Bill Stewart: Freedom Fighter

Yesterday, we said goodbye to our friend, Bill Stewart.  Stephen Kushner delivered his eulogy, which i’ve posted below for the people who were not able to make it to his memorial service.

But before you read the eulogy, I encourage you to read his own message written 40 years ago as High School Student’s Union President – Bill’s values and beliefs have clearly never changed – he trully was a Freedom Fighter who believed in personal responsibility and we will carry his legacy on!

Bill Stewart

Goodbye friend – you will be missed!

Stephen’s words begin here:

Where do I begin, Bill? Where should I start? And how can I do this without your wise counsel, your editing, your way with words? Listen, you do the first draft, I’ll do the second, we will let it age for a few days and we will go from there. These were my thoughts when Bill’s family honored me with the request to capture Bill’s life, his joys, his sorrows, his accomplishments, his loves. Well, Bill, let’s start at the beginning.

Bill was born to Ruth Hanna and Robert Stewart on December 31, 1956, some almost 57 years ago. They were a family of five with brother Doug and sister Fran. Fran and Bill were both strong minded individuals enjoying the frequent tussle of political debates and discussions. Doug was the out doorsie type and Bill, Doug, and their father enjoyed many a fall outing in duck season. Bill’s mother, Ruth, instilled in Bill a love for history and perhaps had a hand in Bill pursuing a history major in order to ensure his mother’s discussions were not of a revisionist nature. Summers were easy times at the cottage in Lac La Non, fishing, and enjoying carefree summer days.

Around the family table, discussions of politics were frequent and enthusiastic, but Sundays were more refined with afternoons of bridge. Family was number one for Bill’s parents and these values were deeply instilled in Bill and values that he passed on to his own three children. And what beautiful children they are: Leah, Sheena, and Kristen. For Bill, nothing was more important than his girls. Raising his children to be caring, generous, compassionate, and self-reliant was so important to Bill and boy did Bill and his first wife, Joanne Blackstock, ever hit a home run in raising these three gorgeous daughters.

Leah, the most like her father, remembers the small things. Like walks to the park and hot chocolate after tobogganing or going to the candy store with a dollar and seeing how much candy she could buy. Bill instilled values in Leah that she holds precious to this day and Bill was so proud of her choice in her husband, Jeff Yanew, and first grandson, Nathan.

And Sheena loved her travels with her dad. A highlight was their trip together to Vegas to see Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young and that special moment when they bumped into Graham Nash and Bill was able to get a picture with one of his music idols. The trip to Thailand and Cambodia was truly special and Bill regaled the office with stories about how much fun he had getting drunk with his daughter, going to the Tiger farm, and that 150 km multi-bus 9 hour trip in Cambodia. Sheena, your dad was so happy when you fulfilled your childhood dream to get an education degree and he would often talk of your wonderful marriage to Grant and the business conquests and how excited he was about the youngest addition, Oliver, to the Stewart-Sanderson clan.

Kristen, you know you were the most challenging for your dad. You knew how to get your dad going, push his buttons, and for some period he wasn’t really sure how you would turn out. But I can tell you, because I know, how so very happy your dad was about your marriage to Josh Durwood and how sensational a mother you have turned into for both Anthony and Rayleigh.

And here is a little tidbit about Bill. He would find time to call his girls every day and have a chat because his daughters were always on his mind and in his heart. But enough said about the girls, husbands, and grandchildren.

It is time to talk about another of Bill’s abiding passions, Saturday morning grocery shopping. Grocery shopping for Bill and his girls was a Saturday routine executed with the efficiency of a well run political campaign. First you did the data analysis of the constituency (read the flyers for the best bargains). Then you plotted out the route where you could get the most votes (figured out which stores you were going to visit). He gathered the volunteers (rounded up the girls). Once the door knocking (shopping) was completed, back to the campaign office (home) to close up shop until the next campaign (unload the groceries). And then start all over again when the next election is called (go shopping when the food runs out). Yes, for Bill, shopping and politics were strategic activities: not for the faint of heart and completed knowing full well that the state of the nation (ensuring two well stocked freezers) was at stake.

