AFL disappointed with Supreme Court decision upholding Alberta law that excludes workers from running in school board elections
EDMONTON - Today's Supreme Court decision upholding controversial changes to Alberta's Local Authorities Election Act may be a narrow technical victory for the provincial government - but it's a real setback for democracy in the province, says the president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
Up until 2004, teachers and other school board employees were prohibited from running for election in the school districts where they worked on the grounds that, if elected, they would be in a position of conflict of interest. School board workers never challenged those restrictions.
But in the wake of the province-wide teachers' strike of 2004, Klein government MLAs successfully rammed through an amendment to the Act that now prohibits school board employees from sitting as trustees on any school board in the province.
"Effective measures to deal with conflict of interest were already in place - so the amendment was never really about that," says AFL president Gil McGowan. "Instead, it was a mean-spirited 'payback' law - plain and simple. It was aimed at teachers but ended up affecting all school board workers. And it was clearly intended to stop them from flexing their democratic muscles."
In an 8-1 decision, the high court ruled that, since the provincial government "created the opportunity" for people to run for office as school trustees through provincial statute, it has the right to take that opportunity away. Provincial governments have the right to take these steps, the court said, because municipal and school board governments are not subject to the same protections and guarantees about who can stand for and hold public office as federal and provincial governments.
The majority also ruled that school board employees have other avenues available to them to express their concerns or political beliefs - like writing letters to the editor.
"This decision should be an eye-opener for all Canadians," said McGowan. "Most people assume that our municipal governments and schools are truly independent and open to participation by all qualified citizens. What this ruling shows is that, by being excluded from mention in the Constitution alongside provincial and federal governments, local governments are truly the poor cousins of our democracy."
McGowan says that if whole categories of people can be unilaterally excluded from participation at the whim of a provincial legislature, it calls into question the legitimacy of all local governments.
"This time it was school board workers who they came after," says McGowan. "Who will it be next time?"
McGowan agreed with Justice Fish who wrote in his dissent that the right of school board workers to freedom of expression should extend to the right to run in school board elections:
"Seeking and holding office as a school trustee & is a uniquely effective means of expressing one's views on education policy. It is cold comfort indeed for school employees, who are barred from themselves serving as trustees, to be told that they nonetheless remain free to talk to those who can, or to write letters to their local newspapers. The voices of school employees are simply unlikely to be heard over the din of those who actually run for office and serve if elected." (Baier v. Alberta, 2007, para. 107)
McGowan says he will write a letter to Premier Stelmach asking him to amend the election act again to return to its pre-2004 approach to dealing with questions of conflict-of-interest.
"The Supreme Court has ruled that it's within the Alberta government's power to do what it has done. But that's not the same thing as saying what they've done is right or morally defensible," says McGowan. "Given all his promises about the need to promote greater accountability and democracy in this province, I'll be asking the Premier to do the right thing and tear up this amendment."
The challenge against the amendments to the Local Authorities Elections Act was launched by the Alberta Teachers Association on behalf of several of its members. The ATA won at the lower court level and lost at the Appeal level before appearing before the Supreme Court in November.
The AFL joined the ATA at the Supreme Court as an intervener speaking on behalf of unionized Alberta school board employees who are not teachers.
To see the Supremem Court decision, go here
For more information contact:
Gil McGowan, President Bus: (780) 483-3021 Cell: (780) 218-9888
AFL and Civil Liberties Association launch court challenge to defend freedom of assembly in Calgary city parks
CALGARY - The AFL and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) will be in court tomorrow morning in an effort to defend protestors' right to assembly in Calgary city parks.
A brief news conference will be held this afternoon, Monday, June 24, 2002 at 5:00 pm to outline the case and provide reporters with copies of documents being filed with the court.
The news conference will take place at the following location:
Independent Media Press Conference Centre
Epcor Centre for the Performing Arts
Engineered Air Theatre
9th Avenue & MacLeod Trail North
Speakers at the news conference will include: AFL President Les Steel, Calgary activist Sarah Kerr, and lawyer Shirash Chotalia.
