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CLC President on How We Can Work Together to Make the Most of our Current Moment

Bea Bruske, President of the Canadian Labour Congress, spoke at the Broadbent Institute's Progress Gala in Toronto on December 2. Here is a condensed copy of her remarks.

It’s wonderful to be here with you all! You can feel the energy in the room. So many activists, committed public policy folks, and labour movement allies. It’s my honour to speak with you tonight as the President of the Canadian Labour Congress.

Ed, it is a real privilege to share a stage with you tonight. You are an icon to so many of us in the labour movement and to so many progressives and activists across the country.

Ed has spent a career bringing progressives together and that job is just as critical today. It has never been more important for working people, allies and activists to work together. This is why I am so excited to make sure that our Parliament gets to work on a recovery that invests in helping families.  

After becoming president of the CLC, my first order of business was building a stronger labour movement. 

My first experience in the labour movement was taking a job as a grocery clerk in Winnipeg. I started as a teenager, stocking shelves and bagging groceries. It was my first experience as a worker and I was earning more than minimum wage because I was part of a union. It was there that I walked my first picket line - for 125 days. It was there that I learned the power of solidarity and what working people can accomplish together. And it was there that I became a shop steward and got involved in the labour movement. I saw what people can achieve, working together for a common cause.

Together, we can build tremendous things, which is why I’m so excited to be leading the CLC at this pivotal moment.

The nature of our ambition must grow to meet the challenges facing us. We have an opportunity in the weeks and months ahead to encourage those in power to work together and make real, substantial, positive change happen.

I’m sure you noticed that as soon as the new parliamentary session started Conservatives dusted off the same old austerity playbook we have seen so often before. They want lower wages, austerity, and spending cuts. In fact, the Conservatives are saying the government invested too much in helping people during the pandemic. But we cannot solve today’s crisis with policies from the 1990’s. 

Rate hikes and government cuts to services that families rely on aren’t going to solve growing inequality or address the aftereffects of the pandemic’s economic slowdown. It won’t bring down the costs of groceries nor will it make housing, child care, or medicine more affordable.

Spending cuts will only slow an already uneven recovery and raise workers’ insecurity.

The reality is we are only seeing the mirage of recovery right now. 

  • People still face stagnant wages while rising prices for food and essentials eat up more and more of their money. 
  • Thousands of workers are still unemployed yet emergency support has been cut off. So many have nowhere left to turn. 
  • Frontline workers, many of them immigrants or migrants, still keep our communities going, toiling for low wages with no benefits or pensions and often without even basic workplace protection. 
  • Parents, and mothers in particular, are still unable to find affordable child care and are being pushed out of the labour force. 
  • Many families still cannot find an affordable place to live. 
  • People continue to make the impossible choice of buying food or paying for their medicine. 

It’s now more important than ever for the voices of progressives to be heard loud and clear in corridors of power across the country. Together, we must use our influence to make sure Parliament delivers a recovery that invests in people and repairs our social safety net. 

We need a permanent fix to our broken EI system. We need child care agreements with every province and territory. We need action on affordable housing and the implementation of pharmacare to reduce the strain that inflation is putting on family budgets. 

This is how we will make life more affordable for workers and their families. 

We must invest in the caring economy - because we will all need care at some point. We need stronger public health care, starting with making paid sick leave available to all workers. We must take the profit out of long-term care to avoid the tragedies we witnessed during the pandemic. 

And we cannot have an economic recovery without building a greener economy. We need governments across the country to take urgent action on climate change. We need action that includes investments in green infrastructure like transit, energy, and manufacturing. And we need a just transition for all workers affected.

I am under no illusions. Those of us trying to build a better world have our work cut out for us. It is going to take a lot of solidarity and a lot of hard work, but I believe we’re up to the job.

We need to stand together in unity, connected by our common goals. We need progressives, activists, and civil society leaders to step up. We need your strength – and your collaboration. We have lofty ambitions, and standing together, we can get this done. 

The labour movement – united with friends and allies from all walks of life – can overcome so much. Together we can stand up for our rights, build a more equal, inclusive, and fair society, and never, ever let those in power take us backward.

These are the principles that not only drive my work and the work of the Broadbent Institute but the values that have guided the tremendous contributions that Ed Broadbent has made to our country. Born to a family of auto-workers, in a community of working people, he’s been fighting for everyday people and standing up to those pushing an anti-worker agenda.

While establishment voices argued for austerity – Ed advocated for a fairer, social democratic vision for Canada’s economy. Thank you Ed, for the work you and the Institute have done, talking about labour issues, often when few others were doing so. 

And thanks to all of you for giving me the chance to speak with you today.