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Poll finds Canadians want municipal services public, not private

Water tops services Canadians want kept in public domain

OTTAWA, ON – Nine out of 10 Canadians want their water and sewage services kept public, according to a new poll released May 31, the eve of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) annual conference in Montreal.

Canadians want local public services kept in public hands, controlled by democratically elected governments, not run by private companies,” said Paul Moist, National President of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE). “This should encourage all politicians at the FCM meeting to keep water public and tell water profiteers to back off.”

The poll found that 93 per cent of Canadians want water services to remain public. The poll also found that Canadians want the following services kept in public hands: street and bridge maintenance (87 per cent), libraries operation (85 per cent), public transit operation (84 per cent), park and rink maintenance (83 per cent), and garbage collection (82 per cent).

Also, about 63 per cent of Canadians want municipalities to get the full share of the federal gas tax now, not three years from now, as currently scheduled, according to the poll.

Eighty-five per cent said it was important that cities use the money to provide public services directly rather than handing it over to private, for-profit companies and contractors.

The poll was conducted by Vector Research and commissioned by public and private sector unions. Its margin of error is plus or minus 2.9 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

The FCM met in Montreal June 2-5. See below for some CUPE FCM highlights.

CUPE highlights from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM)

Harper’s “open federalism” a patchwork nation (FCM)

The Conservatives’ vision for Canada came into sharper focus June 4 in Montreal, courtesy of Lawrence Cannon, Federal Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities.

Cannon described the three main pillars of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s vision of “open federalism”. They were: respecting provincial jurisdiction, limiting the use of federal spending power and enhancing cooperation between the three orders of government (federal, provincial / territorial and municipal).

“Nobody can argue against the idea that the three orders of government should cooperate and tackle challenges together as equals,” said CUPE National President Paul Moist. “We applaud the Minister for stating this so clearly to FCM delegates.”

However, Moist raised grave concerns with the idea of the federal government limiting the use of its spending powers.

“We need the federal government to use its spending powers to set and enforce national standards in key social policy areas,” Moist said. “The federal government must make sure provinces and territories spend federal money on the programs it’s intended for, whether it’s municipal infrastructure, health care or any other priority.”

Environment Minister cancels – again (FCM)

Conservative Environment Minister Rona Ambrose cancelled her June 4 scheduled appearance as a keynote speaker at the FCM. This is not the first time the minister has pulled out of scheduled public speaking engagements.

Municipal consultations (FCM)

The good news coming out of the federal government is a new commitment to consult with municipalities before future federal budgets.

“This might have something to do with the fact that the Conservatives failed to elect anyone in Canada’s largest cities, but it’s good news nonetheless,” Moist said.

Harper plays it safe (FCM)

Stephen Harper’s first speech as Prime Minister to the annual conference of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) June 2 was brief and cautious.

“The Conservative leader failed to announce any new commitments to help our communities wrestle down the growing infrastructure deficit,” said CUPE National President Paul Moist. “Instead, Harper said his government would continue the funding plan put in place by the previous Liberal government under the ‘New Deal for Cities and Communities’,” Moist said.

Under that deal, a portion of the federal gas tax will be transferred to the provinces for municipal infrastructure. The amount is to grow to 5 cents per litre after 5 years, but CUPE and many others have been calling for that “New Deal” to be sped up.

That’s what NDP leader Jack Layton called for today in his address to the FCM. Layton, a former FCM president and veteran city councillor, was warmly received by FCM delegates.

It’s not hard to see why. Layton demanded that the Harper government transfer the full 5 cents now. And he was the first leader at this year’s conference to take questions from the delegates on the floor.

Da Fiscal Code (FCM)

The real “fiscal imbalance” lies at the municipal level, FCM delegates were told today in a workshop on how municipalities are being affected by federal and provincial neglect.

After more than a decade of federal downloading and funding cutbacks, cities are being asked to do things that the federal and provincial governments used to do.

The real “fiscal imbalance” is what one FCM delegate from northern Ontario, a woman councillor from Sudbury, called the “devolution” of the social safety net.

