December 2013 Archives

Robyn Benson, PSAC

Year Zero

| Link.

Union busting.jpg

2013. That was the year that was: a test of union resolve that has, unfortunately, just begun. Years from now, we’ll talk about this past twelve months as a watershed in labour history. But which way we choose to go at this turning-point is entirely up to us. For the Conservative government and its supporters, this has been Year Zero of a new Canada—one without unions, without rights, and, for far too many, without hope.

I think it’s safe to say that our Union has never faced such challenges in our nearly half a century of history. We’ve confronted a lot of tough employers during that time, and the going has been anything but easy. We’ve had epic strikes and important wins in court, too, when the bargaining table alone hasn’t delivered enough for our members.

We’ve stood up for ourselves, in other words, and because of that we’ve moved steadily forward over the years. And by “we,” incidentally, I mean PSAC members, not just elected representatives and union staff.

But now we’re up against something completely different: a government that isn’t just hard-nosed during collective bargaining—we’re used to that—but one that actually wants to destroy unions, using brute legislative power.

This is a government that is fond of putting everything but the kitchen sink in omnibus bills, limiting debate on them, and then passing them without a comma changed. At the end of the process, the result is usually the same as though we were being ruled by decree from the Prime Minister’s Office—which , in effect, we are.

C-4 was one of those mega-bills, containing deeply-buried provisions that endanger the health and safety of more than a million workers, eliminate or rig the arbitration process, and allow a government Minister to gut any strike efforts by unilaterally declaring any number of workers “essential” at whim. It’s law now: C-4 was bulldozed through the House of Commons without a single change.

Then there is the “private member’s bill” tactic, where the government pretends it’s just this or that backbencher introducing anti-union measures, but those measures are supported and probably drafted by the Conservative inner circle. The discriminatory bill C-377 was one of those, blocked in the Senate with the help of Conservative Senators for whom this Harper move was a bridge too far. But the government has promised to re-introduce it in the House of Commons and ram it through as though nothing had happened.

C-525 is still moving forward—another “private member’s bill,” which will make it far more difficult to certify a new union in the federal sector, and much easier to decertify an existing one. It rigs the voting process in each case, counting all abstentions as votes against the union. And for those of us who come under the Public Service Labour Relations Act, a minority of bargaining unit members can decertify a union: a 55% vote of the unit would be required to keep the union in place.

Our side did win a few victories, though. The government tried to force a vote of our FB group, after months of pointless delay in reaching a collective agreement—not the first time that it has deliberately slowed down the collective bargaining process. Members mobilized for a “No” vote: then the courts slapped the government move down, hard. Treasury Board refused to implement an arbitral award for another union, but was sternly ordered to do so.

The President of Treasury Board, Tony Clement, had made his government’s anti-union agenda personal, refusing any consultation and referring to me and to other duly elected union leaders as “union bosses,” demonstrating nothing but contempt for us and for those whom we represent.

Delay, obstruct, insult. And when in doubt, abuse the legislative process.

The next election isn’t until 2015, and we can’t realistically expect anything better from the Harper government in 2014. (I’d like to offer a rosy “best wishes for the New Year,” but I’m one of those hard-bitten union types who dislikes empty rhetoric as much as our members do.) We’re in a situation, frankly. And the anti-union venom has spread—first in Ontario, and more recently in Alberta where, incredibly, it’s now against the law for public workers even to use the word “strike” in the workplace.

In short, we in the PSAC and the broader labour movement face on every side staggering threats that call for all hands on deck. The government has made its intentions painfully clear. The courts will not be there to save us every time we suffer a reverse, either. Members will need to be ready to do what it takes to keep the gains that we have so painstakingly made for the past several decades, up to and including the basic right to be unionized in the first place.

New Year’s Eve is not an “end” of anything. Nothing gets concluded just because of a date on a calendar; we’re in the midst of the battle as I write this. I’m confident that we shall prevail eventually, given our proven ability to mobilize in the past when needed. It’s going to be a hard one, make no mistake—but every one of us, like it or not, is already involved.

Robyn Benson, PSAC


| Link.

Ice Storm Toronto.jpg

In the aftermath of the worst ice-storm Toronto has ever had (but let’s not forget hard-hit smaller municipalities in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick), a virtual army of heroes has emerged—hydro workers, on 12-hour shifts around the clock over the Christmas period, steadily restoring power to hundreds of thousands of “customers.” Their work continues as I write this.

