Premiers need to listen to working people

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Presidents message with Jerry's picture

Published in the Huffington Post Wednesday July 20, 2016

As Canada’s provincial premiers arrive in Whitehorse for their annual meeting, they will be joined by many groups interested in what happens at the meeting, from doctors to business people to academics to labour.

They must, and will, listen to all these groups – but I urge the premiers to pay particular attention to the many labour leaders who will be in Whitehorse for their Council of the Federation meetings, including myself. Our members’ hopes and dreams define what Canada is and what it will be, and deserve to be heard. 

For 10 years under the Harper government, these annual premiers meetings were a good place for the premiers to talk about the issues they confronted, but with little hope that much would, or could, come of it.

That’s because former prime minister Stephen Harper refused to engage with the group. Where other prime ministers saw the value in listening to the country’s other political leaders as they debated the issues of the day, Harper dealt only in the politics of division and had little use for the opinions of others.

Today, we have a new prime minister who is open to hearing what others think. Justin Trudeau won’t be at the meeting, as is tradition, but will no doubt be listening carefully to what is being said. That means the meeting this week will likely have more impact than those of the last 10 years.

Which makes it all the more important that the voice of working people is heard in Whitehorse this week, where labour leaders will be raising several important issues.

Top of mind for me and the Unifor Regional Directors –  Joie Warnock, Katha Fortier and Lana Payne –attending the meeting will be health care reform and renegotiation of the Health Accord to ensure a strong health care system for all Canadians. 

Medicare is one of the defining programs in Canada. More than a policy or a government program, medicare is a symbol of what it means to live in a country where we care for one another. When someone falls, we pick them up. When someone gets sick, we care for them. This week in Whitehorse, me and other Unifor activists will be working to ensure the premiers know how important a strong healthcare system is to working Canadians.

We will also be lending our support by efforts of the country’s provincial federations of labour and the Canadian Labour Congress to push the premiers on boosting the minimum wage, enhanced protections for precarious workers and improving access to Employment Insurance for those who lose their jobs. 

These are issues that often affect young workers, whose futures are made all the more uncertain by low-paying jobs and an unstable work environment. To continue having the kind of strong and prosperous Canada we want for our children, and to continue to be able to provide a sustainable healthcare system for future generations, we need to push for good jobs with stable futures and a living wage.

That’s why the work of the provincial federations of labour to push for the Alberta example on minimum wages to be spread across the country is so important.

The Alberta government of Rachel Notley, one of the premiers at this week’s meeting, has begun a process to gradually increase the minimum wage in that province to $15 an hour by 2018. It is a fair and reasonable program that deserves to be rolled out across the country.

Working people understand the importance of a decent job and a well-funded health care system, and the connection between the two. Labour leaders are in Whitehorse this week to make sure that message gets through to our provincial leaders, and through them to our prime minister.

They’d be well-advised to listen.