"The National Union and its Components have fought these governments and their policies every step of the way. We are ready to put that experience to work again." — Larry Brown, NUPGE President
Ottawa (01 Sept. 2016) — As the new President of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), I am privileged to offer my first Labour Day message to the members and friends of the National Union from across the country.
Since we last celebrated Labour Day, our country has undergone a major transformation, from the dark and dangerous days of Steven Harper to – sunny ways?
Certainly, it would be foolish and inaccurate to deny that the Trudeau government has brought relief from the anti-democratic Harper government. On many issues they have moved decisively to undo the damage caused by Harper; on many issues they have said the right things. But the number of areas where change is yet to be measured mean that the true face of the Liberal government is not yet fully revealed. Their stance on the Canada EU trade deal, CETA, is an ominous sign that “plus ca change, plus ca le meme chose.”
But, while uncertainty about exactly what the Liberals will do is a dominant theme nationally, we have at the same time the complete opposite of “sunny ways” at the provincial level.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, a government elected on the explicit promise not to attack public services is doing just that. Yes, the price of oil fell precipitously. Yes, that affected the economy of the province and the finances of the provincial government. That does not justify every panicked response by the government.
Cutting public services will only worsen the living conditions for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. In tough times, people depend on public services. As it becomes more and more difficult to obtain these crucial public services, the quality of life for many people will suffer. Furthermore, cutting public services and public spending will further damage the province’s economy. A downturn is the worst time to cut public spending.
In Nova Scotia, the government has engaged in unprecedented anti-union and unconstitutional actions, seemingly undeterred by a series of losing ventures where they were forced to back down.
In both that province and in Ontario, privatization is being wielded like the clumsiest of cudgels, essentially selling the family silver to pay the rent.
Privatizing public services is a bad idea, period. Cuts to public services can be reversed, the damage can be repaired. But if a service is privatized, it becomes very difficult to bring that back into the public sector. Privatization is primarily a way to reward the friends of governments by allowing them to make a profit off of work the public service used to do, and that – through our taxes – we’ve already invested in.
In Manitoba, the new government there has, as one of its first actions, made it harder for working people to organize into unions.
The newly re-elected government in Saskatchewan ran on virtually no platform and is now, only after re-election, bringing forth a series of major changes that will have a negative effect on public services. One of the few things they did promise was to privatize liquor sale - cutting government revenue and weakening social control over the sale of a dangerous drug – in a province that has one of the highest incidences of drunk driving in the country.
We do have one bright spot in all this. In Alberta, not because the government has the right label, but because they are responding to a hellacious situation with some very good legislative changes, some responsible fiscal decisions, and a refusal to adopt traditional misguided austerity measures.
Of course, this is not, by any means, a full catalogue of transgressions made by provincial governments. The governments of BC especially, as well as PEI and New Brunswick, have made some very negative moves too. Exempting the Alberta situation, the too common pattern of wrongheaded and destructive decision making at the provincial level is not new to us. Unfortunately, governments across the country have pursued the same misguided policies that too many provincial governments are now adopting.
The National Union and its Components have fought these governments and their policies every step of the way. We are ready to put that experience to work again. These governments think they are adopting new ideas to deal with the financial downturn they are facing, but in reality, it’s like they are rediscovering the hula hoop and the transistor radio.
The National Union and our leadership teams in our provincial Components will stand together with the people of our provinces during these challenges. We will stand shoulder to shoulder, with each other and with all those fighting for a better, more just and equal society.
Together, we make a formidable team.
Larry Brown is the 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