July 2015 Archives

Robyn Benson, PSAC

Our campaign must be working

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…because we’re attracting slings and arrows from the other side. They can’t attack the truth of our message about the damage done to Canada by the Harper Conservatives. So instead they’re shooting at the messenger. But not very effectively.

Here, for example, is Lorrie Goldstein of the Toronto Sun:

“Harper’s Conservatives Are Bleeding Our Public Services: Vote to Stop the Cuts” is the theme of the campaign to be featured on “billboards, posters, radio ads and targeted web and social media content.”

Translated from union-speak, this means PSAC is alleging the feds are bleeding the country’s 170,000 federal public servants dry.


There’s lots more along that line. The Sun declined to print my short response, so here it is:

Suddenly the mystery of why Sun Media covers unions so horridly has been solved. Your union speak translation service is completely hopeless.

Somehow your editorialist translated our campaign against shuttering veterans support services, closing search and rescue bases, and cutting employment insurance benefits as being about employee wages.

When we say transport, food safety and environmental regulations are being gutted, you dismiss it as a ‘festival of indignation’. Someone needs to go back to translation school.

You got one thing right though. Our Vote to Stop the Cuts awareness raising campaign encourages people concerned about these issues—people who understand them a bit better than the Sun with its ‘how bad can things be, we’re still breathing’ message—to vote against candidates who’ve done this damage to their country.


Then we have the Sun’s Ryan Doyle:

Perhaps PSAC should speak to those who have spilled real blood for our nation, before making our Maple Leaf a casualty in its imaginary war.


Where has he been? We’ve been speaking to those men and women for some time: veterans, who are directly bearing the cost of Harper’s cutback campaign, have joined with us in protest.

And then there’s Howard Levitt in the National Post:

PSAC does not represent “Canadians.” …The PSAC’s concern is not a reduction in government services but cuts to their members’ jobs and benefits with the concomitant dues paid into the union’s coffers.


Of course we don’t “represent” Canadians—we’ve never claimed the contrary—but we are Canadians, and our members serve Canadians from coast to coast to coast. We know from firsthand experience, as Levitt should know, that cutbacks have resulted in lengthy benefit backlogs for unemployed Canadians, the loss of vital front-line services for veterans, and serious threats to our environment, just to give a few examples.

Can any of this be seriously denied?

Obviously not. So instead, our opponents are trying to shift the debate: from the effects of the cuts, to the people protesting those effects. And expect a lot more of this in the lead-up to the October 19 federal election.

It’s dishonest, in a word.

During our current campaign, we’re inviting those who support and benefit from quality public services to keep these cuts in mind when they vote. We’re proud of the work that our members do, helping to protect the quality of life that Canadians have every right to expect. But that quality of life has been diminished by the Harper government. As we’ve been saying for some time, everyone is affected—PSAC members and the general public, union members in general and non-union workers as well.

In the final analysis, this isn’t about the PSAC. It’s about Canada: the Canada we live in, the country we love. The Canada our children, and their children, will inherit. As citizens, we’re speaking out about that, and we’ll continue to do so. And so should everyone.

Robyn Benson, PSAC

Harper's child benefit: bribing Canadians with their own money

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The $7 million was bad enough. That was money handed out by the Harper government to help municipalities celebrate Canada Day, but most of it seems to have ended up in Conservative ridings or ridings where the Conservatives have a shot at winning in the upcoming federal election.

But that was chump change compared to the cost of the cheques now arriving in mailboxes for the Universal Child Care Benefit. We’re talking $3 billion here. Your money and mine. A small monthly increase in the UCCB all bundled up in one six-month retroactive payout. A few weeks before the federal election.

But before getting into the many things wrong with the UCCB, enhanced or not, let’s start with where that money is going. Yup, you guessed it. Mostly Conservative-friendly suburban ridings. Once again, Harper’s supporters are being rewarded. And, judging by his poor standing in the polls, it’s clear that Harper wants to keep them in the fold.

Back to the UCCB itself, though. It’s meant to be the Conservative answer to a universal childcare program, “designed to help Canadian families, as they try to balance work and family life, by supporting their child care choices through direct financial support.” It was created when Harper first took office in 2006, after he abruptly cancelled the federal child care agreements with the provinces that promised to create badly-needed quality child care spaces across Canada.

At first, it was $100 per month for children under six. (Try to purchase a month of childcare with that.)

Now it’s risen to $160 for those children, and $60 per month will now be paid to families with dependants between the ages of 6 and 17. It’s taxable, however, and the abolition of the Child Tax Credit at the same time makes this “benefit” substantially less than it appears.

The main problem, though, is that the cash to families does not get them one bit closer to affordable quality child care. In fact, the so-called Universal Child Care Benefit has nothing at all to do with child care. According to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, more than half of the recipients this year don’t have childcare costs to begin with. Even Harper himself will get a cheque.

The sheer cynicism here is maddening. Families are in desperate need of child care. Instead of creating spaces, the Harper government puts in place a child care benefit that goes mostly to people who don’t need it.