Volunteers from elsewhere rallied, arriving from Manitoba (my home province), Michigan, Windsorand Ottawa to pitch in. Some of them may not make it back home until the New Year. When there are emergencies, people will rise to the occasion.

Thanks to all those hydro workers, the number of people without power has now been cut to a fraction of those knocked off the grid a few days ago, but many remain, shivering in their homes. Incidentally, that word “customers,” which Hydro companies like to use, should not be confused with “people,” although the media have too often done so: this refers only to household and business accounts, but many more individuals have been freezing in the dark.

It’s been a miserable time indeed for many, especially given the normally festive season. Stories of the great 2013 ice-storm will be told for years.

Let’s hope that many of those will put the repair crews in the spotlight. Let’s have their accounts, from the outside, as it were: removing countless fallen trees from live electrical wires, getting those wires up again or replacing them, restoring the lifeline of electric power to countless families in what, given the sheer scope of the catastrophe, must be considered a relatively short period of time.

I feel I must make this point strongly, because hydro workers are unionized public employees, and as such they’ve been the target of smears from the usual sources in the past. Whether the employees in that hatchet-job just referenced were on a lunch break or waiting for a call-out is immaterial to those whose mission in life is to portray all public workers as lazy and overpaid.

We know what our own members do, in and for their communities, every single day. Now is the time for us all to recognize and respect the all-out effort, skill and determination of the folks getting communities, large and small, back on their feet. Bravo!

No one’s calling those workers lazy now. Everyone is behind them this week. Be good if that lasted, eh?

[Photo Credit: Aaron Vincent Elkaim/Canadian Press]

Robyn Benson, PSAC

Temporary foreign workers: nobody wins but employers

| Link.

Laid off workers tfwp.jpg

The Temporary Foreign Worker Program is back in the news—sort of. Readers might remember a piece I did last May, after the Royal Bank of Canada had been shamed into keeping Canadian workers instead of replacing them with offshore “temporary” ones. At the time, the Harper government pledged to reform the program, making it clear that the purpose of the TFWP was to fill labour shortages, not to replace Canadians on the job or looking for work.

From the horse’s mouth:

  • The Temporary Foreign Worker Program helps fill genuine and acute labour needs when Canadians are not available.
  • Canadians must always be first in line for available jobs.
  • The program is being reviewed to ensure that Canadians have the first crack at available jobs.

The courts have not been kind to unions who have challenged obvious abuses, however. When a Chinese company decided to open a mine in British Columbia earlier this year, it made speaking Mandarin a “job requirement.” Then it applied to hire “temporary foreign workers” under the TFWP. No problem. The courts threw out a union legal challenge, although a new one has just been mounted.

Despite “reforms” to the TFWP, abuses are continuing. The right to hire temporary foreign workers for 15% less than the going wage has been abolished, but there are other ways of squeezing those workers. In Fernie, BC, allegations have been made that a local Tim Horton’s manager has been forcing imported employees to kick back overtime, and to pay for paperwork. After the BC Federation of Labour kicked up a fuss, the RCMP opened a file on the case: their investigations are continuing. I suspect that this is only the tip of the iceberg in the fast-food industry. There have certainly been other reports of vicious shakedowns by employers.

In this situation, no worker wins: out-of-work Canadians or the easily-exploited cannon fodder that employers prefer to bring in from abroad.

As of last year, 491,547 “temporary” workers were on the job here. Canadian citizens and permanent residents are now effectively being de-skilled by this ever-expanding program: employers have far less incentive to train local workers when they can get more for less by recruiting offshore. It’s a low-wage strategy, in full bloom.

Once in Canada, low-skilled temporary foreign workers may not apply for permanent residency. But those who become skilled on the job may do so. Even here, however, cruel tricks are played. If these would-be immigrants aren’t actually filling jobs for which out-of-work Canadians are available—as claimed—then why are they being denied the opportunity to gain permanent residency status?

The government can’t have it both ways.

What is the current reality? Check out this report. Oddly enough, the commercial media have all but ignored this story: 270 skilled Albertan tradespeople were told in September that their jobs were gone. They were replaced by an equal number of temporary foreign workers, from Portugal, Ireland and Italy. That would obviously fly in the face of the assurances from Employment and Social Development Canada, but it happened, and the employer, Husky Energy, was unrepentant about it. So much for the claims by the Harper government earlier this year that everything had been fixed.

