Happy Canada Day!

As a proud Canadian, today – on Canada Day – we invite you to ponder these two questions: (1) What does it mean to be Canadian and (2) What does it mean to be a Canadian trade unionist?

Canadians are known as lovers of hockey, poutine, cottages, maple syrup and profuse apologies. Contrary to long-held misconceptions of our neighbours to the south, we do not typically live in igloos, travel by dogsled or eat blubber. Nor are fur trading or lumberjacking our primary occupational choices. We pride ourselves on our bilingual heritage, our history of peacekeeping and our ability to proudly display our Canadian flag on our luggage and backpacks when we travel internationally.

But perhaps today, on Canada Day, we ought to consider those things we most value as Canadians, those things that quintessentially define us as a nation (if there exists such things) and consider what we’re prepared to do to protect them. For while we’re known as the great nation of apologizers and we wear that label with something approaching a quiet smug pride that it reflects our fundamental politeness, perhaps we do have much to apologize for. Our historical treatment of our First Nations people comes to mind. Our treatment of other persons of colour and of women and of the LGBTQ community both within and outside of the trade union movement were not our proudest moments. We would do well to remember some of the harsh truths from our past lest we run the risk of repeating our transgressions.

We have always prided ourselves on our superior healthcare, education systems, and labour laws, yet we are letting these fundamental privileges slip away incrementally. It’s the incremental nature of the changes that are perhaps most dangerous – most insidious. Much like the touted frog who knows enough to jump out of a pot of boiling water, but who stays put in the pot to an untimely blistering death if the water temperature is increased incrementally, are we perhaps allowing those things that made us quintessentially Canadian – those things that defined us – slip away?

I think back to my studies of labour history, where trade unions were almost always at the forefront of protecting the rights of those whose voices weren’t heard. Where trade unionists sacrificed much for the good of future generations. Where we put the value of the ‘many’ ahead of our own individual interests. Where we fought for dignity and respect for all. It got me to thinking about the historic value of meaningful protest. Is the labour movement, that has long-served as our nation’s moral compass, shying away from controversy, politics and protest? Are we at risk of becoming big business ourselves? Is it our obligation to examine these questions and to shine the light on these thorny issues, to push our culture to be the best it can be? If so, are we serving that function?

With the declining role, if not disappearance, of true investigative journalism; with increased globalization and decreased value on human input; with growing supremacy of money as a driving force over human value; with lip-service to political correctness in the face of increased incidents of sexism, racism and homophobia; with the inexplicable increasing popularity of purported leaders who strip away generations hard-fought rights; with the dramatic and increasing separation between the rich and poor; in the face of our ongoing failure to address climate change in a meaningful way so as to protect our planet for future generations … [pause for big breath and chance to allow this litany to percolate] … is now not the time for us, as trade unionists, to step to the plate and use our voices to wield the power that comes with the strength of our proud history, as we ride on the shoulders of the brave trade unionists who came before us?

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