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People, power, and politics

By Alexander Delorme, Communications Staff

Oct 11, 2023

Alberta’s new premier has already given AUPE members cause for concern

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Politics. Who needs it, right? Wrong. 

Politics matters. Sure, politicians and the media can make it all seem like a game, especially when it’s obvious they are only looking out for their rich, influential friends. They ignore real people with real problems, and it often feels like our votes don’t matter. 

But what if we could all, collectively, work together and force politicians to change? It’s worth a try. One activist at the worksite may not influence the boss, but a whole group of union members might, and the same principle applies to politics. 

AUPE is a non-partisan union, but we are proudly political, and members engage in politics to fight for our interests. Regardless of which political party is in power, we hold them to account. This is the raison d’être for AUPE’s Committee on Political Action, or COPA. 

Vice-President Mike Dempsey has chaired the committee for years and attests to our union’s political power. 

“COPA advocates for worker-friendly policies and educates members on political issues,” says Dempsey. “We don’t do it alone. The committee keeps an eye on the politicians, but it takes thousands of mobilized AUPE members to get them to act on our concerns.” 

COPA had a busy year working on its AUPE Votes campaign, which kept members informed during the leadup to the recent provincial election. So far, Alberta’s new premier, Danielle Smith, has made two major decisions that impact AUPE members. 

First and most alarmingly, Smith has asked her new Finance Minister, Nate Horner, to work on pulling Alberta out of the Canada Pension Plan (CPP). She also wants to waste time and money creating an Alberta Pension Plan as part of this scheme. 

“I urge all AUPE members to pay attention to what this government is doing. We may have a political fight on our hands if the government comes after our jobs or pensions.”
Mike Dempsey 2023

Mike Dempsey, Vice-President

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Previous governments have tried and failed to attack our pensions, and that was bad enough, but pulling all of Alberta out of the CPP would bring unimaginable disaster. 

Secondly, the government has rolled back significant protections for EMCON members, sheriffs, and other Albertans working along the province’s highways. 

Previously, all vehicles driving towards road workers had to slow to 60 km/h. Now, thanks to the new Traffic Safety Amendment Act, only vehicles in the lane closest to the workers must slow to 60 km/h. 

The government has not explained why it made this change, and many workers are worried about what it means for their safety, especially those EMCON workers who have suffered or witnessed serious accidents and injuries while working on Alberta’s highways. 

Premier Smith’s full plans are not yet clear, but her majority government gives her the power to pass nearly anything she wants over the next four years. However, that does not mean her government cannot be swayed by our collective political action. 

“I urge all AUPE members to pay attention to what this government is doing,” says Dempsey. “We may have a political fight on our hands if the government comes after our jobs or pensions.” 

Politics matters because there is potential for change. If change were impossible, we would all just have to learn to live with how things are. Thankfully, that’s not the case. 

Political activism is a good thing. Don’t let anyone tell you that you need a “reality check” when it comes to what is possible. The labour movement has made significant political change for over a century, and all that progress has come from us checking reality and believing we can make it better.

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