More than 20cm of snow didn't stop devoted activists and concerned Canadians from protesting the Conservative’s Convention and their impaired judgment and reckless policies.
On Saturday, November 2, PSAC, working with various community groups and unions, organized the “Crash The(ir) Party!” rally across the street from the BMO Centre where the Conservative Party of Canada held their 2013 policy convention from October 31 to November 2, 2013.
While in Calgary, convention delegates debated and passed policy resolutions to support “right to work” legislation and severely limit how unions can spend members’ dues. All of this on the heels of the Conservative’s most recent omnibus budget bill, Bill C-4, that will undermine bargaining rights and strip certain public servants of the right to strike.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Harper, but you don’t get to take away my right to strike,” said Marianne Hladun, PSAC Regional Executive Vice-President, Prairie Region. “It’s my right to bargain, it is my right to organize, it is my right to association––you can’t have it!”
Hladun hosted the rally, which lasted over an hour and attracted nearly 500 people, despite blizzard conditions and heavy snowfall.
The first guest speaker was Gil McGowan, Alberta Federation of Labour President, who spoke about the attacks on labour. McGowan referenced Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman who, during the attack on Wisconsin workers in 2011, wrote in the New York Times, “What's happening in Wisconsin is a power grab - an attempt to exploit the fiscal crisis to destroy the last major counterweight to the political power of corporations and the wealthy.”
“And that is exactly why the Harper government has introduced legislation to undermine and weaken the labour movement,” McGowan reiterated. “It’s not because they’re concerned about choice. It’s not because they want transparency. It’s because they want to undermine one of the only institutions left in Canada that can actually protect the values that Canadians hold dear.”
PSAC National President Robyn Benson took the stage next to speak out against the government’s lack of consultation with unions.
“We want consultation. We deserve it and we’re going to get it, one way or another,” Benson called out to the crowd. “Even Vic Toews when he was Treasury Board President consulted with unions; the late Reg Alcock consulted with unions. But this Minister (Tony Clement) has no intention of it. He’s changing the rules because he’s coming after us in bargaining in 2014. Our sick leave is on the line!”
Brigette DePape was also in town to participate in "Pros & Cons: Policies for People and the Planet", a teach-in presented by Common Causes. She also attended the rally to speak to the crowd. DePape first became known as the Senate page that held up the “Stop Harper!” sign during the 2011 Speech From the Throne. She now works as action coordinator for ShitHarperDid.ca.
“When I was working in the Parliament of Canada, I was feeling afraid in the face of this Harper government. But today it is Harper who is afraid,” DePape announced to cheers and applause. “With this Senate scandal, we see that the Conservative power base has been shaken and we are here to fuel that opposition until all the pillars of power bring down the Harper Conservative government. We are being awakened. We are in revolutionary times. We have a choice. And, today, we stand together united in solidarity against this Harper government.”
The rally also had a strong presence from Idle No More activists who attended with signs, banners and drums. Sheelah McLean, one of the four original co-founders and organizers for Idle No More, and a PhD candidate in anti-racist and anti-colonial education, spoke to the crowd.
“I’m always disturbed when I hear people talk about Canada as if at some point there was a Canada where equality existed,” McLean announced. “People have always had to fight for their rights in this country. There has never been a time where people haven’t had to fight for their rights in this country. And I’m here today to invite you to join Idle No More because this is the revolution that’s going to change what’s happening.”
Dr. Diane Orihel, freshwater ecologist with Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Alberta, spoke about the war on science in Canada, which she explained includes three tactics: stop funding science, muzzle scientists, and ignore evidence.
“Under [Harper’s] leadership, Canadian science is being transformed in dramatic ways. It’s being transformed from science for the public good to science for the corporate good.”
Other speakers at the rally included, Clayton Thomas-Muller, writer and advocate on environmental justice and indigenous rights, who spoke about uniting social movements; CUPE National President Paul Moist, who brought greetings on behalf of 600,000 working women and men across Canada; and Mike Palecek, CUPW National Union Representative, who brought greetings on behalf of 54,000 members from coast to coast to coast.
The Raging Grannies entertained rally-goers with their political parodies of well-known songs, and Chantal Chagnon and Cheryle Chagnon-Greyeyes with their drumming group, Sisters From Another Mother, opened and closed the rally with traditional Indigenous drumming songs.
Attendees also enjoyed food from M&M Meats at the post-rally tailgate BBQ, sponsored by Public Service Alliance of Canada Prairie Region, CUPE and UFCW Local 401.