Weekends at the Stewarts were special times and Sunday evenings were everyone’s favorite. Bill would do the cooking and on Monday mornings I would hear about his gastronomical successes. Sunday dinners were compulsory family time together where laughter and easy conversations were the norm. And political discussions were strictly forbidden. For any of the other six nights, political discussions were fair game, but not Sunday family dinners.

I mentioned, Joanne, Bill’s first wife and I must tell you more about Joanne and Bill, family, and values. Joanne and Bill were married for some 11  years. And while the marriage did not last, the friendship did. Joanne and Bill held family dinners together on Sundays long after their marriage ended and Bill said to me that they remained best of friends. Bill was the rock for the family and he continued to be a rock for Joanne. Joanne cared deeply for Bill and when Bill had a brief illness Joanne could be called on at any hour of the day and night to help her friend Bill. And Bill was so compassionate to Joanne when she was diagnosed with lung cancer and Bill was there. Joanne’s last months were spent initially with Leah and then with Bill at his home where he comforted, cared for and supported her to her last day. You see, Joanne was Bill’s friend and for Bill, friends take care for each other.

Bill, it’s time to get serious and talk about how you got to play in your sandbox every day for the past 23 years. So, my turn to talk about our beginning. I met Bill through student politics in grade 10. Bill was the President of his high school and I was the grade 10 representative. Bill was already a political pro, having been a VP in junior high in grade 7 and president of his student council by grade 9.

Yes, his political skills and successes started early and he loved people, ideas, social causes, righting wrongs and injustices. Bill loved politics. That was his passion.

Our friendship got deeper in University. Bill rushed with Phi Delta Theta fraternity and I followed two years later.

Bill was a Political Science and History major, pursuing an Arts degree and we decided to join forces and run on a slate as 2 Arts representatives on Students’ Council. We were told we were the under dogs with no chance of winning. But what do pundits really know? One year after winning that election, we combined forces once more to run for the Executive of the U of Alberta Students’ Council; Bill as president, I ran as a VP, and a person Bill suggested run with us as another VP joined our team – my future wife, Kaysi. After Students’ Council, Bill went west to pursue a Masters in Public Administration at the U of Victoria.

We kep t in touch. Bill moved north with the Territorial government in Yellowknife and later Rankin Inlet, then left to the big city of Toronto working for the Ministry of Housing for the Ontario government. Bill loved his work and worked long, hard hours.

We continued to keep in touch over the years. And in 1989 Bill visited Edmonton and I told Bill about a new position that opened up, Executive Director for the Merit Contractors’ Association in Saskatchewan. I remember Bill saying, “What do I know about labor relations?” I said, “No problem, you will learn” and wow, did he ever.  In 1998, Bill joined Merit Contractors’ Association of Alberta as its General Manage and later became Vice President Government Relations. As VP, Bill got to play in his sandbox every day, from early morning and often until late in the evening and on weekends.

You see, politics was Bill’s passion. His driving force in life was to make a difference, to make the world a better place. The Merit philosophy of self-reliance, of reward for hard work, of taking care of your people with fair wages, benefits, pensions, and opportunities resonated deeply with Bill’s core values.  Bill found a place where values, beliefs, passion, and work melded together.

Bill immersed himself in politics and in work, contributing to public policy development in construction, authoring over 30 articles for Merit’s Open Mind magazine as Bill was an exceptional writer. At the same time, he sat on Conservative Association boards provincially and federally, served as President of the Calder PC Association, and was active in too many political campaigns to mention. Yes, Bill has knocked on more doors supporting candidates than many sitting MLAs.

And Bill contributed to many many successful elections, sat on numerous committees, was always up for a discussion be it internal party reform or the big issues relating to debt, health care, or education. He touched the lives of hundreds of politicians, aides, bureaucrats, and campaign volunteers. He could just as easily engage the premier or future prime minister in a political discussion as he could Merit’s custodian, Nicolas, or any of the administrative staff at Merit. Bill was a people person with no pretensions and he had time for anyone. He was genuine, sincere, and loved a good discussion or debate. He also gave his time generously to The Hope Mission, The Mustard Seed and Women Building Futures.

Michael Cooper, who is running for the federal Conservative nomination in St. Albert was Bill’s most recent rising star and he was already working hard to help this bright young Conservative lawyer begin a political career.

