President's Commentary: We Can Do Better: It’s Time For Change.

"This, Sisters and Brothers, is the most meaningful and exciting Labour Day I’ve ever experienced. Never before have we been so close to electing a government that stands for all Canadians, not just the rich ones." — James Clancy, NUPGE National President

Ottawa (04 Sept. 2015) — I’ve been a trade unionist my entire adult life, and I’ve marched in dozens of Labour Day parades and eaten who knows how many Labour Day hot dogs. But this, Sisters and Brothers, is the most meaningful and exciting Labour Day I’ve ever experienced. Never before have we been so close to electing a government that stands for all Canadians, not just the rich ones.

James at Kingston Labour Day 2015You have to go back exactly 80 years to find the last time a federal election campaign was officially underway on the first Monday in September. It was 1935 and, then as today, Canada was in the grips of economic contraction and increasingly revolted by the arrogance and callousness of a Prime Minister who believed that helping the rich was his one and only job.

New political force

But a remarkable new political force was taking root. It wasn’t beholden to the wealthy and powerful of the East or to the wealthy and powerful of the West. It stood instead for the interests of all of the country’s working women and men. Its leader was Tommy Douglas.

Douglas left Canada many precious gifts, including universal health care and, as the Premier of Saskatchewan, an unbroken string of 17 balanced budgets that prove governments can balance their books without resorting to austerity.

But on this election-charged Labour Day, I’m thinking instead about his political parable, Mouseland. In that imaginative little speech, Douglas perfectly captured the perils of assuming that either of the establishment parties has your best interest at heart. It’s just six minutes long and here it is for you to watch (or rewatch).

Of course, many of us are frightened that we’ll wake up on October 20 to another four years of the Harper cats, another four years of their ill-tempered and even cruel attacks on middle-class women and men (not to mention their attacks on health care, science, the environment, and unions).

But before you let that fear lead you down the path of voting ABC (Anybody But Conservative), think about Mouseland and remember that the Liberals are cats just as surely as are the Conservatives. Their fur may be a different colour and they may deliver their promises in a more soothing purr, but make no mistake—the Liberals are as beholden to the wealthy investors on Bay Street as the Conservatives are beholden to the wealthy investors on the tar sands.

Look carefully at Liberal and Conservative records

Look carefully at the records of both of these establishment parties and it’s clear that their first priority is always to please the rich and powerful.

The Liberals might seem to have soft edges, but the blows they deliver to working Canadians can be just as vicious. When last in government, they stripped away the bargaining rights of civil service workers, and outlawed strikes by postal workers, railway workers, and port workers.

They’ve done plenty of other catlike things, too. The growing number of homeless on our streets and mentally ill in our jails provides painful proof that we’ve never recovered from the massive cuts to health care, education, and social services inflicted by Chrétien and Martin. They also slashed CBC, gave oil and coal companies a total pass on emissions targets, and made it much easier for pharmaceutical companies to jack up the prices of our medicines.

"New" Liberals the same as the "old"

In case you’re thinking that those were just the actions of the “old” Liberals and that the “new” Liberals are different, remember that today’s Liberals don’t support a $15-an-hour minimum wage, refuse to take leadership on cutting climate emissions, and voted against a democratic-reform bill that would have ensured our next federal government accurately represents all Canadians.

And perhaps most telling of all, today’s Liberals voted in favour of Bill C-51, a truly heinous piece of legislation that gives police and intelligence services unprecedented powers to spy on, disrupt, and detain Canadians—especially Canadians who, like the poor mouse jailed at the end of Tommy Douglas’s Mouseland, dare to question the motives of the ruling cats.

Many Conservative attacks on workers

We know the Conservatives supported Bill C-51 because they wrote it. They also wrote plenty of other bills that take direct aim at the basic rights and freedoms of all Canadians.

Bill C-525 makes it harder for people to join unions. Bill C-377 makes it harder for unions to stand up to large, well-funded employers. Bill C-59 will strip away Canadians’ sick leave and disability plans. And Bill C-60 severely weakens the bargaining power of workers at 48 Crown corporations, including CBC, Via Rail, and Canada Post.

At the same time, the Conservatives handed the keys of our economy over to big business. CEOs and shareholders may be prospering, but none of the rest of us is. In fact, they’ve led us straight into a recession. And by cutting the taxes of the prospering rich, the Conservatives have been all the while digging us deeper and deeper into debt. They have compiled an astonishingly bad economic record.

And so, as you enjoy the summer’s last long weekend, I urge you to join me in thinking about the kind of country we’re going to choose to be. Think about your family, your friends, and your co-workers, and ask yourself if you think we can do better, or if we should just keep on settling for less so that the cats can get more. 

In solidarity, 

James Clancy
NUPGE National President


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