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Laughter joins serious union business for OPSEU


Serious business came with a laugh Friday as the Ontario Public Service Employees Union honoured Canadian satirist Rick Mercer with its Stanley Knowles Humanitarian Award.

The award, presented at the union’s annual convention, recognized Mercer’s work with the Spread the Net program to fight malaria in Africa with mosquito nets, and his leadership around sexual orientation and HIV/AIDS, as well as his insistence that politicians be accountable.

In accepting, Mercer recalled visiting the House of Commons at 17 and seeing Knowles there. Despite having been one of the most respected parliamentarians ever and an extraordinary public servant, he was a normal person, Mercer said.

“That’s what I miss in Canadian politics today,” he said. “Normal people.”

“For years, I would call up a federal politician, find out what they liked to do, and suggest we get together and talk like normal people and film it. Now with the people in power, I can’t make them look normal,” he said to laughter. “They are the strangest people that walk on the face of the earth. It starts at the top and works its way down.”

He said his “Spread the Net Universities Challenge” started when one of his shows was two and a half minutes short, figuring “the worse that could happen would be that a couple of thousand dollars would come in.”

Within a few days, 39 universities had signed up, and then the program was inundated by angry calls – all from high school students, furious that they weren’t eligible.

“I know how university students raise money. They order kegs of beer, sell it, get drunk and give the money. High school kids can’t do that.”

Then the lawyers got involved. When a university signs up for the contest as “Mary Queen of Peace High School,” you know they are lying, he said. By that time 79 high schools were involved and within 10 weeks they had raised $250,000 for Spread the Net.

“It speaks volumes about the compassion of young people.” The rules have since changed to include universities, high schools and elementary schools, and they have raised millions and millions, he said.

“I just happen to be the guy in the spotlight. The heavy lifting is done by all the other people without the spotlight. I’m accepting this award on behalf of all the people who do the heavy lifting.”

Convention delegates committed more than $90,000 to the Spread the Net program, as locals and individuals rose to make donations.

Earlier Friday, convention delegates laughed their approval of a series of union videos taking a satirical look at Liberal government policies. One, A Hard Pill to Swallow portrays ‘Austerity” as a drug, with a series of unfortunate side effects; another, Liberal Yard Sale takes a look at government assets up for grabs.

The videos can be downloaded at:

Hard Pill to Swallow

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Liberal Yard Sale:

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Warren (Smokey) Thomas cell: 613-329-1931