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Government austerity measures, cuts and privatization were the hot topic in the social services sector meeting, as delegates packed the room to capacity to address their concerns. Meeting co-chair Carrie Lynn Poole-Cotnam (CUPE 503) noted that the crowd was likely the largest the social services caucus had ever seen, before wondering whether the size were an unfortunate indicator of tough times in the sector.

It didn’t take long to confirm those fears. The first delegate reporting from New Brunswick told the room that her local was “just waiting for the axe to fall” on income assistance and senior support programs under the province’s conservative government.

Meeting co-chair Michael Lanier (CUPE 1936) reported that systemic underfunding in B.C. means that workers are overstretched at work, yet living below the poverty line, with some having to find additional part time jobs just to afford the cost of living.

Despite the difficulties that many described, there were several optimistic voices as well. A delegate from Quebec reported on the developments of a social workers’ movement in Quebec, inspired in part by a British organization, the Social Work Action Network (SWAN).

Guest speaker Trish Hennessy also struck an optimistic tone. Speaking on the results of focus group testing on public services, Hennessy told the crowd that, when asked, most Canadians place great value on public services. To counter recent attacks, Hennessy emphasized the importance of connecting with the public’s emotional attachment to services, and demonstrating the tangible value these services provide all Canadians.