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Stephen Lewis called on municipal workers across Canada to continue their efforts to protect vital community services in a powerful speech to the CUPE National Municipal Sector Meeting in Toronto on February 18.

You should feel strong and united and good about what you are undertaking and defending,” said Lewis. “The public sector is what makes things work. And when we don’t have the public sector alive and robust, as has been shown in country after country then the human condition declines, it atrophies, it falls apart.”

Lewis spoke passionately about the importance of keeping a strong public sector and resisting privatization.

The public sector is what makes the world tick,” said Lewis. And we’ve learned from South Africa, to Malawi to Trinidad that when you privatize water, or you privatize electricity, or you privatize waste disposal, people are excluded from coverage, prices go up, the poor are greatly impoverished. There are very few examples in the world where there is benefit from that kind of impulsive privatization.

Lewis told workers that they should be proud of their role in building strong communities in Canada. “You’re the people who make a just and compassionate society,” said Lewis.

Lewis is a distinguished visiting professor at Ryerson University and is the chair of the board of the Stephen Lewis Foundation, which is dedicated to turning the tide of HIV/AIDS in Africa. He was the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa from June 2001 until the end of 2006.  From 1995 to 1999, he was Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF at the organization’s global headquarters in New York. From 1984 through 1988, he was Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations. Lewis was leader of the Ontario New Democratic Party from 1970 to 1978, during which time he became leader of the Official Opposition.