Bill was no stranger to achieving success. And what was success for Bill? You see, Bill was a Free Enterprise Freedom Fighter. In his Twitter account, he also claims to be an aspiring food and wine connoisseur of the gluten free persuasion. Our Bill was no aspiring freedom fighter, he was the real McCoy.

Bill believed in worker choice legislation, union transparency, workers’ controlling how their dues could be spent, and secret ballot votes, and respect for democracy in the workplace.

He was thrilled to see the Federal Conservatives embrace these policies, the provincial PCs adopt some of these in their last election platform, and Wild Rose Party endorse some of these policies just a few weeks ago at their convention.

As a freedom fighter, Bill was a man of ideas, a persion of deep belief and conviction. And his way of changing the world was through political activism. Ideas are powerful and Bill was a freedom fighter extraordinaire.

Bill was respectful of those who gave their lives in battle and November 11th Remembrance Days were always very important for Bill. He would wear a poppy and attend one or more ceremonies honoring our fallen soldiers. Bill’s life was devoted to fighting injustice, and for me, November 11th, the day Bill passed on, will always be a more meaningful memorial day. I will think fondly of a very special freedom fighter. Enough of political battles and wars and fallen heroes.

It is time to get on with the really good stuff: Bill the romantic.  My good friend had fallen deeply in love with his new wife, Vera Leanovitch. So, now I get to tell you about a love story. While on a European October Fest vacation, 5 years ago, Bill was visiting a museum in Prague and was distracted by a beautiful woman who spoke English with an exotic accent. His itinerary was quickly changed to include a visit to Belorussia. I remember him returning from that trip and speaking about Belorussia and I was quite confused as to why a person doing an October Fest trip would end up in Bellerose.

This began a beautiful love story with some eight rendezvous to Bellerusse and other trips to Budapest, Vienna, Krakow, Barcelona, Banff, Jasper, Vancouver, Victoria, and Calgary.

When separated, Bill and Vera would talk daily on skype. On a romantic trip to the beautiful city of Budapest, on one knee Bill proposed, holding out a wedding ring. And once Vera figured out what he had just mumbled, she said “of course!”

And so began a wonderful transformation. Bill and Vera were married for a little over two years and were together in Canada for fourteen months. And those fourteen months were the longest honeymoon I have ever observed.

Bill and Vera were deeply in love and the logical, political activist was also a passionate, considerate, gentle, kind loving husband.

Vera talks of how sweet Bill made sure that there were fresh flowers on the table every day for her, how they found joy in each other’s company. Simply, these two were deeply in love.

And, oh, how we saw changes in Bill at the office. Bill had an extra bounce in his step. He went from being an OK dresser to a sharp dresser. Even Premier Redford once complimented Bill on one of the new sweaters that Vera had picked out.

Bill would often go home for lunch to spend that extra hour with Vera. He could even be seen leaving the office as early as 5 pm.

The Merit family saw a person who had always been upbeat, now  glow, excited about life and all its possibilities, talking about his new love, Vera, and planning for their future together.

Planning meant dancing lessons for old twinkle toes every Tuesday night, and Russian language classes so that Bill could better engage with Vera’s family.

And speaking of Vera’s family, I must tell you the story of when Bill stole Vera from her family, he wrote the kindest, warmest letter to the family promising that he would take care of their Vera and that they should not worry as she was precious and would find happiness in her new home. That was the kind of person Bill was.

Hey, Bill, I have probably talked long enough and said some things I shouldn’t have. I know from now on any help from you will be of the inspirational type. So, we ALL will have to manage with one less freedom fighter on the ground, but with one more angel on our shoulders. Good bye my dear friend.

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Industrial Revolution Values vs. 21st Century Education System

Last week, the Alberta Teachers Association (ATA) unexpectedly walked away from the province-wide tri-partite negotiating table with an announcement that the best they can offer is a four year deal with wage increases of 0%, 0%, 1% and 3% over the term of the contract.

The ATA did this knowing full well that wages are not the issue.  They were hoping to pull the wool over the eyes of Albertans.  They came out on the offensive by pointing to just how reasonable they are being.

When it comes to the issues the ATA and Government actually disagree on, however, the teachers’ position is the furthest thing from reasonable. It’s based on concepts applied during the industrial revolution, when the rise of unionism was an important counterbalance to the rise of the industrial enterprise.  This is a time that has long passed – and our education system needs to get away from.

