I’m faced with a moral dilemma today. I’m in Hay River, NWT, attending meetings of the NWT Association of Communities. It’s a great opportunity to network; representatives from across the NWT communities – mayors, councillors, managers – will be here in town. It’s like doing a tour sitting in one place. My boss, the Senator for the NWT, will be here to make a speech.
The meetings took a bit of planning and will have a significant economic impact on Hay River; the hotels are full and restaurants are looking for a little Christmas in May. So what is the problem?
Since all this was organized, the local municipal workers went on strike. They are still on strike. As a result the meetings were moved from downtown Hay River (yes, with 4000 people, Hay River has a downtown) to the neighbouring K’atl’odeeche First Nation. Buses will take delegates back and forth. This, it was hoped, would mean that no one would have to cross picket lines to go to the meetings.
Wishful thinking, of course. The union has flown in extra reps – including, apparently, the national President all the way from Ottawa. They plan to set up a picket line on the road at the sole entrance to the First Nation. So we all have to cross the line. Or not.
I’ve been engaged with unions for a long time. I started my working life helping negotiate for management. Later, when I was first employed in the NWT, I switched sides and became a shop steward and a local President. I fought management to a standstill winning 21 of 22 grievances over the 18 months of my service. As a former NDP candidate and activist, I had a lot of union friends. That was a long time ago but my values haven’t changed that much.
Now, I work for a politician. I work at pleasure – that is, I can be fired without appeal at a moment’s notice. Now, I’m not suggesting that my boss would fire me if I refused to cross the picket line but he did explicitly ask me to come and I feel I would be letting him down in a significant way if I left him to attend the meetings alone. He is not particularly a union supporter but he respects their values and their rights. He understands the importance of a collectivity – he is Aboriginal, after all. And he supports rights, both as a lawyer and as a former member of the Canadian Human Rights Commission. But politics is politics.
So what do I do about that? I think I’m going to suggest that he ask them to stop the bus and get off and shake a few hands, express his sympathy, but explain that he needs to talk to these delegates in order to represent the interests of all northerners in Ottawa. Including them.
It’s not the best solution (the best solution is an agreement fairly negotiated) but it’s the best I can come up with.
And that‘s ten minutes.