For more information call:
Gil McGowan, AFL Communications Director 780-483-3021
CALGARY - In an effort to help independent and mainstream journalists stay connected with activists participating in demonstrations against the G-8, the Alberta Independent Media Centre has established an Internet list-serve.
Once you have added you name to the list-serve, all activist news releases handled by the Independent Media Centre during the Summit will automatically be forwarded to your e-mail address.
To join the list-serve, please visit: http://ender.indymedia.org/mailman/listinfo/g8-press-statements and simply fill out the form under the heading "subscribe to G-8 press statements."
In addition to the list-serve, the Media Centre is also developing a list of activist spokespeople who will be available for comment in Calgary. The spokesperson list - along with a press conference notice board - can be found at the web address listed above.
Finally, while in Calgary, please visit the Independent Media Centre in the Epcor Centre for the Performing Arts (across from the Telus Convention Centre on 8th Ave, SW). Volunteers will be on hand to answer any questions journalists may have about activist events and issues.
The Alberta Independent Media Centre (AIMC) is a non-commercial, democratic collective of Alberta independent media makers and media outlets, and serves as the local organizing unit of the global Indymedia network.
The Alberta Federation of Labour is not a member of AIMC. We are distributing this notice as a courtesy to both the AIMC and the journalists who will benefit from their service.
For more information call:
Gil McGowan, AFL Communications Director - 780-910-1137 (cell)
CALGARY - The Alberta Federation of Labour has presented the City of Calgary with an ultimatum - either approve the AFL's application for a venue for activities during the upcoming G-8 summit by 2 p.m. tomorrow or face the prospect activists taking their protests to the streets.
In a letter faxed yesterday afternoon to John Chaput, the City's G-8 Project manager, AFL president Les Steel urged the City to help find an outdoor venue large enough to accommodate the thousands of activists expected to converge on Calgary next month.
"If we have not heard from the City by Friday at 2 p.m. with news about an acceptable venue we will abandon all efforts to plan an organized, controlled event," wrote Steel. "This is not our preference, but without cooperation from the City, we will have no choice."
If the AFL and other groups organizing counter-summit activities are unable to plan a large outdoor event, Steel warned Chaput that activists will "literally be forced out into the streets."
"By rejecting our application (for a city-owned venue) the City will inadvertently increase the likelihood of the very kind of confrontations that they're seeking to avoid," wrote Steel.
Steel concluded his letter to Chaput by saying that the interests of the City and groups like the AFL are not really that different.
"We both want to make things run as smoothly as possible during the week of the summit. We both want to ensure the safety and promote the rights of Calgarians and people visiting the city. And we both want to reduce the likelihood of confrontation, violence and property damage. I remain convinced that the best way to achieve all these goals is to grant our request and help us find an outdoor venue for our Solidarity Festival."
(Note: Due to a family emergency, AFL President Les Steel will not be available for comment on the letter - attached - that was sent to the City of Calgary. Alternate spokespeople are list below. All have been closely involved with efforts to organize a Solidarity Village.)
For more information call:
Mike Desautels, Regional Representative, Canadian Labour Congress @ (780) 405-2756
Don MacNeil, Western VP, Communication Energy Paperworkers @ (780) 984-5289
May 29, 2002
Sent by Fax: (403) 537-3068
G8 Project Manager
City of Calgary
Dear Mr. Chaput:
Re: Rejection of AFL Application for Solidarity Village at Shaw Millennium Park
As you are no doubt aware, the City of Calgary has formally rejected our application to use Shaw Millennium Park as a venue for Solidarity Village activities during the upcoming G-8 Summit. I am writing today to urge you and your colleagues in the City administration to either reconsider this decision or help us find another city-owned site that would meet our needs.
We at the AFL sympathize with the City's concerns about safety. We understand that it's your job to be cautious and make decisions which you perceive to be in the public's best interests. But the AFL and other organizations involved in planning counter-summit events are also concerned about safety. In fact, by holding a large outdoor event at a city-run facility, we were hoping to enhance safety and reduce the likelihood of unwanted confrontations.