Before reading on, I urge readers to take the time to listen to Minister Johnson’s audio interview
(http://www.education.alberta.ca/department/ipr/tripartite.aspx) for a very full and detailed explanation of the Government’s position including a q&a with the media.

The sticking points between the Government, School Boards and the ATA come down to 2 key issues –  workload and what the Minister calls a comfort letter, which is essentially an agreement from the government that they won’t make any changes to regulations, teaching quality standards or legislation that pertains to a teacher’s role for the duration of the contract.

The ATA’s position here is patently unreasonable and completely predictable.  All parties involved in this discussion will say that they want what’s best for students, but the teachers’ union by its very nature is there solely to look out for the interests of teachers and, by extension, its own power over the system.

While the Government of Alberta and school boards are looking to transform the education system so that it can function properly in the 21st century, the teachers’ union is protecting long cherished and severely antiquated principles of seniority, as well as the power the union holds when its members keep a monopolistic grip on the education system.

In other words, for the ATA these negotiations are about the very core of what gives a union its power. And for the Government, it’s about taking some of that power back in order to bring transformational change to how education is delivered.

Seniority is important to a union’s power because the longer a worker stays in the system the more money they make and the more union dues they pay. Long term workers have also been paying union dues for longer, which means they deserve more loyalty in return. It’s a closed loop system that leaves little room for innovation and even less room for change.

As the Minister explains in the audio clip, the issue of workload can be addressed in two ways – through a hard cap on hours or by giving teachers additional support in the classroom and redesigning their roles so that low value tasks are removed and more time can be spent on high value tasks.

Given the union’s inherent bias towards the long term worker, the concept of changing a teacher’s role becomes more difficult. A teacher who has a year or two left in their career will be more resistant to this kind of change. It’s natural. Change is hard. Change takes work.

But the union’s motives in this negotiation are more sinister than their systemic bias towards more senior members. These negotiations are about the union’s own relative power over the system. Monopoly equals power – anything less is seen as an erosion of that power and unacceptable to any union in a negotiation.

The union’s solution to workload is to put hard caps on the number of hours a teacher can teach in say a day or a week. Hard caps mean more teachers; more teachers mean more union dues for the ATA. It’s simple – if a teacher can only work 40 hours but there is 60 hours of work that equals 1.5 teachers or 50% more union dues.

It’s a bad deal deal for taxpayers and in the 60% of Alberta schools that hard caps are in place, the problem of teacher workload has not gone away.

The ATA’s other demand of the government – that it not change legislation, regulations, teaching quality standards or anything else related to a teacher’s role is, once again about nothing more than the teacher’s union fighting to keep monopoly control over the system – or its own power.

When the Education Minister talks about providing teachers with more support in the classroom or eliminating low value tasks, he is likely referring to bringing people into the classroom to assist teachers. This way, teachers can focus on the high quality tasks of educating our children while the teaching assistants and other classroom support staff can help with discipline, focus, attendance, paperwork or other administrative tasks.

From a perspective of relative power within the system, this doesn’t work for the teacher’s union.

This new person (or people) in the classroom, who is most likely not a certified teacher and therefore not part of the teacher’s union, will reduce the workload of the teacher, meaning less (or the same amount) of teachers and less union dues for the ATA.

While I’m oversimplifying the examples and I realize that there are many different aspects of a teacher’s role or a classroom environment that can be changed, refocused, etc. … my main point here is that the ATA’s position in these negotiations are purely about self preservation and cynical power politics.

In other words, while the various ways of approaching the issues may seem complex, understanding the motives behind the union bargaining position is extremely simple.  The union is there to keep its power and, by extension, the relative power of teachers within the education system.

It’s important to understand that for the union, there is a fundamental disconnect between the interests of teachers and the interests of students, school boards and the Minister of Education.  The union exists for teachers, not students – yes, there are circumstances when these interests overlap (the collective bargaining sweet spot); this is not one of those times.

However, in a time where the Government and School Boards are looking to bring sweeping transformational change to the education system, that bargaining sweet spot may be nearly impossible to find.

