Monday 25 April 2011

Sometimes when you're Left, you're left - Honourary Life 2010 Speech

I love to write and deliver speeches.

Few will admit to that, but I'm a fan of truth, so there it is. How can one not love the opportunity to engage and educate a captive audience?

This speech was delivered to the 2010 Honourary Life Membership of CUPE Local 500 at the annual dinner held on Friday, October 29.  I struggled to write it, to acknowledge that sometimes, despite our best efforts, the end result of years of hard work is more of the same.

Our local had worked very hard for 4 years with affiliated groups and the community in order to change the balance of power of our civic government in the October 27 election.  When the dust settled, the numbers remained essentially unchanged. It was a daunting task to address this setback to a roomful of labour activists, but I couldn't let it be the elephant in the room.

After the dinner, people asked for copies.  That never happened to me before and it's a lovely feeling to be validated.

I hope you enjoy this as much as they did.

Truthfully, I didn't want to be here tonight.  Wednesday night's results hurt -- deeply and personally.  It was a rejection of our most cherished beliefs and principles and it's hard to celebrate years of service and dedication when it feels like that hard work has had little or no impact on the fabric of our city today.

Throughout my life, I've often been accused of being a starry-eyed optimist for believing there are better angels in all of us who see the value of investing in a city for its citizens, rather than selling it off to benefit a select few.

Wednesday night was a solid punch to the stomach and it hurt.

Essentially, it seemed that fear of a left-wing invasion secured a right-wing majority.

It's frustrating.  It's heartbreaking.  It's enough to make you want to kick the dirt from your shoes and walk away.

It's a rejection of the sacrifices of the people who shut this city down 91 years ago in a general strike because they knew what so many have forgotten:  That policies and practices which seek to serve the many will create a stronger city than those which serve the few.

Unfounded, unreasonable fear has always been our enemy.

In Saskatchewan, in 1962, the province's doctors went on a 3-week strike to protest Canada's first government health insurance plan, fearing government control of their livelihood.

Most citizens supported the doctors, fearing loss of access to medical care and believing in the concerns of the 'experts' -- those doctors.

Brother Tommy Douglas, who had faithfully served the people of Saskatchewan for 18 years, had stepped down as Premier to run federally as the first NDP leader.

Two weeks before the start date of the provincial health care plan, he was defeated.  Two years later, the CCF-NDP, which Brother Tommy had lead through 4 consecutive governments, was utterly rejected by the voters.

That had to hurt.  Must have been frustrating, especially since within 10 years, every province had a publicly funded health insurance plan.

How did he find the strength to endure?

In the face of relentless opposition that is gaining strength and credibility and threatens the social fabric of our lives, how do WE find the strength to endure?

Because every labour activist wants to leave this world a better place than we found it.

We endure because the labour movement was born out of the desperation and frustration of people with no rights at all -- when seeking the most basic rights could lead to imprisonment, black-listing, beatings, deportation and even death.

We endure because the rights we enjoy today were not given to us -- we had to fight for each and every one of them; and since they were not freely and easily given, we fight to maintain them.

It's what we do.

At last year's Honourary Life dinner, I spoke of our city being at a crossroads.  On Wednesday, we were placed firmly on a path chosen largely out of fear and ignorance, by no one in this room.

Our fight continues.

Next year is our provincial election, and we now have a pretty good idea of what that could look like if we don't keep fighting.

We are also fighting on-going battles for our pensions and our water -- and attacks to our health care take on a new dimension when you realise that the existing federal-provincial health care agreement - which was negotiated under the Liberals during a time of federal surpluses - will expire in 2014.

Our dream of a better life for all, our fidelity to our values and our faith in better angels must endure.

We must meet their fear with our strength.

Tonight, we honour those who began the fight and sacrificed so much for us.  We honour you, who continued their struggle and we honour the continuing efforts of those who join your ranks this night.

We honour the fighters and gather together in celebration and remembrance, drawing strength from one another before setting out to battle once more, knowing that if we rise each time we fall, we cannot be defeated.

On a side note, I had the singular honour of being the Chair of the Honourary Life Committee for two years.  It was in that capacity that I took the opportunity to speechify.  As of last Fall, I became persona non grata in my Local, so any official speechifying is on indefinite hold.  This blog is now my podium.  I address the masses.  Less captive, but more democratic.


  1. Blogs make it easier to get thoughts out. It is hard to repeat a conversation verbatim, but the words are always there. I also find it easier to think with my fingers.

    Now I am sorry I missed that dinner. I would have enjoyed that speech. Just remember the last paragraph, that should be a motto or perhaps a way of life.

  2. I'm sorry you missed that dinner, too. You would have enjoyed the couple I sat with -- truly excellent people! And, of course, the Winnipeg Convention Centre served up one of the best meals ever! (The bartender introduced me to a Sea Breeze - so yummy!)

    I've always written and journaled, so a blog seems to be a natural progression. Easier to organise, too. I recently discovered a box full of poetry and essays I'd written since the '80s - all out of order and on scraps and bits of paper. Was very interesting to reconnect with the person I was then. I filed it all under "Project for Another Day"!