking high-income offshore account-holders here. No, the problem is the child tax credit, a too-large personal exemption, and giving unemployed people incentives to find work.

Meanwhile, the Fraser Institute is a registered charity. It pays not a penny nickel in federal taxes.

Every year—part of the legacy of former Ontario Premier Mike Harris—the Ontario government must publish a list of public sector employees who make more than $100,000—the so-called Sunshine List. Conservatives love this stuff. “Legislated mandatory wage freeze,” demands the Ontario Progressive Conservative finance critic.

But none of these outraged true-bluers has any problem with major executive compensation in the private sector, some of it in the millions of dollars. What—no total compensation comparison? Where on earth did it go?

And guess what—here’s our old friend the Fraser Institute once again. Its moonshine, it seems, is accompanied by a fair bit of sunshine as well. Because of its charitable status, by the way, which nets it millions every year, taxpayers are effectively helping to subsidize the Institute’s highly paid executives.

I can hardly wait for the next report.

Marianne Hladun

Harper's land wars

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What is it about the environment—including the land people actually live and work on—that sets Stephen Harper’s teeth on edge?

Recently Canada withdrew from the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). We are the only country in the world to have done so.

Former Canadian Ambassador to the UN Paul Heinbecker, for one, was not impressed:

Because of the links between drought, land degradation, desertification and climate change, withdrawal from the Desertification Convention comes with potentially significant costs. Ottawa’s decision reinforces the impression that it does not care about climate change.

Also, because the locus of most of the devastation arising from desertification is in Africa, walking away from a treaty whose creation was led by the Mulroney and Chrétien governments reinforces the impression that Ottawa no longer cares about Africa.

He points out that the cost of this treaty to Canada is “less than some senators spend on travel, or Ottawa will pay to feed the pandas in Toronto.” Put another way, it cost every Canadian about 1¢ per year. Yet a spokesperson for International Co-operation Minister Julian Fantino claimed that “membership in this convention was costly for Canadians.”

But Harper isn’t just walking away from farmers facing drought in Africa. He’s done much the same thing here in the Prairies. In Budget 2012, the government announced the death of the Community Pasture Program, run by the former Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration, now the Agri-Environment Services Branch of the Department of Agriculture.

UNCCD itself, in commenting upon Canada’s “regrettable” withdrawal from the treaty, notes that we are a country that is prone to drought, with 60% of our cropland located in dry areas. The Community Pasture Program was set up during the dustbowl 1930s to rehabilitate pastureland for grazing—61 community pastures were created in Saskatchewan, 23 in Manitoba and two in Alberta. This public commons is also used today by hunters, riders and naturalists.

The amount of land involved is considerable: 2 million acres in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta; over 200,000 cattle grazed; 3,100 cattle producers who pay to graze their cattle on this land.

The Harper government will be transferring all of this land to the provinces, and has already begun to do so in Saskatchewan, where the government plans to sell off the land at market prices to those who can afford it. 80 pasture managers—our members—are threatened with unemployment and the loss of their homes. Nobody is bothering to let them know who is affected, or when they might learn their fate.

The community pastures are some of the largest remnants of native prairie still existing. They are a model of complex and successful land management:

[W]ell-managed grasslands sequester carbon more efficiently and securely than do expensive carbon capture and storage technologies, even if the latter were fully developed.

The existence of these public pastures also has enabled long-term research that has been used, among other things, to develop best practices to serve business interests such as oil and gas extraction while maintaining soil conservation and biodiversity on these fragile lands.

The PFRA pasture system is internationally renowned as one of the best examples of multi-purpose land management, providing both sustainable economic benefit and environmental conservation. Research on these pastures also shows that the management practices developed over the past 80 years has resulted in higher levels of biodiversity and soil quality than in comparable privately-owned lands - factors that may become increasingly important with the advent of climate change.

As has been too often the case with the Harper administration, no consultation has taken place with the public or with naturalist and environmental groups.

The decision to abandon the program puts these lands at considerable risk. As an article co-authored by two environmental experts and Bob Kingston of the PSAC’s Agriculture Union notes, there appear to be no plans for maintaining the careful stewardship of these pasturelands once passed down to the provinces and sold off. In fact, details are lacking across the board:

Conspicuously absent is any mention of other environmental priorities, conservation goals or protection for rare prairie plants, birds and other animals.

There is no indication of how the proposed sale might affect future public access, or how land use will be balanced among competing interests. Neither is there any mention of the rights of aboriginal communities with claims to the land in question.

Environment, heritage, the public and the very health of the land they have been using for generations, do not appear to matter to the short-sighted Harper government. Will the Western alienation that, so we are told, led to the birth of the current Conservative Party arise in new form to challenge it?