The bottom line is that in three short weeks, thousands of people will be converging on Calgary to exercise their democratic rights and voice legitimate concerns about the G-8 and its policies. Refusing our application will not stop these people from coming. However, what it might do is create unwanted problems. Without an organized outdoor event like the one we're proposing, people protesting the G-8 will literally be forced into the streets.
Obviously, it is not your intent to promote confrontations between activists and security forces. But I'm afraid that by denying us the right to gather in a city facility, you may be doing just that. By rejecting our application, the City will inadvertently increase the likelihood of the very kind of confrontations that you're seeking to avoid.
Given the extremely short timeline and the serious implications of not having an outdoor venue, I am asking you to personally intervene with City Council and the City administration. Tell them that what we're proposing is not dangerous -
it will end up looking more like a folk festival than a militant rally. And tell them that the interests of the people of Calgary
would be better served by granting us a venue - rather than by rejecting our application and turning activists out into the streets.
At this point, I am not asking specifically for Shaw Millennium Park. Earlier today, we submitted a request for the Foothills Athletic grounds. But we'd be happy to use any facility that can accommodate the size of crowd that we're expecting.
In conclusion, I'd just like to remind you that our interests and goals in this matter are not really that different. We both want to make things run as smoothly as possible during the week of the summit. We both want to ensure the safety and promote the rights of Calgarians and people visiting the city. And we both want to reduce the likelihood of confrontation, violence and property damage. I remain convinced that the best way to achieve all these goals is to grant our request and help us find an outdoor venue for our Solidarity Festival.
Thank you for considering this urgent request - and I encourage you to take quick action. If we have not heard from the City by Friday at 2 p.m. with news about an acceptable venue we will abandon all efforts to plan an organized, controlled event. This is not our preference, but without cooperation from the City, we will have no choice. And as the saying goes: "the chips will fall as they may." I look forward to hearing from you soon.
ALBERTA FEDERATION OF LABOUR
EDMONTON - Delegates to the Alberta's Federation of Labour's biennial convention will turn their attention to politics and corporate globalization tomorrow, as they participate in a panel discussion on the links between democracy, globalization and workers' rights.
The panel will be made up of four prominent activists and writers including: Linda Goyette, a two-time National Newspaper Award-winning journalist; Colleen Fuller, acclaimed author of Caring for Profit, a recent book on the spread of private health care in Canada; Scott Harris, a youth activist who participated in the demonstrations against the FTAA in Quebec City; and Rodney Bobiwash, a native activist and scholar from Ontario.
"We selected a panel that will effectively shine a spotlight on the ways in which real democracy is being eroded in Canada and around the world," says AFL president Audrey Cormack. "They will talk about how, as a result of things like NAFTA and the WTO, the interests of working people are being forced to take a back seat to the interests of corporations and the wealthy."
The panel discussion will begin at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 5. Each panelist will speak for ten minutes. This will be followed by about an hour of discussion and debate from convention delegates.
Other highlights of the AFL convention on Saturday include the following:
- At 3 p.m. delegates will discuss a policy paper on drugs and alcohol in the workplace
- At 4 p.m. there will be an all-candidates forum for all those seeking election to the AFL's Executive Council, including those who are running for the positions AFL President or Secretary-Treasurer.
The AFL convention is being held at the Crowne Plaza-Chateau Lacombe Hotel, which is located at 11101 Bellamy Hill in Edmonton. All major sessions of the convention will be held in the hotel's main ballroom.
Reporters and other media personnel are asked to register at the AFL convention office (River Valley Room). Only people with proper credentials will be allowed on the convention floor. The AFL Convention wraps up at lunch-time Sunday, after the election of a new Executive Council.
For more information call:
Gil McGowan, AFL Communication @ 990-2650 or 910-1137 (cell)
Democracy Position Paper presented to 3rd Biennial Convention, May 3 - 6, 2001