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Local 4575 president seeks re-election on Alberta municipal Election Day, October 18, 2010

Success and respect for the political process has been instilled in Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) members like Therese Taschuk, Smoky Lake town councillor and Local 4575 president. Like many Albertans, Therese’s ancestry features the story of a parent or grandparent fleeing old Europe in search of human rights and democracy.

I would say that everyone should run for public office at least once in their life,” said Taschuk. “There’s just so many things involved in the running of things, even locally. Politics are very interesting and extremely important.”

After being forced to flee Hungary in the uprising against Soviet rule in 1956, Taschuk’s father made his way to a small town in Switzerland, where he married, and little Therese was born. However, as Taschuk describes, Switzerland was not exactly friendly to a foreign-born man. Later, the family settled in Nova Scotia first, coming to Alberta later in the 1960s, where they farmed near Bellis, a hamlet in Smoky Lake County.

Therese grew up in Smoky Lake, met her husband Terry, and worked in Bellis until the closure of the school in 1997 at the behest of the Alberta government.

By that time, she was already a seasoned CUPE veteran, serving as Local president, a division executive and on the Political Action Committee, as well as numerous other committees. In 2001, she ran for the local health authority and lost narrowly. However, in 2007 she ran for town council in Smoky Lake and easily won.

Being a CUPE member, you’re always aware of the political nature of your work,” she said. “The more you are involved in CUPE and political action, the better equipped you are to look after your members.”

Taschuk credits former national representative Ron Pilling for pushing her into the CUPE activist fold.

In my first year we were coming up on bargaining and it was the very first meeting I ever went to,” she said. “I was a rookie and had so many questions… they were beginning to pick a bargaining committee and eventually I asked so many questions that Ron just said: ‘Why don’t you join the committee?’ I then went to my first convention and became vice-president soon after. I was hooked.”  

Although being involved municipally in Smoky Lake is nearly a full-time job, Taschuk wants her fellow CUPE members thinking about seeking public office to “go for it”. When she started out, she had very little detailed knowledge about how the town worked. Today, she works on the local and regional library boards, the regional water committee, with the Pumpkin Growers Committee, the Smoky Lake Fire Department, and with the Family and Community Support Services Committee.

I first ran just because I thought taxes were too high,” she laughed. “Now I know why and I’ve learned where those tax dollars go. I’ve learned about the importance of social services and community networking, all of the unpaid volunteer hours and organizations that make the life of a community great and the benefits of that.”

The biggest challenges facing Smoky Lake and the neighbouring counties are sustainability, privatization of public services, and the downloading of provincial responsibility onto the municipalities, she added.

We’re in the midst of regional water planning that is so important to our area,” she said. “Nobody wants another Walkerton, so we need to get these public regional systems in place. We’re doing good work, but I always have the fear in the back of my mind that we will do all of this work and then the provincial government will privatize. With more CUPE members elected, that will be less likely.”

As for the father who fled Hungary, he’s a pretty proud papa. “He just said ‘Good for you! Do it and do it well,” she smiled.

Taschuk is one of six declared candidates, so far, from CUPE in Alberta seeking public office in the upcoming election on October 18, 2010.

Other CUPE members seeking election in Alberta are:

How you can help

Without a supporting team a successful election likely won’t happen. Any offer of help to a candidate you support is welcome, so volunteer to work on a candidate’s campaign. That can include door-to-door campaigning; phone bank assistance; talking to your work colleagues about supporting the candidate; reminding your colleagues, family and friends to cast their ballot on election day; or having a sign on your lawn or window. Finally, any financial contribution (from an individual CUPE member) to a candidate’s campaign is appreciated.

To find out more information about running for office in your city, town, or county in Alberta, please contact legislative liaison Jeff Sloychuk at jsloychuk@cupe.ca.

Make sure you vote on October 18!

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