President's Commentary: If all the world's a stage, public service workers finally get a starring role | National Union of Public and General Employees

President's Commentary: If all the world's a stage, public service workers finally get a starring role

A play called The Public Servant is about to open in Toronto and will help put a human face on all the caring and hard-working people in our public service.

James Clancy, former President of NUPGE

OTTAWA (29 Feb 2016) — Take a moment to answer this question: When was the last time you watched a TV show or read a novel that featured a main character who works in a government office? 

Stumped? Don’t feel too bad. The truth is that although hundreds of thousands of Canadians work in the public service, they are virtually ignored in the stories we tell about each other.  And when public service workers do occasionally pop up, they’re usually one-dimensional background characters reflecting tired old stereotypes. 

Just the other day, for example, I saw a trailer for a kids movie about a world populated by talking animals. The heroes—a rabbit and a fox—had to visit the Department of Motor Vehicles. Guess what kind of creatures were staffing the DMV? Sloths.

Public service workers barely register in popular imagination

No wonder it’s so easy for politicians to win votes by promising to cut the public service. Public service workers barely register in the popular imagination and, when they do, it’s as the slowest creatures in the world.

Which is one of the reasons I’m so excited about a new play called The Public Servant. It runs in Toronto from March 13 to April 3 at the Berkeley Street Theatre, and it puts an honest human face on all those who are working in the public service to make their communities better places to live.

It’s a great subject for a play, but that’s not the only reason I’m recommending it. It’s also a great story that’s as funny as it is poignant.

Public service workers want to do good

It follows the lives of three women in the public service. They’re at various stages in their careers but they all share the fundamental desire to do good. 

But in this age of austerity and privatization, that’s not as easy to accomplish as it once was. “It was different then,” says the most senior character about the early days of her career. “We pushed policy — not paper. We did things. It was a mess. It was meaningful. It was jazz.”

I sincerely believe it can be jazz again. Or hip hop. Or rock 'n' roll. But it will mean rebuilding respect and appreciation for the work public service workers do, and a play like The Public Servant can go a long ways towards helping us do that.

So if you live in Toronto, or are planning to visit during the second half of March, I hope you’ll treat yourself to a night at the theatre. You’ll enjoy yourself, and I believe you’ll also be doing a little bit to help secure the future of your job, too.

In solidarity, 

Signed, James Clancy

James Clancy
NUPGE National President

More information:

Tickets are available at the Canadian Stage Box Office, 416-368-3110 or at Groups of 10 or more get 25% off. Get a further 20% off tickets online until March 1 by using the coupon code “EARLYBIRD”.

The Public Servant

The Public Servant video clip


James Clancy is the National President of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 360,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE

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