I’m looking forward to this year’s Convention and the inspiring dialogue and debate that you bring every year. I’m looking forward to talking to as many of you as I can. I was asked recently about my many experiences at the 23 OPSEU Conventions I’ve attended.
Who was the biggest influence on you in terms of mentoring you or helping guide you through your first Convention?
Michael Grimaldi. I ran for the board, and I was full of a lot of piss and vinegar. I had a lot of energy, but some of my energy wasn’t actually channelled in the best form and place. I was very angry about a lot of things that were going on at corrections, much like they are today. It was really frustrating, so I ran for the board. Leah Casselman was President but, unfortunately, like a lot of people, you get almost anti-establishment, and that was kind of where my head was.
Was this when you met up with Mike?
He was working with Leah and was on her campaign team. The first time I ran for the board, I didn’t get elected, but Michael took me aside and spoke to me and said, “Okay, so you know you’ve got a lot of great energy and you’ve got a lot of great ins, and this is your type of militancy.” Michael sort of outlined some of the things that were going on for me. He said, “Listen, when you’re talking to people, you’ve got a lot of good ideas, but people like thoughts being put in a positive manner.” So that was sort of my first interaction.
What part of Convention did you look most forward to?
What I look forward to during Convention was the show. It was where you wanted to go. You were going to meet friends that you hadn’t seen since the last Convention, or you were going to make new friends. It was a great experience. The first Convention I went to, there were probably about 800 people at that time, and we’re up to 2,000 people attending now.
What about now?
I want to meet the members. It’s always great meeting the members. There’s not always time, because we have a lot going on during Convention, and I can’t get everything in. But meeting the members is probably the thing I look forward to most.
What was the most memorable speech you ever heard at your 23 Conventions?
Probably Stephen Lewis (head of the Stephen Lewis Foundation). He was talking to us in regard to our responsibilities to humanity and our roles in being active in our communities. That was probably one of the most memorable speeches. He was a great orator – he is a great orator – and I think I had to look up some of the words he used at a later date. But he was very riveting, and I found that he spoke for quite a while, but it didn’t seem like he was speaking that long. That was pretty cool.
Can you explain the importance of the budget debate?
The budget is obviously important, because whether people like it or not, one of the things we want to have is engagement from our members. The debate on the budget is important so that people understand just how that money is spread over such a large organization. It sounds like a lot of money, but it does a lot of work. There’s a lot of factors and different areas that money needs to get plugged into so this big machine called OPSEU can actually move forward.
What kind of questions are asked about the budget?
The discussion over the budget helps when the leadership at the locals go back and have a conversation with the members they’re representing, and have answers – real, factual answers on how their money is being spent. Because that’s where we get it, right? Right in my office, it says right on the white board, at the very top – the first thing I wrote when I became First Vice-President/Treasurer: “Remember where the money comes from.” It comes from the membership, and it’s important for us to explain how that money is being spent.
What is the best thing about convention and what’s the worst?
The best thing about Convention is that we have all our leadership and all our activists coming into one spot. We have our leaders all coming in to one spot, and they’re sharing ideas and they’re sharing positive energy. That’s such an awesome thing.
I remember, the very first time I was at the front, how awe-inspiring it was to see all these bodies, all these faces, all these people that come from different walks of life but all have one thing in common: they want to do good by their members and by society. And I think that’s the best part of it.
And the worst?
You can’t get everything done. There’s a lot of things going on, and you wish you had more time. But you’ve also got to be cognizant of the fact that you don’t want to burn your leadership out. Sometimes, having a whole bunch of stuff going on at once, I think we ask a lot of our members, and we have to be cognizant of the fact that they need some down time, too.
What is the funniest thing that ever happened to you or that you witnessed in your 23 Conventions?
I’m going to say this: If you’re having fun, and it’s at the expense of yourself, I think that’s always a good thing. I think Convention brings that out in people. I think they have a lot of fun. But as for one specific story, I think some things are better left unsaid.