June 2015 Archives

Robyn Benson, PSAC

A government without rules

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Bill C-377 has been passed by the Senate. If you aren’t upset, you ought to be.

Readers might remember when it was first introduced in the House of Commons back in 2012. The Bill specifically targets unions, forcing them to disclose more detailed internal information than any other institution in Canada—banks and corporations and employers’ associations, for example. The level of disclosure demanded by this Bill violates the privacy of millions of Canadians, not just union members. It leaves unions at a significant strategic disadvantage when dealing with employers. And it also requires them to generate a mountain of costly paperwork to make public all of the detailed information the Bill demands.

Its intent is obvious. Even the media are calling it an “anti-union Bill.” And so it is.

C-377 sailed through the Conservative-dominated House of Commons in 2013, but it ran into unexpected opposition in the Senate. A number of Conservative Senators—one third of the caucus!—joined with Liberal Senators to gut the Bill, which was then sent back to the House of Commons in tatters.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the Commons. Stephen Harper prorogued Parliament, which, under the rules, means that the Bill never actually left the Senate. And so, a few months ago, it rose from the dead—in its original, unamended form.

In 2013, Conservative Senator Hugh Segal led the charge against the Bill. But this second time around he was enjoying his retirement, along with eight other supportive Senators, the Prime Minister’s Office cracked the whip, and that was that.

The Bill is blatantly unconstitutional, and the Supreme Court will mow it down as surely they have done with a string of other pieces of legislation that Harper has tried to force on Canadians. But there’s a wider issue here, and it’s one that should concern all citizens.

In order to ram the legislation through, the Conservative-dominated Senate changed its own rules in the middle of the game, overruling its own Speaker (a Conservative). The consequences of this move are very serious. No government should be able to get away with this. It means, in effect, that there are no rules when the Conservatives have a majority. If the ones in place aren’t working for them, they’ll just make up new ones on the spot.

This is not the way a democracy is supposed to work. But the Harper government has never cared very much about democracy, or the rule of law either. What other government would appoint Dean Del Mastro to oversee government ethics, a man who was literally led away in chains last week for corrupt electoral practices? Or fraudster Arthur Porter, now in jail in Panama? Harper appointed him to run the Security Intelligence Review Committee, supposedly in place to keep the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) on the straight and narrow. And then, of course, there are those Harper-appointed Senators, two of them charged with sex offences, while others are facing trial or criminal investigation for lavishing large amounts of taxpayers’ money on themselves.

The stench of moral and political corruption hangs heavy over Canada, like a cloud. The federal election is in less than four months, on October 19. Do I really need to draw a picture here?

Robyn Benson, PSAC

National Aboriginal Day

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This past Sunday, members and non-members alike joined together to recognize National Aboriginal Day, taking part in numerous activities over the weekend from coast to coast to coast. My hat is off to the many PSAC Aboriginal Circles. who have showed strong leadership and helped to organize these events.

The day has special and immediate significance this year, as Canadians have received the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and its numerous recommendations to heal the deep wounds caused by the residential school system.

The Commission was established following Prime/Minister Stephen Harper’s apology for that system, where Aboriginal children were seized from their families, forcibly placed in schools far from their homes, and often abused in unspeakable ways, physically and sexually. The aim, not to varnish it, was cultural genocide, to “kill the Indian in the child,” erasing their heritage and their languages. Thousands of children died in those schools, and many were subjected to appalling medical experiments.

Stephen Harper delivered his apology in 2008, seven years ago. Since then, that apology becomes hollower and hollower with each passing week.

  • the Conservative government went to court to deny vital documents to the Truth and Reconcilation Commission, forcing costly legal battles that ended with their release, but too late for them to be fully read and processed by the Commission, under deadline to produce their report.

  • Indigenous children on reserves get a fraction of the social spending that off-reserve children, mostly white, currently receive. A powerful advocate for those children, Cindy Blackstock, has fought for years to achieve equality for them. Her reward was to be spied on and intimidated by Harper government officials. The cost of this legal battle has mounted into the millions as the government continues to fight her every step of the way, on the taxpayers’ dime.

  • Even getting basic education remains an uphill struggle on the reserves. Children on one reserve, Attawapiskat, waited for years to have a proper school built for them. The then Harper minister responsible, Chuck Strahl, shrugged and claimed there was no money for it. It took immense time, effort and energy on the ground to force the government to change its mind. The school was finally opened last year. Why should a basic right like education require more than a decade of struggle to obtain?

  • Canada is now the only country in the entire world that has refused to fully endorse the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

  • The government still stubbornly opposes a national inquiry into the mounting numbers of murdered and missing Aboriginal women.

