Hassan Yussuff addresses FPSE Convention Photo credit: FPSE
Report by Stephen Phillips
The 48th AGM and Convention of the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC (FPSE), held at Whistler last May, was attended by delegates representing the Federation’s 19 affiliated college and university faculty associations, including the LFA. As always, it was an occasion for members to debate resolutions, develop strategic priorities, and share information on matters of common concern.
While the adoption of FPSE’s annual Budget is typically uneventful, LFA delegates mounted a successful challenge to the Executive’s recommendation that funds usually earmarked for the Defence Fund - a sum equivalent to 5% of FPSE’s total operating budget - instead be placed in the contingency fund to cover sundry expenditures that delegates might see fit to approve. This idea was strongly opposed by the LFA delegation, especially as locals are preparing to enter a bargaining year that could necessitate strike action. Alison Curtis, Jessie Smith, and Niall Christie were particularly outspoken on this issue. Their concerns evidently struck a chord with delegates from other locals as the Budget was amended to include the customary 5% contribution to the Defence Fund.
Delegates also approved a set of strategic priorities for the coming year. They include advocating for a fully-funded post-secondary system in place of the current funding model, and analyzing and making recommendations on all aspects of international education. A further priority was to seek the repeal of restrictions on the right of union activists to serve on their college’s board of governors. (For an update on this issue, see the box that follows.)
Keynote speaker Hassam Yussuff, President of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), recounted the CLC’s efforts to defeat the Conservative government of Stephen Harper in the last federal election—a government, he said, that “systematically undermin[ed] things of benefit to working people.” Here he noted the former government’s decision to raise the eligibility age for Old Age Security from 65 to 67 and its abolition of the card check system, thus making it more difficult to organize non-union worksites in federally regulated industries. The Conservatives also introduced punitive reporting requirements for union expenditures—an effort, Yussuff said, “to take unions out of politics.”
The change of government in 2015 bore fruit as the Liberals repealed all of these measures. In addition, whereas the Harper government had opposed needed enhancements to the Canadian Pension Plan (CPP), the Trudeau government reached agreement with the provinces on an expansion of the CPP—the first in the history of the Plan. The reforms will see an increase in CPP benefits from 25% of maximum pensionable earnings to 33%. While the CLC has long advocated a doubling of CPP benefits, Yussuff welcomed the reforms.
Finally Yussuff discussed the CLC’s current campaign for a national pharmacare plan, the absence of which sets Canada apart from other OECD countries. Instead, we have a “patchwork” of provincial public plans. Meanwhile, workplace drug plans cover only a portion of the paid labour force, largely excluding the lowest paid workers. For these reasons, the CLC is campaigning in favour of a universal public pharmacare plan to cover all Canadians and to lower exorbitant drug prices through bulk purchases by government and the operation of a national formulary. Citing a recent report, Yussuff noted that a public plan would produce cost savings of $4.2 billion a year (Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer, Cost of a National Pharmacare Program, 28 September 2017).
In other news, FPSE President George Davison and other incumbent members of the Executive were elected to another 12-month term of office. Next year’s AGM will be held in Kelowna.
Update: Bar Lifted on Right of Union Executives to Serve on College Boards
Last October the Legislature approved changes to the College and Institute Act to restore the right of members of faculty association executives to serve on the governing boards of colleges. The ban on union activists was introduced in 2011 by the BC Liberal government ostensibly to avoid conflicts of interest that might arise from having members of faculty executives sitting on both sides of the bargaining table. However, in debate on the bill repealing the ban, Attorney General David Eby explained that such conflicts can be dealt with adequately through existing conflict of interest rules without the need to disqualify faculty executives from serving on college boards. Indeed no other province had seen fit to take such a drastic step, a point FPSE was at pains to underscore in its long campaign against the ban.
FPSE President George Davison applauded the NDP government for restoring faculty rights. “Faculty will no longer be denied professional opportunities because of their union activism, and post-secondary boards will be all the better for hearing their voices,” he said.