It’s not just a question of money, though that’s crucial. The federal government needs to take responsibility for social issues like homelessness and the lack of affordable, quality child care and other social services. It will do that by stepping up to the plate and strengthening universal social programs, not passing the buck to the provinces like Harper is planning to do.

CUPE gets good feedback from the floor (FCM)

CUPE leaders, members and staff have met dozens of delegates and, so far, all of the feedback about CUPE has been positive. It seems mayors, councillors, city staff and other officials have high regard for the working women and men in our union.

National President Paul Moist was pleased to collect many diverse and positive comments about CUPE members across the country, from the community work that members are doing, to volunteer efforts to cordial labour relations.

A city manager from Grand Prairie, Alberta, had some particularly good feedback for CUPE. He took some literature from last year’s FCM on CUPE’s literacy work and, inspired, began a partnership with CUPE 787 to build a literacy program that’s up and running today. He was glad to see CUPE back at the FCM again.

It’s working. Building relationships and making friends is helping CUPE build stronger communities across the country.

BC forensic accountant urges BC Auditor General to be more “assertive” and “investigative” in approach to P3s

Ron Parks, BC’s best-known forensic accountant, says that the BC Auditor General’s office should play a more active and direct role in assessing whether taxpayers are getting value for money from government-mandated privatization schemes worth up to $10 billion.

In his report of June 7, Parks says that the Auditor General’s process used to review three major public-private partnerships (P3s) – the Abbotsford Hospital, the Sea-to-Sky Highway, and the Canada Line – “does not provide assurances that there are going to be real cost savings for the public”.

In all three cases, the Auditor General did not prepare a direct independent audit but instead reviewed value-for-money reports prepared by organizations that manage or promote P3s.

Partnerships BC – the government agency mandated to advance P3s – prepared the Abbotsford Hospital and Sea-to-Sky Highway reports. The Canada Line report was prepared by Canada Line Rapid Transit Inc., the Translink subsidiary responsible for implementing the project.

In two of these cases, the Auditor General’s office was also paid a fee to conduct the reviews – a practice Parks says should stop in order to heighten the public’s perception of independence.

Parks recommends that the Auditor General prepare his own direct reports on P3s “to distinguish his information and conclusions from those who have a vested interest in demonstrating the value for money of the P3 model”. Parks also recommends that the Auditor General adopt a greater degree of skepticism towards P3s and take more of an “investigative approach.”

In his report, Parks calls for a significant increase in funding for the Auditor General’s office so that the Auditor General can evaluate P3 projects from their beginnings. And he warns legislators, provincial ministries and the BC government that they should “exercise restraint in adopting conclusions that the Auditor General has not reached or set out in his reports.”

Parks’ report was commissioned by the Hospital Employees’ Union and the Canadian Union of Public Employees. Parks is with the firm Blair Mackay Mynett Valuations Inc. The full report can be found at www.heu.org, www.cupe.bc.ca, or www.cupe.ca.

Kensington water to remain public

COMOX, BC - The Vancouver Island Water Watch campaign reports good news for public water in the Regional District of Comox-Strathcona (RDCS).

On May 29, 2006, the Regional District passed a bylaw ensuring that water and sewer systems for the Kensington Island Properties development will be turned over to the Regional District as publicly owned infrastructure once built. The development is in the small community of Union Bay on Vancouver Island.

Public water advocates were concerned that the private corporation Terasen Utilities Services was an active partner in Kensington’s consulting team. Terasen’s presence raised red flags and led to concerns that Terasen or another private company would gain control of water and sewer systems in the development and thus gain a foothold in the Regional District water system.

An active local water watch coalition emerged to raise the issue and to lobby the Regional District to require Kensington’s water to be publicly managed.

No progress bargaining with Livingstone Range: Two sides heading towards a strike in September

LETHBRIDGE, AB – Bargaining between the Livingstone Range School Division and over 100 non-teaching employees produced little progress and left the union frustrated at the inaction of school trustees.

The employees include teaching assistants, custodial workers, bus drivers and administrative staff. The union recently voted 88% in favour of a strike.

