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Public services like health care, education, water and sanitation services are the foundation of a healthy democracy, and CUPE must step up the fight to protect these services. That was one of the main messages for CUPE activists at a national all-committee meeting held in Ottawa this week.

More than 200 members and staff spent an inspiring morning listening and participating in a panel discussion on the times in which we live.

Committee members are meeting to strengthen and sharpen their plans to defend public services and CUPE members.

Before the panel, CUPE National President Paul Moist spoke passionately about CUPE’s vital role as the country’s biggest union. He spoke about the power and responsibility that CUPE has to be a “loud and progressive” voice that speaks up against right-wing attacks on public services, and stands up for all workers.

Canadian public services were won through the struggles of our grandparents, and set a standard that other countries aspire to, said Oxfam Canada Executive Director Robert Fox. But the fight isn’t over. The battle to defend and improve public services “is a battle that has to be fought every single day,” he said. “We represent an alternative and a threat to right wing governments and corporations.”

Panelist Manon Cornellier, a political columnist for Le Devoir, outlined how the Harper government is undermining democracy and suppressing public participation. From shutting down debate in Parliament to the silencing of dissenting ideas, ignoring evidence and feeding voters’ cynicism, the ultimate result is to demobilize and disconnect Canadians.  Cornellier said that for organizations like CUPE, the answer is to bring people to react instead of disengage and encourage them to protest, vote, write letters and take other actions. “Democracy demands that we speak up,” she said.

CUPE economist Toby Sanger highlighted how public services build social and economic equality. “Countries with strong public services suffered less during the recession,” he said.

All the panelists talked about the need to find common ground with other Canadians, connecting around community values as the path to building a movement for a more caring, equal and democratic society.

Moist urged members to be smart and strategic as we defend public services, protect equality rights and strengthen collective bargaining. Together, we can expand our vision of social unionism to build a better Canada.