Day Four Convention Diary: Decision Time!

November 28, 2014

Executive board member Calvin Jonas offers his perspective on Day Four of the 2014 BC Federation of Labour convention.

History was made yesterday as 2,300 BC Fed delegates—a historic high—elected Irene Lanzinger as the first-ever woman president of the Federation. As president she will represent some 500,000 members of its affiliated unions.

Irene Lanzinger received 1,137 votes, and Amber Hockin received 1,080 votes…a close race! The buildup of excitement and tension right up to the election yesterday morning was palpable. Supporters enthusiastically cheered on their chosen candidate.

Aaron Ekman who ran with Amber, was the successful candidate for secretary-treasurer.

From the at times boisterous campaigning leading up to the vote it was clear that Irene and Amber, both excellent candidates, had inspired strong support within the delegates. MoveUP’s executive board had voted some weeks previously to support Amber Hockin and Aaron Ekman. What was most amazing, despite the high emotions and enthusiasm of the supporters in both camps, was how quickly all the delegates, led first by Amber Hockin, rallied to show their united support for Irene.

MoveUP President David Black and all our COPE378 delegates were quick to get on their feet to show their support for Irene and Aaron.

United in solidarity, the delegates once again quickly settled back into the other business of the convention, continuing to pass a number of important resolutions dealing with issues affecting all workers in BC, unionized and not.

Some of the important issues addressed yesterday included:

  • Child Poverty in BC: Canada ranks 24th out of 35 industrialized countries on this front, and B.C. has the worst record of the Canadian provinces. Yet the B.C. Liberal government has no plan in place to address this urgent and complicated issue that involves the availability of subsidized housing, affordable daycare, and education to assist vulnerable parents and children out of the cycle of poverty.
  • We heard from government employees frustrated by their inability to adequately service their clients due to draconian cuts to funding of essential programs and services.
  • Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA): We heard about the negative impacts of this free trade agreement with the European Union. It is eroding Canadian sovereignty and workers’ wages, and (no surprise!) benefits mostly corporations that are hoarding billions of dollars rather than investing in our economy by providing good jobs.
  • Veterans: We heard first hand reports from those impacted by the Harper government’s abject failure to properly support veterans.  Bureaucratic red tape and few qualified professionals to support soldiers returning from duty with mental issues should concern all Canadians as we continue to hear about tragic suicides among military personnel.
  • Threats to Canada’s Universal Healthcare System: We heard from Dr. Danielle Martin, a family doctor and hospital administrator, and founder of Canadian Doctors for Medicare. She spoke to delegates about the imminent threat to universal Medicare. Dr. Brian Day, of the controversial for-profit Cambie Surgical Centre implicated in charges of illegal extra billing, has mounted a Charter challenge that, if successful, will have profound negative consequences for all of us who believe that access to universal healthcare should be based on need, not ability to pay. Dr. Martin challenged us to “live up to the promise of healthcare”. Universal healthcare, she said, “is about living our values” and demonstrating the highest expression of care for each other. She challenged delegates to harness their power of collective action to raise public awareness to counter the attacks on the Canadian Medicare system by private for profit interests. After Dr. Martin’s presentation BC Fed president Jim Sinclair told “Every Canadian is important to every other Canadian when it comes to their health”. In B.C. the government is failing to deal with the now-10 month-long waiting list for MRI scans at UBC and VGH. The facilities should be staffed to make them available 24-7.
  • The Fight on the Attack on Public Services: MoveUP President David Black kicked off the discussion of an important report presented to delegates on how tax cuts undermine public services. The average Canadian uses $41k of public services annually, yet the per capital government funding per Canadian is only $32k. We heard from a number of public employees how this gap in funding is frustrating government employees’ ability to deliver the services Canadians depend on. Canadians need to wake up to the neo-liberal agenda that tells us all taxes are bad. Delegates left with a better understanding of how right-wing spin doctors are perpetrating this myth at the expense of Canadians. The BC Fed will convene a Public Sector Summit on January 9th, 2015 to deal with this and related issues.

The day wrapped with an enthusiastic welcome by delegates for John Horgan, leader of the BC NDP. With deep roots in the labour movement, John presented himself as an effective and credible supporter of the House of Labour. His key message was about the need for “co-operation, collective action and respect” in our society, and that our province, in particular, needs “hope and opportunity”. The NDP is clearly the only party aligned with the objectives of the BC Federation of Labour and as such is enthusiastically supported by delegates.

This was my second time at the BC Fed Convention. There were many first time delegates in attendance. It was my pleasure to be assigned to mentor a first time attendee from MoveUP. It was a great experience for me and made for a very enjoyable, albeit very busy week!

If any of the issues mentioned above strike a responsive chord with you, I would recommend you consider getting involved with your union as a steward, councillor or board member. There is so much good work being done here far beyond negotiating a collective agreement. It’s a great opportunity to “be the change you want to see in the world”.