CUPE Alberta President D’Arcy Lanovaz said the employer offered 9% in wage increases over five years.

While the wage offer was far too low, our major concern remains the fact the school district still wants to make most employees casual and to contract out almost every job in the schools.”

Lanovaz said that the problem is a lack of involvement in negotiations by elected school trustees. Trustees are using an Edmonton based negotiator with a reputation for hard line tactics.

In Lethbridge, the school trustees were at the bargaining table and we had a deal in six hours,” said Lanovaz. “At Livingstone Range, the trustees are hiding and pretending they have no responsibility.”

What trustees have to learn is that they are running a school district, not a student council,” said Lanovaz.

There are no scheduled dates for bargaining, but the union is open to negotiating over the summer.

We will meet with the school division as long as it takes to get a deal,” said Lanovaz. “But if there isn’t a settlement by the end of summer, the school opening may be severely disrupted by a labour dispute.”

Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, city workers not happy with stalled contract talks

Prince Albert city workers wore buttons depicting unhappy faces around city hall, the outdoor pool and other city-owned facilities on June 5. The buttons belong to city workers represented by the CUPE 882, who have been without a new collective agreement for more than two years.

“We are extremely disappointed and frustrated with the employer’s refusal to negotiate a fair agreement - one that values and respects our work as city employees,” says CUPE Local 882 President Fay Harelkin. “That’s why our members are wearing the sad face.”

Last month, the city walked away from the negotiating table. No new bargaining dates are set.

Harelkin says the union is willing to return to the bargaining table ‘any time’ to conclude a new contract. “We could be back to the table by this afternoon,” she adds.

Last month, the inside city workers voted 97 per cent in support of taking job action - the first strike vote in the union local’s 43-year history. “The strike vote reflects the level of frustration among our membership,” says Harelkin.

The 120 members represented by CUPE Local 882 want the same agreement that other city workers secured - 9.5% over four years. But the city is demanding concessions and takeaways.

“Our dispute with the city is not about money, it’s about fairness,” says union spokesperson Jason Stelmaschuk. “The city gave its department heads a 17% increase for one year, but we’re having to fight for an annual increase of 2.25%. How is that fair?”

Stelmaschuk says the city must be held accountable for the lack of progress in contract negotiations. “It’s disgraceful that after 34 bargaining meetings with the employer, we still don’t have an agreement.”

London CUPE school board workers win more time with students

LONDON, ON – Thames Valley District School Board workers have voted 83 per cent in favour of a tentative agreement reached June 1, following talks between CUPE and the school board. The new collective agreement will add 30 minutes to the workday for 1,100 education and instructional assistants (EAs and IAs).

This deal represents a significant victory for our members and for EAs and IAs across Ontario,” said Jennifer Kaufmann, CUPE National Representative. “Winning more time to work with students means better quality education for special needs students. Our members will continue to lobby the provincial government to provide adequate funding for Ontario school boards, to meet the needs of all students.”

EAs and IAs will see their hours of work increased 15 minutes a day on September 1, 2006, and a further 15 minutes will be added on January 1, 2007. The three-year agreement also includes wage increases of two per cent per year, and protection against being laid off during additional professional development days.

STOP ATLANTICA: CUPE New Brunswick in fight to stop east coast “free trade zone”

This weekend, the who’s who of the New England States and the East Coast business community will be in Saint John, New Brunswick, to discuss opening the trade barriers of the geographic international trading corridor that runs from Buffalo in northern New York state to Atlantic Canada, a corridor known as Atlantica.

The Halifax-based Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS) and the Eastern Maine Development Corporation have been promoting this free trade zone for years. Their goal is quite simple: they want to pave the way for big businesses on both sides of the border to make more profits.

Critics fear that Atlantica will bring down the minimum wage, reduce access to employment insurance and make it harder for workers to organize. A “free trade zone” would also lead to reduced public spending on social programs and more privatization of public services such as health care and education.

Labour and community groups are planning a major rally against this “free trade” threat in Saint John, Saturday, June 10. CUPE members from around the provinces are mobilizing to attend.