Although first reported in a local paper, it was left to BC-based The Tyee to break open this scandal, which includes a concerted federal government cover-up of information about the TFWP, including a new TFWP initiative called the Canada-Alberta pilot project—one that has been left almost completely unregulated and which likely paved the way for the dismissal of those 270 tradespeople. The article was written by Jeremy Nuttall, a senior reporter at 24 hours Vancouver who has worked for the CDC and Canadian Press. His piece is only the first in a series, and I advise folks to stay tuned—his next one will appear in January.

In the meantime, there is one thing we can be sure of. TFWP workers may indeed be temporary: the program, however, is anything but. So much for the cheerful government propaganda that you and I helped to pay for.

EAP propaganda.jpg

Robyn Benson, PSAC

Arbitration: honest victories and rigged games

| Link.

Card cheat.jpg

I was more than pleasantly surprised to hear, despite going almost unnoticed by the media, that a small Public Service union called the Federal Government Dockyard Chargehands Association (FGDCA) has won an unprecedented award of damages against Treasury Board. Despite an arbitral award to the FGDCA in February of this year, the government refused to implement it until June, a full four months after the expiry of the mandatory 90-day limit.

The Public Service Labour Relations Board adjudicator found that Treasury Board had made no attempt to ask for an extension of the deadline, and that there was no problem appropriating the funds required—it just refused to pay up. There was simply no excuse for this, and the adjudicator was blunt: “Harmonious labour-management relations, which are one of the objects of the PSLRA, are not possible when one of the parties has no hesitation in ignoring provisions of the PSLRA designed to achieve labour relations peace.”

She went on to award damages of about $100 per member of the bargaining unit—and ordered that “a full copy of this decision [be posted] throughout all workplaces of the employer to which the collective agreement applies, in conspicuous locations, where it is most likely to come to the attention of the employees in the bargaining unit, for a period of no less than 60 days.”


The Harper government, then, is quite prepared to break the law to our disadvantage until called to account. But making that disadvantage legal instead is a safer course—and with its majority in Parliament it has just done so. Omnibus Bill C-4, which just received Royal Assent, guts a 50-year-old labour relations regime. It places hurdle after hurdle in front of unions attempting to negotiate a collective agreement in good faith, effectively hollowing out the process.

The FGDCA would likely never have won its original arbitral victory under the new legislation: with C-4, the rules have changed. “Canada’s fiscal circumstances relative to its stated budgetary policies” will now be the determining factor in making an arbitral award. Arbitrators have lost their independence—they will now, in effect, take their orders from the Minister of Finance. And if arbitrators fail to do as they are told, the Public Service Staff Relations Board can force them to reconsider. The new arbitration is a crooked card game where one player has all the aces before the first hand is even dealt.

Needless to say, the PSAC, along with other federal public service unions, is going to court to challenge C-4. The law is a full-scale onslaught against basic rights that workers have enjoyed for decades, and it can’t remain unchallenged. In the meantime, members can be assured that we will be at the negotiating table as usual, fighting hard for them. C-4 does not wipe out current collective agreement provisions, although it certainly makes it more difficult for us to protect them. But we can and will say No to concessions at the table, and our members on the ground who value the hard-won right to bargain fair collective agreements will say No as well.

We congratulate the FGDCA for winning an important battle against a government that refuses to play fair. Now it’s time for all of us to stand together and win the war.

Robyn Benson, PSAC

Ebenezer Moore and our hungry kids

| Link.


By now, Industry Minister James Moore’s offhand remarks the other day are common knowledge: “Is it my job to feed my neighbour’s child? I don’t think so.”

Step back and savour that one for a moment. No need, it seems, to drag out the Dickens this year. Our Conservative government is providing the lead character in the tale before our very eyes.

Those of the tradition will hear echoes of “Am I my brother’s keeper?” in Moore’s words, to which the response is apparently, No. As Minister of Industry, one can almost hear Moore echoing the impatient questions of his predecessor: “Are there no prisons? No workhouses?”

At first, Moore tried to claim that his words had been taken out of context. But then the audio emerged: the only additional context was his fat little chuckle at the end of the comment.

