The national executive of UCCO-SACC-CSN kicked off phase 3 of the union’s We Are Also Doing Hard Time campaign April 14 2008, with a very successful series of meetings with cabinet ministers, party leaders and influential MPs on Parliament Hill. Armed with the latest issue of our We Are Also Doing Hard Time magazine, titled “We risk our lives to protect yours,” members of the national executive, as well as Michel Gauthier and Lyle Stewart of the CSN, were warmly welcomed by many of the most powerful members of the government and opposition parties represented in the House of Commons.
The official release of the magazine was made during a press conference in the Centre Block of Parliament, given by National President Pierre Mallette, accompanied by Ontario Regional President Jason Godin. They explained that the goal of the publication and the campaign is to help correctional officers – and other public safety professionals – finally obtain the implementation of the enhanced pension accrual rate provided for in the federal budget of 2005. To that end, all members of the national executive took part in lobbying sessions last week.
On the Conservative side, UCCO-SACCCSN met with Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, Health Minister Tony Clement, Gord Brown (MP for Leeds-Grenville and the chair of the Commons Justice Committee), Saskatoon-Wanuskewin MP Maurice Vellacott, Selkirk-Interlake MP James Bezan, Edmonton Centre MP Laurie Hawn, Crowfoot MP Kevin Sorenson, Edmonton-Sherwood Park MP Ken Epp and Prince Albert MP Brian Fitzpatrick.
The Liberal Speaker of the House (and Kingston MP) Peter Milliken welcomed UCCOSACC-CSN representatives into his office. We also met with former Liberal Finance Minister Ralph Goodale (MP for Wascana) and former Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh (Vancouver South).
New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton and the NDP critics for Public Safety (Surrey North MP Penny Priddy) and Retirement Issues (Hamilton Mountain MP Chris Charlton) received delegations from the union.
Finally, Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe also welcomed UCCO-SACC-CSN to his offices.
Each meeting included a briefing on the union’s fight for improved pension benefits, the changes to the Income Tax Act in the 2005 budget and the Conservative Party’s 2006 election campaign commitment to implement those pension improvements for correctional officers and other public safety professionals.
Almost unanimously, the politicians we met with said they would contact Treasury Board President Vic Toews to inquire about the status of our pension demands. Many, such as Health Minister Tony Clement, strongly supported our efforts.
These meetings were also revealing in other respects. Maurice Vellacott, for instance, expressed surprise that the increase in the pension accrual rate for correctional officers had not actually been implemented, saying that many MPs in Ottawa were under the impression that the issue had been settled. Mr. Vellacott promised to personally raise the issue with the Treasury Board president during a meeting that was scheduled for the following day.
Meanwhile, the man responsible for the 2005 Budget, Ralph Goodale, made a strong statement about his changes to the Income Tax Act, reiterating his letter from the autumn of that year that federal legislation does not forbid negotiating pensions and that cost was not an objection. “Nothing gets in the Budget by accident. The Department of Finance calculates the cost of every single word. Everything in there is specifically analyzed,” Mr. Goodale said. Mr. Goodale also rejected the argument that implementing a more generous pension for public safety occupations could create a precedent for all federal civil servants. “This was designed for people in dangerous occupations,” he said. “That means you. And this was intentional. We wanted you to have it. That’s what we meant.” Mr. Goodale’s statements clearly show that the objections by former presidents of the Treasury Board were political in nature. Indeed, not a single MP that we met with raised the old arguments that our pension could not be changed.
The NDP’s retirement critic, Chris Charlton, joined party Leader Jack Layton in an indepth discussion of our proposal. Mr. Layton recalled many points from our previous meeting with him on the issue in 2005. He also noted that the 2005 Budget survived the vote in the House of Commons thanks to the support of the NDP. Notably, NDP public safety critic Penny Priddy made strongly supportive statements to the media on our pension demand in a story that ran in several newspapers April 15.
The Bloc Québécois has always supported the union’s pension efforts, and Leader Gilles Duceppe promised the party would continue to do so during a wide-ranging discussion of issues affecting the Correctional Service.
Inevitably, those with control over the public purse will have to make a political decision. To that end, our meeting with Finance Minister Jim Flaherty was important. Mr. Flaherty mentioned that the government’s financial position was not as rosy as it has been in recent years. But he also said that there remains considerable leeway in the budget choices that his government is able to make. He took note of the party’s campaign commitment from 2006 and said he would definitely have a discussion with Treasury Board President Vic Toews.
The reception by all parties on Parliament Hill demonstrates the progress UCCO-SACC-CSN has made since its inception in 2001 as a credible and respected force on the federal scene. More meetings with federal MPs will take place over the coming days. And after Parliament adjourns for the summer break, UCCO-SACC-CSN will focus its efforts on meetings with local MPs in each region to continue the momentum of what the union believes could be a winning effort.
Union of Canadian Correctional Officers - Syndicat des Agents Correctionnels du Canada - Confédération des Syndicats Nationaux
1601 De Lorimier Avenue, Montreal, Qc, H2K 4M5
Tél : (514) 598-2263 Fax : (514) 598-2493 Toll free : 1 (866) 229-5566 Email : firstname.lastname@example.org