  • The so-called “Fair Elections Act,” introduced and passed by the Harper government last year, is likely to prevent First Nations people on reserves from even voting in the October election.

What is an apology worth, when the government continues to place obstacle after obstacle in the path of positive change?

Reconciliation? It’s essential. There’s a pressing need for all of us to help release our country from its dark history. National Aboriginal Day, June 21, was a time to rededicate ourselves to that worthy goal. Now, more than ever, is the time for action. In the name of fairness and decency, let’s get on with it.

Robyn Benson, PSAC

Public Service Weak

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Public Service Week should be an occasion to celebrate the work that our members do and the high standards of service that they have always met. But for many years this has not been the focus of the week: instead, it’s been an opportunity for governments to boast about these achievements as though they’d done it all themselves.

But it gets worse than that, when the people actually doing the work are belittled, harassed and under constant threat of layoff, the right to refuse dangerous work has been whittled away, and “collective bargaining” is negated by legislation—like Bill C-59, which allows the government to take away our sick leave unilaterally if we don’t knuckle under at the negotiating table. It’s not much to celebrate when services to the public are being slashed, including to some of our most vulnerable citizens.

A just-released report on the state of democracy in Canada indicates how badly our Public Service has deteriorated under Harper:

The ability of public servants to fulfill [their] important mandate has been greatly restricted in recent years. Large-scale budget cuts have limited the ability of key departments to provide timely, thorough and comprehensive advice. New public service codes of conduct have added a chill, dissuading public servants from offering independent advice or speaking publicly for fear of being seen as partisan or disloyal. [pp.19-20]

Our Public Service was once a model for the world: South Africa, for one, after it became democratic, looked to our country for guidance on how to build a modern, progressive public service. Who would consider doing that now? The Public Service under Harper is tattered and torn. Just ask a veteran or an EI claimant.

This all explains why, instead of celebrating, our members and those of other federal public service unions were rallying against C-59 outside Stephen Harper’s office. Among the speakers was Rosa Pavanelli, General Secretary of Public Services International, which represents 20 million public service employees worldwide. She brought a message of solidarity (see photograph, above), before taking part in an important conference on democracy, where she addressed Canada’s violation of international labour conventions.

That conference attracted a number of intelligent, progressive thinkers from around the globe to discuss such issues as “austerity” and the funding of public services. One could say that democracy came to Ottawa this week.

We’re also back at the table, with the bargaining teams demanding respect and determined to obtain a fair contract for the members, come hell or high water.

We’re getting political, they say. You betcha. “Getting political” means that we care about quality public services. It also means getting involved, like so many other citizens, in the electoral process. We’ve got to turn things around.

When you think about it, maybe this week has been reclaimed by public service workers after all. Now let’s reclaim our country.

Robyn Benson, PSAC

Sniffing the winds of change

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The departure of the undistinguished Harper minister, Peter MacKay, is another welcome sign that the people of Canada are about to bring in serious regime change this October. Who, after all, can gauge the wind better than a government front-bencher?

In fact, more than two dozen Conservatives, including several other Ministers, have announced they won’t be running again either.

Then there was the Orange Chinook in what has always been assumed to be Canada’s most conservative province. The NDP not only won in Alberta, but won decisively.

Two of our own former PSAC members join the Notley team in the Alberta legislature: Maria Fitzpatrick, who once served as Regional Executive Vice President for the National Capital Region—and Oneil Carlier, former Agriculture Union activist, PSAC regional rep and now a Minister in Notley’s new Cabinet.

I’m proud of them and wish them well. (I wish the same for seasoned PSAC activists Betty Bannon, Jason McMichael and David Shepherd, running for the NDP federally this year.)

And the polls! My goodness, the polls, with the NDP tied or leading across the country.

People are obviously fed up with the Harper government, and with good reason. There’s something about it for nearly everyone to dislike. Whether it’s anti-labour legislation, ongoing bad-faith bargaining, muzzling scientists, mistreatment of our veterans, stamping out democratic dissent, removing vital environmental protections, or endless political scandals, our country has been in irresponsible, dangerous hands for nearly a decade.

Canadians want their country back.

Our recent Convention unanimously endorsed a resolution to support the removal of the Harper Conservatives this Fall. Our members will vote for whom they choose, of course, but I suspect most of them have little love for a government that has demeaned them, lowered health and safety standards in the workplace, laid off thousands of their fellow workers, and is presently trying to roll back their sick leave.

So there’s real cause for optimism at last. I, like so many others, including a lot of fleeing Conservative MPs, can sense that change is in the wind. And for me, at least, that wind has a delightful orange scent.

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This page is an archive of entries from June 2015 listed from newest to oldest.

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