When it comes to fighting for a better Ontario, there’s nothing more inspiring than the dialogue, debate, and dedication that OPSEU members bring to Convention. Convention is a reflection of our united strength and our shared ability to be the change we seek. I can’t wait to see you there – and to see what we can accomplish together. I was asked recently about some of my many experiences at the 33 OPSEU conventions I’ve attended.
What is the most interesting thing you remember about the first Convention you ever attended?
It was an election year, and it was fascinating to watch the election process. I’ve been through a lot of elections. It was different than it is today, but it was fascinating nevertheless. There was very blunt, rigorous debate, but it wasn’t nasty. It was about people putting forward positions and ideas, so I was really impressed, and I think that’s one of the things that kept me coming back. I was very intrigued by what the union could do and what they were planning to do.
Can you describe what went through your mind in the moments before you made your first speech before Convention, whether as President or Treasurer or earlier on?
It would have been the first time I went to the microphone on an issue. I can’t exactly remember what the issue was, but I think it was around mental health. I remember I could hardly read my writing, because I was so nervous when I was writing down my notes. Then I got up there, and I was shaking so bad, I could hardly read my notes. But anyways I got it out. I blurted it all out – my position and what I thought – and I had this gut-wrenching knot in my stomach
What was the most important debate you ever saw or took part in during the 33 conventions you’ve attended?
The Convention where we debated our resolution to support the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa was a fascinating debate. We passed a resolution that basically said, “As much as it takes and for as long as it takes to beat apartheid.” I was so proud of OPSEU.
You had another debate that was memorable to you. Tell us about it.
There’s one that I was involved in personally as Treasurer. We had a very, very expensive Ontario Public Service strike. The union was in hard times money-wise, and there was a real split on the board at the time. The debate on how to rebuild the strike fund and get ourselves out of the debt was very acrimonious, because there were 21 board members with 21 very strongly held opinions on how to do it.
I brokered what has commonly been called “the five per cent solution.” I actually got a board member from each camp, if you will, to move the amendments to it so we could come to Convention with a recommendation for dues levied to rebuild the strike fund. To me, that’s one of the things I’m most proud of, because the union survived a financial crisis – and not only survived, but flourished and prospered. We’re the powerhouse we are today, in part because the Executive Board took the courageous step of seeking the levy to rebuild the strike fund.
You must have seen a lot of changes in the 33 years. Can you give me an idea of how things have changed since your first Convention?
Over the years we’ve expanded our membership base and that has brought so many new and different faces and points of view to Convention. We are a more diverse family and that has strengthened us. While we are not perfect, I can tell you that over the years, I’ve always known that being part of the OPSEU family is like no other and when we believe in our solidarity as workers and the guardians of public services, our family is vibrant and can make the changes that brought us together in the first place.
What is the best and worst of Convention?
The best is when we have a rigorous debate. They’re the best debates possible when something’s passed by the great majority at Convention, and you know you got the buy-in.
The worst is when the debate is underhanded or acrimonious. So I’d say to people who come into Convention, keep it clean, keep it aboveboard. If you’ve got something to say, say it. And I say this to people, too: say what you mean and mean what you say.
What advice would you give to delegates attending their first Convention?
If you’re coming to Convention for the first time, I’d say a couple of things. First, there’s no such thing as a dumb question. If you don’t know, ask. If you want to come to a microphone, and you’re not sure what to do, ask me for guidance. I’m pretty good, and I’ll guide you through. I’ll even help you write the motion on the fly. Try and buddy up with somebody from your local who’s been around for a while. Look to make connections. But don’t be afraid to go to a microphone, and don’t be afraid to say it’s your first time at the mic. But first and foremost, ask questions. That’s how you really learn.