Robyn Benson, PSAC

♫ ♪ Accentuez le positif ♪

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Un commentateur m’a prise à partie parce que je serais trop « combative », selon son expression. Il souhaiterait un « discours moins négatif ». Eh bien diable, je vais lui donner ce qu’il désire.

Laissez-moi d’abord apporter une petite nuance. Au moment d’écrire ces lignes, le Sénat a sous les yeux le projet de loi C-377, une mesure législative qui promet de nous enliser dans la paperasse quasiment chaque fois que nous levons le petit doigt. Et c’est nous, les syndicats, qui sommes délibérément visés : les entreprises ne subissent pas ce genre de traitement, ni les organismes de bienfaisance, même s’ils ont bien sûr leurs propres problèmes à régler.

Le projet de loi C-377 est si vindicatif que même des sénateurs conservateurs s’élèvent contre lui.

Puis il y a ces députés conservateurs des premières banquettes comme Pierre Poilievre, qui lancent des ballons d’essai sur la possibilité d’abolir la formule Rand.

Sans oublier Tony Clement, à la tête du Conseil du Trésor, qui s’en est pris violemment à mon prédécesseur, John Gordon, pour avoir eu l’audace de demander quels secteurs de la fonction publique allaient être touchés par les compressions imminentes. Jusqu’ici, le gouvernement a cultivé un tel secret autour de cette question, qu’il a incité l’ancien directeur parlementaire du budget, Kevin Page, qui vient tout juste de quitter son poste, à déposer une requête en cour fédérale pour restaurer la transparence. (Vu son départ, l’avenir de cette cause est incertain.)

Si on ajoute à tout cela les compressions responsables de la suppression de 16 220 emplois dans la fonction publique, sans parler de la menace qui pèse sur le congé de maladie, un avantage négocié, et sur le régime de retraite de nos membres, on ne s’étonnera guère que la dirigeante d’un syndicat de fonctionnaires se montre un brin susceptible. Ma bonne humeur habituelle, je l’avoue, m’abandonne à l’occasion.

Je m’empresserai donc de passer aux choses positives.

Malgré l’hostilité du gouvernement actuel, nous n’avons jamais suspendu les discussions avec le Conseil du Trésor et nos homologues de la fonction publique au sein des ministères. Nous sommes régulièrement appelés à collaborer dans de nombreux cadres (comme le Comité mixte de consultation ministérielle, le Conseil consultatif de la Commission de la fonction publique, le Comité consultatif sur la pension de la fonction publique, le Conseil national mixte et le Programme d’apprentissage mixte) où nous jouons un rôle actif et constructif dans la résolution des problèmes au jour le jour.

En ce qui a trait aux avantages sociaux, nous possédons une longue et fructueuse tradition de négociation collective, ancrée dans un discours ouvert et précis. Nous n’avons jamais esquivé ces débats autour d’une table. Les sombres rumeurs qu’on laisse filtrer dans les médias sur les changements, contenus par ailleurs dans les documents budgétaires, n’ont rien de constructif; elles ne font qu’ajouter au degré de stress déjà élevé de nos membres.

J’éprouve un sentiment favorable à l’égard de nos membres et de notre personnel, car ils et elles connaissent à fond les activités de la fonction publique et se dévouent à la prestation de services de qualité à toute la population canadienne. Nous avons à offrir des propositions fondées sur une mine d’expérience - lorsqu’on se résout à nous mettre à contribution.

Je suis fière du syndicat que je dirige : une organisation fondamentalement démocratique, où les besoins et la volonté des membres priment avant toute chose. Après tout, l’AFPC est la somme de ses membres; c’est à eux que la direction doit rendre des comptes. Personne ne sait l’exiger aussi bien que les membres informés et passionnés qui forment la base de notre syndicat.

Ici, aucune adhésion aveugle à une quelconque ligne de parti imposée d’en haut, mais des débats, des différences, une foule de points de vue : tout un éventail de positions et d’approches face au travail à accomplir. Dans nos rangs, on respecte les différences d’opinions, on est disposé à écouter et à prendre la parole; notre engagement les uns à l’égard des autres est constant.

Un par un, une par une, les membres investissent leurs idées et leur énergie dans le processus. Ils placent leur confiance dans leurs dirigeantes et dirigeants, mais ils ont démontré, à maintes reprises, qu’ils étaient prêts à se mobiliser pour se défendre contre l’injustice et aller de l’avant. Je n’ai aucun doute qu’ils le feront de nouveau si cela est nécessaire.

Je suis honorée d’avoir gagné la confiance des membres. Je suis toutefois consciente que cette confiance se mérite au jour le jour. Faire preuve d’optimisme, cultiver un esprit constructif, font partie du boulot. Il arrive que je réagisse négativement aux annonces du gouvernement qui ont des répercussions directes sur nos membres et leur bien-être; en toute franchise, il faut s’y attendre. Je le fais néanmoins avec une chanson au cœur et un sourire sur le visage, cela grâce à tous et à toutes.

