'Asking the air travel industry to self-police is like putting the fox in charge of the hen hous

PSAC North identifies six election priorities


Nunavut's largest union may not be ready to endorse a specific party in the federal election, despite organized labour's historic links with the New Democratic Party.

But the Public Service Alliance of Canada is clearly not happy with either the status quo under Stephen Harper's Conservative government or the actions of previous Liberal governments.

So PSAC, which has 11,000 members in the three northern territories, about a third of them in Nunavut, is asking federal election candidates where they stand on six pressing issues that strongly affect union members and the larger Nunavut population.

In Iqaluit Monday, Jean-Francois Des Lauriers, PSAC's regional vice-president in the three northern territories, announced the union is circulating a questionnaire to all regional election candidates asking what they and their parties will do to:

  • enhance food safety;
  • improve transportation safety;
  • push for and fund creation of a national child-care program;
  • show leadership on environmental protection;
  • have Canada sign the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; and
  • improve the situation of aboriginal women.

Both Des Lauriers and Mary Lou Cherwaty, president of the Northern Territories Federation of Labour, declined to throw their weight behind a specific party in the election.

But PSAC outlined its concerns with both Harper's Conservative government and previous Liberal governments on the six issues they consider most pressing for Nunavumiut.

Des Lauriers said Harper's refusal, one year ago, to have Canada adopt the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was, and remains, "shameful."

While 143 countries around the world voted in favour of the declaration, he noted that only Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States voted against it.

And Australia has since reversed its position after an election there replaced the long-standing Conservatives with a Labour government.

Regarding food safety, Des Lauriers charged that the recent outbreak of listeriosis in processed meats is a direct result of Canada's food safety system having been "compromised by successive governments, especially by the Conservatives."

"The Harper government's spending plans from 2006-2011 include close to 30 percent in cuts to food safety programs," said PSAC.

And since changes last March, added Des Lauriers, the remaining inspectors have been devoting only a quarter of their time to direct inspections, the rest being taken up with administrative paperwork.

As for child care, Des Lauriers noted that the Liberals had promised universal child care as far back as the 1992 elections, but "we're still waiting."

"No matter how you cut it," said PSAC, "the $100 monthly ‘Universal Child Care Benefit' to parents with children under six is not a national child care program."

About half of PSAC's membership is female, said Des Lauriers. They tend to be among the lowest-paid people in government, and without access to child care, "they are finding it increasingly difficult to reconcile work and life. If they can't get child care, they can't work."

According to PSAC, two out of three Canadians view climate change as very serious and 70 percent think the country's pollution laws are inadequate.

With less than half a percent of the world population, Canada is the eighth largest producer of carbon dioxide, the chief contributor to global climate change. "Yet successive federal governments have dismantled environmental programs."

"The environment is a human rights issue," said Des Lauriers, "as Sheila Watt-Cloutier has correctly pointed out."

Safe air travel is especially important in Nunavut, where there are no roads. But Des Lauriers said the federal government is cutting the number of air-safety inspectors and asking the industry to "self-police. They have moved from enforcement to compliance."

That, he said, is like "having the fox look after the hen house."

The government's apology to aboriginal people for the residential schools is "a nice start," said Des Lauriers, but considering that Inuit, Metis and First Nations women "continue to bear the brunt" of poverty, violence, and lack of affordable housing and safe water, "it rings pretty hollow." He said concrete steps are needed to improve the situation of aboriginal women.

The results of PSAC's questionnaire to the federal election candidates will be published in local media before voting day, Oct. 27.

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