CUPE leadership and members lobbied for public investment in municipal infrastructure and services, while challenging the privatization model of “public private partnerships” (P3s) at the 2005 meeting of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) that ended yesterday (June 6) in St. John’s, Newfoundland & Labrador.
National President Paul Moist called CUPE’s presence at the meeting “essential” in making sure that public services and public investment at the municipal level are maintained.
“CUPE members play a central role in delivering strong and healthy communities, so it’s only right that our union grow its presence at this annual meeting,” said Moist. “We’ve come away from this meeting with a renewed vision for advocating for public investment for strong communities. We’ll spend the next 12 months deepening our work at the local level and make our presence felt even more at the FCM’s next meeting.”
The FCM is the national umbrella organization of municipalities that coordinates, among other things, a collective municipal response to federal initiatives such as the “New Deal for Cities and Communities”. Elected officials from municipal councils across the country come to represent their communities in the FCM’s committees and policy bodies. Municipal administrative officials also participate in the annual meeting, offering CUPE an excellent opportunity for its lobbying and advocacy.
CUPE, representing the majority of municipal workers in the country, came to the FCM on the heels of its own first-ever national meeting of municipal workers. The momentum from that Toronto meeting carried CUPE members, leadership and staff through the FCM conference where they spread the word about public investment in our communities at every opportunity.
Moist was joined by National Secretary-Treasurer Claude Généreux, CUPE BC President Barry O’Neil, CUPE Saskatchewan President Tom Graham and, acting as host and guide, CUPE Newfoundland & Labrador President Wayne Lucas. Importantly, these leaders were joined by members of several municipal locals, including city workers from Edmonton and Winnipeg, who came to St. John’s to raise public sector concerns at workshops and panel discussions, in hallways, at receptions and other social events.
Hundreds of municipal councillors and others from across the country visited the CUPE “Rebuilding Strong Communities” information booth, getting more information on the importance of keeping investment public. Members honed their critical listening skills while debunking the feel-good messages of Liberal politicians, knowing that the federal “New Deal for Cities” has a ways to go to become a good deal for our communities.
The weekend was not without controversy. A panel discussion on the last day about P3s was stacked with pro-P3 advocates, including the communications consultant who tried to hoodwink people in Halifax to accept the controversial Halifax Harbour P3 clean-up. He complained that the sales job was made “more difficult” by CUPE’s campaign against the privatization of water – which means Canada’s largest union is doing its job.
But the gross imbalance in the panel prompted Burnaby mayor Derek Corrigan, an FCM board member, to issue a very public complaint at the panel’s bias and urged his own organization to balance the issue at future gatherings. Paul Moist issued the same challenge, setting the stage for more critical perspectives gaining ground on P3s within the FCM. On the positive side, people attending the session, looking for both sides of the story, snapped up copies of the Ontario Health Coalition’s recent report documenting 100 flawed, failed and abandoned P3s in Canada, the UK and Australia.
There were many other highlights from the weekend-long meeting, but perhaps the brightest was the fact that the profile of Canada’s largest union at this important national gathering is growing. Plans are already underway to boost that presence at next year’s FCM meeting in Montreal.
Over 400 city councillors, mayors and civic officials entered a CUPE-sponsored raffle, with many signing up to receive regular updates on CUPE’s perspective on municipal issues.
National President Paul Moist did several media interviews, including features on CBC St John’s and the city’s famous “open lines” talk radio station, VOCM. On both, Moist drove home the CUPE message about the importance of public investment and the perils of P3 privatization.
And of course, Newfoundlanders’ famous hospitality was in full view. From the fabulously helpful unionized Delta Hotel workers (where the FCM meeting was held) to the local historians/taxi drivers, visitors were made to feel right at home.
Nowhere was this more evident than at a “meet and greet” organized by CUPE Newfoundland and Labrador President Wayne Lucas. Members from around the St. John’s area met with Paul Moist and national office staff to share strategies, laughs and perhaps a sip of beer.