As a result, we have the ATA’s annoucement last week that they are walking away from the province-wide bargaining table.
Alberta’s education system must embrace the 21st century to prepare kids to thrive in today’s fast paced and innovative world.  The longer we allow the teachers’ union to hold onto the industrial revolution values that led to its creation (seniority and self-preservation), the worse the rest of society will be.

PP

 

PC Government deserves a ZERO for not doing their job

Sometimes, it’s difficult to be a PC supporter.  Reading stories about rampant corruption within our healthcare system are hard to stomach, especially considering the sub-par care my mother received in her dying days only a few years ago.  It took 3 months of doctor appointments (in her last 6 months of life) to get a diagnosis in our monopolistic system, yet when we flew to the US and paid for a diagnosis in a private clinic we got the diagnosis in 1 day.  After she was diagnosed here in Canada, our shitty healthcare system failed to provide her with homecare; somebody forgot to order it for her.  She died in emergency because there wasn’t enough space in the hospital for her.  It was a horrendous experience that left me very upset.

But I didn’t blame the PC government for that.  I understand that MLAs don’t run the healthcare system and I don’t think it’s a good idea for them to.  The healthcare system should be run by health professionals, which for the most part, it is in Alberta.

It is the job of MLAs and Ministers to broadly oversee the system and to make adjustments when those who run the system day to day make mistakes.  This is why Premier Redford took decisive action when the Merali story broke and why she is implementing more transparency in the way government officials report expenses.

The no zero policy story, which concluded yesterday with the firing of a high school teacher with 30+ years of experience is something I can’t believe our elected officials would allow to happen.  The Redford Government deserves a zero for not stepping in to stop this.

I agree that our Education Minister should not get involved in the day to day decisions made within our education system.  We have Trustees, Superintendents and other education professionals who are better suited to run our system at the local level.

But firing a teacher for giving HIGH SCHOOL students who don’t complete assignments zeros is far more offensive and egregious than any story of corruption or misuse of public dollars.  And the fact that Alberta’s Education Minister is not planning to step in to correct this is shocking and unacceptable.

The no zero issue is about far more than a teacher who isn’t following policies or a local firing decision as the Minister has suggested. It’s about teaching values and principles.  In a province where small business is the backbone of our economy and where our big businesses are global leaders, the values we teach with a no zeros policy is unacceptable.  Failing is one of the most important components of success and teaching our future leaders about consequences is one of the best ways we can prepare them for the competitive and cruel world.

Like I previously said, it’s the job of MLAs and Ministers to broadly oversee the system and to make adjustments when those who run the system day to day make mistakes.  A man lost his income because he would not follow the offensive no zero policy and the PC Government needs to make this right, just like they did recently regarding the expense claims of health officials.

Otherwise Albertans might decide to teach them that there are, in fact, consequences for not doing their work.

PP

A PC Party Make Work Project

I am a card carrying PC – you know that – and most of you know I’ve been one for years. I’ve held plenty of positions within the Party including my most recent stint as the Deputy Campaign Manager during the general election. I love my Party. I’m dedicated to its principles and core values. I’m a true Progressive Conservative.

Many of you will also remember that I am a true champion for #changefromwithin in the PC Party. What does this mean? It means renewal. It means doing things differently to ensure everyone is engaged – and by everyone I’m including brand spanking new PCs. #changefromwithin means communicating and including. It means transparency and ensuring there is a seat at the table for all PC Party members before a decision is made and a motion is passed.

I volunteered (along with @ppilarski) as Alison Redford’s GOTV Chair on her leadership campaign because I believe she was the healthy change this party needed. I took a leave of absence from my day job during the campaign to work on the PC campaign’s core team. Proud accomplishments of mine for many reasons – including the fact that I saw #changefromwithin become a reality in both circumstances. I remain a proud PC because of our strong leader and our strong roster of true, PC candidates that were elected this past April.

Do I like what Premier Redford is doing in Alberta? You bet! Family Care Clinics, public consultation, long term plans, quick action on previously ignored files (like Highway 63), no fear in doing things differently … all things I’m proud of. All things I believe represent a modern day Alberta and modern day Albertans. Changes necessary to move our province forward.

Do I believe #changefromwithin is alive and well in our Party? It’s getting there … but the fight is not over.

The PC Party’s latest “make work” project is the perfect example of my continued frustration over the Party’s focus.