Bob Jackson

BC election: a progressive beachhead?

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BC leg public.JPGIn just over 40 days, on May 14th, voters in BC will head to the polls. Barring any last-minute surprises, it looks as though the NDP will sweep the BC "Liberals" from power.

I put "Liberals" in quotation marks because the Christy Clark Liberals are Liberal in name only. They are, and have been for years, a conservative party, with both ideological and personal links to the Harper Conservative government in Ottawa.

Take, for example, Ken Boessenkool, the former BC Liberal Chief of Staff and before that, an advisor to Stephen Harper. The internal investigation into his abrupt resignation last fall was conducted with "zero paper trail", leaving the media and British Columbians completely in the dark.

Then there's Sara MacIntyre, formerly Harper's press secretary and BC's director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

"[She] brought back all the memories of what we go through every day with the Harper government: tight media control, lack of respect for the media," said Robert Fife, CTV's Ottawa bureau chief. "She's taken the Harper media plan and brought it to BC"

Here she was in action:

MacIntyre left her post last October.

But it would be unfair to suggest that the BC Liberals took their cue from Stephen Harper when he was first elected in 2006. The Liberals have been pushing their right-wing agenda for the past twelve years: privatizing and contracting out, slashing corporate taxes so they're now the lowest in Canada, dismantling the social safety net and environmental standards regulations in BC, and attacking public sector workers.

Just like the federal Conservatives, the BC Liberal government used their majority to subvert the collective bargaining process by imposing contracts on teachers and hospital workers. Our colleagues in BC's labour movement fought this all the way to the Supreme Court and won.

Does this sound familiar? Here's one more.

A partisan and clumsy initiative to win the hearts and minds of "ethnic" voters led to four resignations, including that of multiculturalism minister John Yap. Jason Kenney tried something similar in 2011.

British Columbians have had enough.

We're all working hard and will keep working hard to help elect a progressive, positive, provincial government - a government that understands the issues that face working people and will work with us, not against us.

A strong NDP victory will send a message across the country: The Buck Stops Here.

Unions and working families are under assault. Right-wing politicians reward their friends and business partners while inequality grows by leaps and bounds. Environmental protections are being eroded to let corporations do as they wish. Canada's social safety net is being ripped apart.

BC is where it all stops. On May 14th we'll be turning back the tide and making history. Mark your calendars.

Robyn Benson, PSAC

Modernization vapours

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No one can doubt for a moment that the federal public service, like every other institution in human history, needs to keep up with the times. In its seventh annual report, all of 12 pages long, a blue-ribbon advisory panel to the Prime Minister says little more than that. Who could disagree?

You can access the six previous reports of the Prime Minister’s Advisory Committee on the Public Service here.

The world hasn’t grown more complex: it’s just a different kind of complexity now. And the panel is all over it. “A digital population cannot be well served by analog government.”

Gosh, I wish I’d written that.

The panel, in fact, has a gift for stating the obvious: change should be well-managed, states the report, and employee involvement in that change is essential.

Engagement is the key to employee commitment. If public servants can see where their institution is headed, they will be keen to get there.

An engagement not exactly fostered, I would suggest, by this sort of thing:

The number of [public service] positions was reduced by nearly 17,000 along with their associated resources.

And we learn, to our considerable surprise, that this was painless:

Employees directly affected by the changes have been dealt with fairly. This smooth transition is a credit to good planning, more modern personnel policies, and effective communication by managers with affected employees.

“Smooth transition?” Ask the thousands of federal public employees who have been involuntarily terminated, and the stressed-out thousands more who have received “affected” letters, and have no idea when or if the axe is going to fall. Smoothness, it seems, is in the eye of the beholder.

But let’s be fair. This is Harper’s advisory committee, not ours. Perhaps the Prime Minister might even take its advice seriously:

Advancing a modernization agenda such as this should be a top priority, but it carries risks if not carefully managed.In areas where management is looking for change, it will be important to not seek unnecessary confrontation and to ensure that union leaders and members are treated with respect in the bargaining process. They too have a stake in a modern and well-functioning workplace. [emphasis added]

It is not a little ironic that this is coming from a group of Governor in Council appointees who have left employees and their unions completely out of their investigations. They have talked to a few managers here and there, but not, so far as we can determine, to any of the workers who actually get the job done, and who would have much to offer in terms of suggestions for positive change. Nor has the panel sought out any dialogue with us.

What does Harper’s advisory committee want? “A constructive and respectful relationship between management and labour in government.”

Absolutely. By all means. So—can we talk?

About this Archive

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