And it gets worse. “We’ve never been wealthier as a country than we are right now. Never been wealthier,” he went on to boast. But what does he mean by “we?” Rising child poverty in Canada is or should be a national scandal: our child poverty rates put us at the 15th place among 17 peer countries. And British Columbia, Moore’s home turf, happens to have the worst child poverty rate in Canada. Amid unprecedented wealth, the very existence of hungry children is a cause for shame, not glib self-satisfaction.

Moore argued that child poverty was a provincial concern, not a federal one. But his claim is belied by the fact that the House of Commons unanimously passed an all-party resolution in late 1989 to eliminate child poverty by the year 2000. There was no silly talk of jurisdiction then.

Moore himself, as one blogger notes, has been inconsistent on the jurisdictional question. And in any case, the federal government is not stopped from partnering with the provinces on nation-wide initiatives in health, welfare and education. The Canada Health Act is a case in point: the provinces deliver health programs, and the federal government provides resources and, to some degree, sets national standards.

In the matter of Aboriginal child poverty, furthermore, the federal government has full jurisdiction. And here we might suspect that the spirit of Scrooge is conscious government policy, not merely the unpleasant inclinations of one of its Ministers, whose utter absence of human compassion has been in the news before.

As insufficient as provincial support for poor children may be, they enjoy on average 22% more child welfare resources than on-reserve kids. But, rather than fighting child poverty on First Nations reserves, the government has been spending literally millions of your dollars and mine to fight against equal child welfare support for First Nations kids.

For Minister Moore to utter the words that he did, then, seems symptomatic of Harper government policy in general, not to mention its basic moral values. There is an airy unconcern here, a lack of empathy with ordinary Canadians, that runs so deep in the soul of this government that, in the midst of the holiday season, a Minister of the Crown can snicker about child poverty and evidently be surprised that an outcry erupted.

Our union crossed paths (and swords) with Minister Moore earlier this year, when he ordered a forced vote of our FB group that was subsequently hammered flat by the courts for procedural unfairness. Let me just say that we found him ineffectual and frankly evasive during our dealings with him. His obviously forced apology yesterday fails to impress me. It’s just political damage control, nothing more.

In any case, the immediate, visceral reaction from ordinary Canadians over Moore’s remarks was deeply reassuring to me. Despite nearly eight years of Conservative rule, I can still recognize my country and my fellow citizens in that collective expression of outraged decency. But I cannot begin to understand a government that seems to glory in its lack of compassion for Canada’s most vulnerable—injured vets, pensioners, and now children. Scrooge, as we know, sincerely repented at the end—but his three Christmas ghosts have yet to appear in Ottawa.

Robyn Benson, PSAC

Stamping out public services

| Link.

Post office box.jpg

The latest assault on a taken-for-granted public service comes from Canada Post. As most people already know, they’re planning to abolish direct mail delivery—and make us pay more for stamps, too, just to rub a little salt in the wounds. The announcement was well-timed, issued a day after the House of Commons had risen for the Christmas recess.

You will have heard a lot of misinformation from the usual suspects, so let’s get that out of the way first:

Claim: Only one-third of Canadians get door-to-door delivery. Fact: This figure excludes apartment-dwellers and those in rural areas receiving mail in post-boxes at the end of their lanes. When these people are added in, the total number of Canadians receiving door-to-door delivery or close equivalent is 63%. The latter are unaffected by the proposed changes, which will nevertheless affect more than five million Canadians, but it’s simply misleading to suggest that door-to-door delivery favours the elite few.

Claim: Community superboxes, which are to replace door-to-door delivery in urban areas, are safe. Fact: They are nothing of the kind. A CBC report has revealed that there were 4,880 incidents of vandalism, arson and theft from these superboxes between 2008 and this year.

Claim: Canada Post isn’t profitable any more. Fact: Canada Post has made profits every year since 1995, with the exception of 2011 when it locked out its employees. The losses posted for 2013 are only for the second and third quarters—expect better news after the Christmas rush.

Claim: Business is dropping. Fact: Don’t take my word for it, but it’s actually busting records:

More than one million parcels delivered in a single day: a hat trick!

Last year, for the first time in its history, Canada Post delivered a million parcels in a single day on two occasions - December 10 and December 17. This year, the million-parcel milestone has already been reached three times - on November 12, November 25 and on Cyber Monday, December 2. Today, Canada Post will again reach that parcel-delivery milestone as it delivers more than a million parcels across the country; additional million-parcel days are expected during the holiday season.