And now we have the spectacle of Employment and Social Development Minister Pierre Poilievre trotting around the country allegedly trying to find 200,000 “missing families” who aren’t getting their slice of this electoral pie. So far, it appears he hasn’t had much luck tracking them down. But it’s a great pre-election news story. And his visits have almost invariably been to places where the Conservative vote needs shoring up.

This October 19, think about the alternatives: a taxable benefit that won’t create a single child care space versus a national childcare system. Seems to me that’s one of the easier choices facing Canadian working families today.

Robyn Benson, PSAC

Dulling Harper's cutting edge

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We’ve just launched a nationwide campaign to inform Canadians about the real impact of Harper’s cuts to public services. It’s time.

I’m proud of our union for taking this on. Our mandate was an emergency resolution at our recent Triennial Convention, committing us to

  • oppose government actions that will compromise any of our members’ rights;
  • continue organizing and mobilizing our members through concerted and strategic actions with other unions to defend our bargaining rights;
  • take the necessary legal action to defend our constitutional right to free collective bargaining; and
  • work to elect a federal government that respects worker and union rights and federal public services, and that governs for the benefit of all Canadian workers.


The resolution passed unanimously—with a $5 million fund to back it up. Now, with just a few weeks before the federal election on October 19, we’re taking on point four. No union can afford to sit this election out. In fact, it would be irresponsible to do so. To those who insist that unions not be “political,” I ask: what choice do we have? And when I say “we,” I’m referring to each and every member of the PSAC. This campaign, probably the most important one we’ve ever initiated, cannot succeed without the active involvement of the rank-and-file.

So, go to our campaign web site and start sharing what’s there through social media. Follow the campaign on Facebook and Twitter. Ask your co-workers, family and friends to vote to stop the cuts.

Federal public services are under unprecedented attack. Harper has hacked away more than $14.5 billion a year from public services since 2010.

We are all affected by the slash-and-burn program of this government. Cuts have landed everywhere: to border security, search and rescue, environmental protection, food safety, employment insurance, veterans’ services, vital scientific research—the list seems never-ending.

And it gets worse. When governments play the austerity game, there’s a trickle-down effect: federal cuts lead to provincial cuts, and responsibility for a wide range of social services is then downloaded to the municipalities—without the funds to pay for them.

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Those who try to keep delivering quality services to the public are burning out. Members from coast to coast to coast have been telling me for months about their struggles to cope with increased workloads and backlogs. The resulting stress has reached crisis levels, something that the government has been forced to recognize at the bargaining table, thanks to the dedication of our teams.

Our members are suffering, and so are the millions of Canadians who depend upon their work. Our campaign will tackle all of this head-on.

To be blunt, Canadians—our members and the general public—have reached the breaking point. Restoring quality public services should be everyone’s priority. And we, collectively, have a golden opportunity to do something about that in a few short weeks. Let’s count ourselves in.

Robyn Benson, PSAC

The environment is a union issue

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This past weekend, PSAC members joined with other union members and grassroots activists in a nationwide mobilization for jobs, justice and the climate. The marchers in Toronto alone numbered more than 10,000.

So why is this a union issue? Why get involved?

First, through its affiliates, including the PSAC, the Canadian Labour Congress represents 3.3 million workers in Canada. Together with their families, that’s a pretty large chunk of the population. When the environment is degraded, we are all affected—to coin a phrase.

Secondly, unions are created to fight for their members, and we fight on many fronts. When it comes to collective bargaining and our day-to-day working conditions, the Harper government has been abusing its power. Bill C-59 allows it to short-circuit collective bargaining. health and safety standards have been lowered in federal workplaces. Unions can be heavily fined for representing members with pay equity claims.

It’s obvious to most members that our union has to get politically involved if we are to represent the membership effectively at the bargaining table, or, more generally, in the on-going fight for fairness, equity and safety in the workplace—and in our communities. And so we join with others to defend the environment, as our front-line workers in that area are being steadily cut back. And so we join with others to defend the environment, as our front-line workers in that area are being steadily cut back.

In the period 2010-2017, Environment Canada plans to eliminate fully 21% of its staff, including 338 employees from the climate change division. Many of those jobs are already gone: for the workers remaining, it’s an impossible uphill climb. Then there’s Fisheries and Oceans: 30% of the staff enforcing regulations for species at risk have already been let go, and $100 million has been cut from the water protection budget.

The government has almost abandoned the regulation of our waterways, gutting the Navigable Waters Protection Act to help out its friends in the energy industry. The number of protected lakes in rivers in Canada have shrunk from 2.5 million to only 159 lakes and rivers.

Things have gotten so far out of hand that a federal court found last year that both the Minister of the Environment and the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans have been acting unlawfully by failing to enforce the Species at Risk Act.

Public services are essential to protect our environment, and our union has always fought hard for quality public services for all Canadians. But to deliver those services, we need sufficient public service workers—and we need a government committed to preserving and improving our quality of life. It’s hard to imagine anything more central to that goal than keeping the environment clean and safe. But the Harper government is trying to drag us all in the opposite direction.

This affects our members, not only as federal public sector workers, but as citizens. It affects their families, and future generations of Canadians as well. Together, we can turn this around. It’s the union thing to do.

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