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The Western Municipal and Skilled Trades conference was held this past week in Victoria, kicked off by an opening night keynote address from noted author Gord Hume and a reception hosted by CUPE BC.

CUPE BC President Mark Hancock opened the conference with a welcome to the 300 delegates, many of whom traveled from other provinces to attend. Hancock said that while the conference is specific to municipal and skilled trades workers, all union members need to pay attention to the growing attacks on the labour movement.

It doesn’t matter whether the attacks come from governments in Victoria or Ottawa, or from right wing lobby groups,” said Hancock. “We have to stand up for our members’ rights—and we have to do a better job of talking to them about the issues.”

Keynote speaker Hume told the delegates that over the next 20-30 years Canada will be facing a $1 trillion infrastructure deficit, and encouraged CUPE members to be active in local, provincial and federal politics to address the issue. “When we strengthen our cities, we strengthen our country,” he said.

Delegates were also welcomed to the conference by CUPE Alberta President Marle Roberts and CUPE Manitoba President Kelly Moist.

On Wednesday and Thursday, municipal delegates participated in workshops led by CUPE National representatives on a range of issues, including “Understanding Municipal Finance,” “Fight Back! Core Services Review,” “Growing CUPE: Organizing in the Municipal Sector,” and “Occupational Health and Safety: Keeping Yourself Safe at Work.”

Skilled trades delegates attended a panel discussion on Wednesday morning on “Apprenticeships in the Public Sector,” featuring Industry Training Authority CEO Kevin Evans, and the United Steelworkers’ Michelle Laurie. In the afternoon, and again on Thursday, delegates attended workshops on “Alphabet Soup: Trade Agreements and What they Mean to Our Members,” “Safety in Trades,” and “Contracting Out and Bringing Our Work Back Home.”

Friday morning’s plenary session was opened by CUPE National President Paul Moist, who congratulated delegates on the history of gains that CUPE locals have made in the municipal sector in particular. Moist also said how important it is going to be in the coming months and years for CUPE locals to improve communications with members and encouraged delegates to emphasize the union’s integral role in our communities.

Moist’s speech was followed by National General Vice President Barry O’Neill’s Ten Percent Shift presentation. O’Neill thanked delegates for their commitment to their communities and their workplaces. He said the next phase of the Shift campaign will focus on local government procurement and how they can use existing resources to improve their local economies.

CUPE National Secretary Treasurer Charles Fleury provided delegates with an update on the strong state of the national union’s finances, and reminded them that the national cost share program is available to help finance local union initiatives.

The conference concluded with remarks from CUPE BC Secretary Treasurer Paul Faoro, who encouraged delegates to take what they’d learned over the past few days and share it with members of their locals when they returned home. “Sharing information is a very valuable tool, and we need to connect as many of our members as we can to the ideas, enthusiasm and idealism we’ve seen so much of here in Victoria.”