Note the date of this press release: this past Monday.

Now, there are problems at Canada Post, for sure. Start with the bloated senior management ranks: a CEO pulling down a cool half-million a year, now caught in an embarrassing conflict of interest, as it happens, over the new cutback plans. Add to that 12 vice-presidents, 7 senior vice-presidents and 2 “group presidents”—given the season, I’m tempted to add “and a partridge in a pear tree.”

But worse than Canada Post’s top-heavy structure is its lack of innovative imagination. It became a for-profit Crown corporation in 1981, but there was no apparent vision or planning for the future. Time and again, reasonable suggestions have been suggested, based upon what postal services in other countries offer: banking, financial services, retail services, and insurance, for example.

Instead, Canada Post has resisted these ideas, preferring to put the boot to people depending on home delivery—e.g., the elderly, people with disabilities, those not online—while shedding 8,000 or so jobs along the way.

Canada Post claims to have carried out consultations, but they weren’t public—attendance at these sessions was invitation-only, and comments had to be submitted in advance. Perhaps needless to say, these closed meetings supported the new plans. It was a done deal, in other words, with a little “consultation” window-dressing.

If the plans proceed, Canada would have the dubious distinction of being the only G7 country to have eliminated home delivery of mail. Not, from where I sit at least, an achievement to be proud of.

Robyn Benson, PSAC

Politicization of the Public Service

| Link.

House of Commons flame.jpg

“Mr Bond, they have a saying in Chicago: “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it’s enemy action.” ~Auric Goldfinger

The Harper government once again has been caught putting up partisan propaganda on government websites. And once again it has taken down the offending material, and cried “Whoops.”

At this point, I find it hard to think it’s unintentional. In January of this year, then-International Development Minister Julian Fantino posted two antagonistic, politically partisan letters on the CIDA government website. One attacked the NDP, another, the Liberals.

As most know, former Toronto police chief Fantino is a ham-handed kind of guy who has not been doing well in his second career. Currently Minister of Veterans Affairs, his poorly-stated Conservative talking-points and puffed-up comparisons of himself to veterans have merely antagonized those he is supposed to support. But he’s bumbled along, it must be said, in every Cabinet post he’s held.

When the partisan CIDA posts were discovered and complained about, they were quickly taken down. At the time, Fantino took the old “it wuzn’t me, it was the bureaucrats” line. But later this year, information came to light that casts serious doubt on his story. It seems that a senior member of his own office staff was in the know when those partisan posts were approved for publication. Yet somehow Fantino wasn’t. Sound familiar?

Once upon a time, the more open-minded among us might have been able to accept that the fellow simply didn’t know the rules when he posted those letters, being the bull in a china shop that he evidently is. Since 1908, the federal Public Service has been non-partisan, by design. It’s a principle of the first importance. Public workers are hired on merit, not political affiliation, and are expected to do their work conscientiously in the public interest, not act as political assistants to the party in power. It’s why this other story, of direct political activity by members of the Canadian military on behalf of former Defence Minister Peter McKay, caused such controversy at the time.

It’s just not done. In particular, senior officials in the Public Service, who make high-level policy decisions, are supposed to speak non-partisan truth to power, not be its instruments.

Now Finance Canada has been caught at it as well. “Whoops,” says Meagan Murdoch, identified as spokeswoman for Minister of State for Finance Kevin Sorenson. She was identified back in January as Minister Fantino’s spokeswoman too. “Whoops,” she said then.

Add to these odd incidents of blatant partisanship the recent astounding announcement that, henceforward, Ministers of the Crown will no longer be accountable for what goes on in their respective departments. The buck, it seems, may now stop somewhere, anywhere (or not at all), but not here. What does this mean? Well, henceforward, if improper doings are happening in departments, Ministers no longer have to say they didn’t know anything about it—a claim that has its risks, as we have seen in the case of Fantino. Now all Ministers have to do is to point out that they aren’t responsible. There! Problem solved.

Welcome to Harper Canada. Well, in fairness, maybe the following is just a typo—as they said when somebody noticed:

Harper Canada.jpg


[Photo Credit: Canadian Press]

Robyn Benson, PSAC

December 6: remembering the Montreal Massacre

| Link.

Montreal 14.jpg

Too many remember the assassin, but not the names of his victims.