Formal documentation of our Party’s political roots? What?! This sounds like a good MA thesis for a passionate young conservative … not a project you pay a consultant to do. Maybe a cool project for the PCYA wing of our Party as well not something we spend resources on. Let’s practice fiscal responsibility.

Did we not just fight the hardest election battle since 1993 in this province? We were victorious but we have plenty of lessons to learn as a Party that shouldn’t include prioritizing the documentation of our history.

What does need to be documented?
How about a debrief from the election campaign that involves all stakeholders and constituencies? Let’s learn the lessons of our political battles from the people who were on the frontlines of the campaign. Priorities should be already preparing for the next election, considering a four year strategy and learning from the mistakes of the past 4 years. Now, I expect the powers that be will tell me that they ARE doing these things. That’s wonderful – but if no one knows about it then does it really matter? Are you operating in your silos (something Redford has been passionate about breaking down in government)? Are you engaging your membership (all those campaign managers, cluster coaches, regional desks?)? How can you expect to strategize if you aren’t including the membership who fought the battle?

Now you’ll say “but Christina, they are engaging members in this project”. Let’s engage members by asking how to be battle ready and how to better represent the people of this province … and communicate that we actually are. Let’s ask them for a debrief of the election this year. Let’s engage them in fundraising, membership drives, etc. And what about engaging the thousands of new PCs our party gained after the leadership and after the 2012 election – this latest project is certainly not one they can buy into. Finally, let’s engage the PCYA in this project if it is really deemed as something that needs to be completed in the interim.

I’m disappointed. Not because we are documenting our history and asking members to get involved. I too have warm and fuzzy stories I can add to the collection – stories I’m proud of and stories that have kept me engaged as a member. I’m disappointed that this project has taken center stage and is what the party is currently highlighting.

What about the governance review? What about constitutional review? What about fundraising (some boards are in major need of support after the election)? What about board support (new MLAs, new volunteers that need backing … not to mention some serious communication breakdowns that need to be addressed in a number of boards across this province)? What about connecting the various constituency association executives so we can start collaborating? What about learning to communicate as an association – not just sharing what government is doing? Or just communicating in general?

I’m angry – I’m ranting. But most importantly I’m still waiting for #changefromwithin in the PCAA.

Because by pushing out make work projects we continually show Albertans we aren’t listening as a Party.

The leader (I’m so very proud to support) and our (capable, smart, next generation) caucus members need to stand up and get the PCAA train back on the tracks. Another 40 years is ours … but only if we learn from past mistakes and move Alberta into the future – not spend our resources and money on documenting the past and further glorifying it.

Take a step back – what do you think the average Albertan cares about? Long term planning or a historical document of how great we used to be? I stand by Premier Redford because she campaigned on stable, long term planning for our province – let’s take a hint and do the same for the party. Remember when the tables turned in the election – when Albertans started to realize Wildrose wanted to move Alberta backwards and that the PCs were capable of moving Alberta forwards. Let’s not lose that mandate. You may remember a few of my tweets during the election … “never trust a party that offers you the past” …

Thank goodness government is listening – hoping for a trickledown effect asap.

And, yes, these are qualities I will be looking for in the next PC President. The race is on. Who represents the face of #changefromwithin?

CR

Canada’s Building Trade Unions Support is Suspicious

Canada’s Building Trades Unions (BTU) came out publically the other day supporting the Government of Canada’s decision to allow the reversal of Enbridge Line 9 between Hamilton and Sarnia.  In their release, Director of Canadian Affairs, Robert Blakely, says that they work with energy producers on a daily basis to ensure that Canada’s energy projects “achieve all of their potential” and that “it’s refreshing to have a federal government that also grasps this economic reality.”  Blakley goes on to say that “with measures like an improved regulatory process, their commitment to apprenticeship and now this – the Harper Government is demonstrating its knowledge of, and commitment to, our industry.”

Taken at face value, such strong support of Prime Minister Harper’s Government and policies are no doubt helpful to the Prime Minister and to the energy industry as a whole.  Had the BTU sent this news release and focused only on the great nation building work of Prime Minister Harper, the BTU would have come across genuinely.

Instead they went on to express their concern about the “unintended, negative consequences of Bill C-377, which endangers the ability of Canadian workers to participate in large scale nation building energy and resource projects”

WHAT???  How??? Huh???

