Unions ready to raise issues, endorse candidates in election

“Candidates are welcome to contact us to say why they deserve our support”


Union activists are getting ready to wade into February’s general election in Nunavut, to encourage debate on social justice and human rights issues, and to support candidates whose views they favour.

“The power that an individual has in casting their vote is really very significant, and we encourage people to examine the character, the lifestyle, the personal value system, and the political value system of those people who are running for office,” said Mary-Lou Sutton, a vice-president of the Northern Territories Federation of Labour.

The labour federation represents unionized and non-unionized workers in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories.

Sutton said various groups, such as the Public Service Alliance of Canada’s regional women’s committee and the Nunavut Employees Union, will survey candidates, make campaign donations, endorse candidates whose views they support, and try to organize all-candidates’ forums.

“Obviously, any endorsement is going to be subject to a clear sense that candidates are indeed labour-friendly, that they are supportive of the labour movement,” Sutton said.

Sutton, a member of PSAC’s regional women’s committee, said the women’s group will also pay attention to where candidates stand on issues that affect “marginalized and vulnerable people,” including women, visible minorities, and gay, lesbian and transgendered people.

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Her group is outraged by comments made by some MLAs during the debate on Nunavut’s Human Rights Act, Sutton said.

“If there is open gay-bashing on the floor of the legislative assembly, what does that say about behaviour in the workplace?” Sutton said.

Mitch Taylor, a vice-president of the Nunavut Employees Union, said the NEU has already put money aside in its budget to make campaign donations to candidates they support.

“We will encourage candidates to indicate their positions on the issues, and for us that will include labour issues such as working conditions and benefits for employees in government, but social justice issues as well. We want to provide clear choices for people,” Taylor said.

“Candidates are welcome to contact us to say why they deserve our support,” Taylor said.

About 54 per cent of people with jobs in Nunavut are unionized employees of federal, territorial or municipal governments, Taylor said.

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“What government does with its employees has a lot to say about how well people can feed their families,” Taylor said.

Two Nunavut MLAs elected in 1999, James Arvaluk and Levi Barnabas, were forced to resign their seats after having been convicted of alcohol-fueled crimes of violence against women.

As a result, Sutton said, labour activists aren’t just looking at where candidates stand on issues. They’re also looking at character and behaviour.

“We would hope to be electing people who model, in their personal lifestyle, behaviours that are not going to contribute to the very huge and tragic challenges we already have,” Sutton said, “and who are going to be able to actually formulate and offer meaningful solutions.”

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