Today, we mourn Geneviève Bergeron (born 1968), civil engineering student; Hélène Colgan (born 1966), mechanical engineering student; Nathalie Croteau (born 1966), mechanical engineering student; Barbara Daigneault (born 1967), mechanical engineering student; Anne-Marie Edward (born 1968), chemical engineering student; Maud Haviernick (born 1960), materials engineering student; Maryse Laganière (born 1964), budget clerk in the École Polytechnique’s finance department; Maryse Leclair (born 1966), materials engineering student; Anne-Marie Lemay (born 1967), mechanical engineering student; Sonia Pelletier (born 1961), mechanical engineering student; Michèle Richard (born 1968), materials engineering student; Annie St-Arneault (born 1966), mechanical engineering student; Annie Turcotte (born 1969), materials engineering student; and Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz (born 1958), nursing student. Rest in peace.

Ending violence against women is everybody’s task. Speak up. Speak out.

Robyn Benson, PSAC

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, July 18, 1918--December 5, 2013

| Link.


His people called him Madiba: the name of his Xhosa clan. A rare honour, it means that he embodied the clan’s collective spirit. But Rolihlahla Mandela, given the name Nelson by a schoolteacher in the days when “Christian” names were mandatory, carried within him the spirit of the entire nation of South Africa.

Much larger than life—although his personal humility would likely have made him reject such a notion—Mandela was an anti-apartheid freedom fighter who spent 27 years in prison for his part in the struggle against an entrenched racist regime. Once reviled as a “terrorist,” he ended up as a Nobel Peace Prize laureate (1993), and the first President of a free South Africa (1994-1999).

Madiba’s links with organized labour were longstanding and deep. And there could be no doubt of his progressive vision on other fronts as well: South Africa’s post-apartheid constitution outlawed discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, the first country in Africa to do so, and the fifth in the world to legalize same-sex marriage.

Mandela was given honorary Canadian citizenship in 2001, over the objections of Calgary-West MP Rob Anders. Now the Prime Minister has joined other leaders in mourning his passing. Some rare individuals, reminding us by example of what it can mean to be human, erase, if only for too-brief periods, the differences among us.

What will establish Madiba’s giant stature in history was not only his prolonged fight for social justice and racial equality, but his determination, following the end of the apartheid regime, that there would be reconciliation, not revenge. Given the horrific nature of the South African apartheid state, it may be surprising to students of history that his moral leadership was able to prevail. But so it did: and he managed to steer a course for his country that continues to this day. There were no trials, even of the most brutal of apartheid’s enforcers: instead, his Truth and Reconciliation Commission) began the long, as-yet unfinished process of healing a country divided by race and violence. That Commission served as a model, in fact, for many other countries—including our own.

RIP, Madiba. You will be missed, even as we celebrate your achievements, your vision and your profound humanity.

Chris Aylward

Climate (in)justice

| Link.

Tar sands pollution.jpg

A super-typhoon swept through the Philippines last month, leaving thousands of dead and literally millions displaced. No greater storm has reached landfall in recorded history. While no specific weather event like this can be directly attributed to global warming, it does fit the pattern of increased hurricane activity overall since the 1970s, coinciding with a rise in sea temperature. And most climate scientists agree that this rise is indeed caused by global warming. (For a full-on technical discussion, you can click this link.)

So what is our government doing about it?

Stephen Harper’s opposition to remedial climate measures led to Canada withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement to reduce greenhouse gases, the immediate cause of the warming trend. It was a shameful step, isolating us from almost all other countries in the world. 191 nations and the European Union remain committed to the targets set out under the Protocol. Only the US, Andorra, Canada and South Sudan are not on board with it.

Big Oil was happy. It has just the right government in place at the moment to help it achieve its short-sighted goals. Why should atmospheric pollution get in the way of the drive for profits from the Alberta tar sands?

In the meantime, a lot of international gassing, no pun intended, has been going on since the Kyoto Protocol was signed. The job just wasn’t being done, and the hope has been that a better comprehensive agreement, one which nations would actually stick to, might be reached. There was a conference in Copenhagen in 2009, and another one in Warsaw this year that just concluded. So frustrating were the Warsaw talks that the International Trade Union Confederation and a number of other groups marched out. Here’s part of what they had to say:

The Warsaw Climate Conference, which should have been an important step in the just transition to a sustainable future, is on track to deliver virtually nothing. In fact, the actions of many rich countries here in Warsaw are directly undermining the UNFCCC itself, which is an important multilateral process that must succeed if we are to fix the global climate crisis.