Bill C-377 is a federal Private Members Bill that would require unions to make public their finances, including assets, liabilities, expenses, and salaries of officials.  It’s a necessary piece of legislation in a world that is becoming increasingly open and transparent.

In his news release, Blakely goes as far as threatening that if Harper’s government moves forward with Bill C-377 it will “add considerable costs to the bottom line of large-scale energy projects” while at the same time stating the legislation would actually “duplicate processes that are already in place to provide accountability and transparency”.

If unions already have systems in place to provide accountability and transparency then they will be able to comply with Bill C-377 with little or no additional cost.  You can’t say on the one hand that you already provide full financial disclosure to members and on the other that it would cost you a fortune to provide public financial disclosure.  There is no logic to that argument.  It simply doesn’t make sense.  We know, for example, that when the US brought in union disclosure legislation the cost of compliance to unions was nominal.

Blakely also states that building trade unions are private sector unions and that “unlike charities and political parties, they (we) receive no public sector subsidies”.  The fact of the matter is, however, that unions enjoy special status under our tax laws and receive approximately $400 million worth of tax benefits every year.  Furthermore, union dues are mandatory which means that unions effectively have the ability to tax their members without any requirements to be transparent or accountable.

When Bill C-377 was first introduced, Blakely and friends complained that the Harper Government was unfairly targeting unions with this legislation.  Given that the government has required charities and first nations governments to be more transparent, these arguments have fallen on deaf ears.  Their new argument that they receive no public subsidies is also full of holes given their unique tax status and the mandatory nature of union dues collection.

Canada is far behind many other developed countries when it comes to both union financial disclosure and the ability of workers to opt out of all of some of their union dues.  Australia, New Zealand, Germany, France, Ireland, the U.K. and the U.S. all have some form of union financial disclosure.  Furthermore, in Canada MPs, Senators, Minister’s offices, provincial politicians and their staff, federal and provincial departments, First Nations Governments, charities and foundations, crown corporations and publically traded companies are all subject to some form of financial disclosure and transparency requirements.

So why are the building trade unions essentially threatening large scale industrial project cost escalation and an endangerment of the “ability of Canadian workers to participate in large-scale nation building energy and resource projects”?

What do big union bosses REALLY have to hide??

Until unions are subject to financial disclosure legislation, we will never really know.

What we do know is that the USA has had union financial disclosure legislation in place since 1959 and it has led to thousands of fraud convictions.  In fact, from 2001-2008, the US labor department secured more than 1,000 union fraud-related indictments and 929 convictions.

We also know that several unions provide funding and support to oil sands opponents, such as the Sierra Club (CAW, Nova Scotia Nurses Union), Environmental Defence (United Steelworkers), Parkland Institute (Canadian Union of Public Employees), the Rideau Institute (CUPE), the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CUPE, CEP), the David Suzuki Foundation (B.C. Teacher’s Federation) and the Council of Canadians (CUPE, Canadian Union of Postal Workers, Hospital Employees’ Union, Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, Confederation of Canadian Unions, Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, CAW, Pulp and Paper and Woodworkers of Canada, COPE, B.C. Teachers’ Federation, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers).  But we often only know about this funding because the recipients, not the unions, report it.

Over the summer, one Federal MP told me that she has never been lobbied as much as she is being lobbied by organized labour against Bill C-377.  Clearly, organized labour has chosen union financial disclosure as their preverbal hill to die on.

One has to wonder why …

It’s great that the Building Trade Unions support Prime Minister Harper’s direction on energy development and its great they believe he is moving forward with great nation building policies.  I support Prime Minister Harper’s approach as well and so does the open shop construction community, which actually represents the vast majority of construction workers in Canada.

But to tie the issues of energy development and union financial disclosure together in the same media release is dishonest and, quite frankly, embarrassing.

Canadian unions should embrace financial disclosure requirements.  And they shouldn’t tie their support for energy development to the desire of Canadians to have greater union financial transparency.

Oh ya …. I forgot to mention that Canadians support Bill C-377 – in fact, more union members want increase union financial disclosure than non-members ….

But I thought that unions already disclosed all of their finances to their members?

Right … they really don’t.

PP