The Warsaw Conference has put the interests of dirty energy industries over that of global citizens—with a “Coal & Climate Summit” being held in conjunction; corporate sponsorship from big polluters plastered all over the venue; and a Presidency (Poland) that is beholden to the coal and fracking industry. When Japan announced that it was following Canada and backtracking on emission cut commitments previously made, and Australia gave multiple signals that it was utterly unwilling to take the UN climate process seriously, the integrity of the talks was further jeopardized.

The result of the Warsaw meeting? The participating nations have agreed to draft plans by 2015 to set targets that would come into force in 2020.

Such breakneck speed! But too rapid, it seems, for the pro-fracking Polish government, whose Environment Minister chaired the conference. He was demoted from his environment portfolio as the talks were going on.

But in fairness, how can people come to a serious agreement when some nations are doing their best to derail the process? It does my heart no good to note that Canada has been in the forefront of that obstructive process, now joined by Australia. Kevin Grandia, a noted climate-change blogger, observes that this time around, Canada has adopted a passive, do-nothing strategy: before, it had actively blocked attempts at real progress.

Here at home, Canada has failed to live up to even the relatively modest commitments on greenhouse gas emissions that it made in Copenhagen. Canadians are giving up hope that the Harper government is serious about doing anything to stop climate change. We now rank at the very bottom of the developed countries in environmental protection, and lack all international credibility on the subject. We are simply not taken seriously on the world stage: in fact, we’ve become an international laughing-stock.

Kind of makes you proud to be a Canadian—eh?

Robyn Benson, PSAC

Late again

| Link.

clock back.jpg

“Public service unions bring labour appeal to Parliament—but miss the deadline,” screams the headline in the Ottawa Citizen, as though we’d all slept in. That was for the parliamentary committee hearing on omnibus anti-union Bill C-4, which guts federal public service union rights, and will force over a million workers to perform unsafe work.

You need to read the story itself to learn that we were all quite prepared, and on time, too, thank you, there to speak against the Harper government’s plans to roll back fifty years or so of labour legislation. Problem was, they slotted us in to speak to the committee when the actual deadline for amendments to the Bill has passed—a bit like being called to testify at a trial after the jury has already started deliberating. They gave us all a listen, but that’s not the point: witnesses are normally called before a parliamentary committee examining draft legislation, to garner information and new ideas. Doing so is meant to make a positive contribution to the clause-by-clause discussions at committee. But that is part of a fast-disappearing cooperative process when parliamentary committees were more than a government rubber stamp.

In the past, when the Harper government was a minority one, Conservative MPs were issued a guidebook on how to disrupt committee proceedings. They followed instructions to the letter. When the Conservatives finally achieved majority government in 2011, they ensured that more committee meetings would be held in cameraaway from the public’s prying eyes. Why? Otherwise there’d be too much debate, according to government House Leader Peter Van Loan. Can’t have that.

The Conservatives no longer have to disrupt committees. Now they’re in the majority, they’ve proceeded to make most of them just as irrelevant as Parliament itself has become. The Opposition can complain about it, but it has no power to make the government listen, much less change its mind on anything. It’s been reduced to not much more than an unwilling audience. Gigantic, flawed omnibus bills are jammed through the House of Commons without a word being changed. When Parliament gets in the way, MPs are sent home. So abuse of power in the committees, then, is just par for the course.

We said our piece, as it was our duty to do—before we left the room to go get some real work done. And yes, we were late, even though we all showed up on time. It’s easy to be late when the folks in charge keep turning back the clocks.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from December 2013 listed from newest to oldest.

November 2013 is the previous archive.

January 2014 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Subscribe to feed Subscribe to this blog's feed / S'abonner au flux de ce blog

This blogsite is intended to be a safe space for everyone to comment on the issues raised here. Spirited debate is encouraged, in the language of your choice, but profanity, discriminatory words and other forms of abuse are not. Feel free to speak your mind, but please keep it civil and respectful.

Ce blogue a pour objet d’offrir un espace sécuritaire où chacun peut réagir aux questions soulevées. On encourage les débats animés, dans la langue de votre choix, mais non les insultes et les propos discriminatoires. N’hésitez pas à donner votre opinion, mais faites-le de manière civilisée et respectueuse.


Powered by Movable Type 6.0.8