“I can’t tell you who to vote for,” says Leo Gerard, a Canadian and American labour leader. “But I believe a well-informed member will make the right decision.”
Gerard was a long way from his Pittsburgh base when he made a stopover at the Local 480 Hall in Trail Sunday evening.
He’s the 14-year International President of the United Steelworkers (USW) and has lived south of the border since ’93. But Gerard is Canadian through and through and is committed to changing the guard come the 42nd federal election on Oct. 19.
“It’s important that we, in the union, make our members and our leaders aware of our views,” the Sudbury, Ont. native told the Trail Times. “What’s important and in their best interest in the sense of our responsibilities, is to do the best we can for our membership every day, and not just when they are in their work place.”
It’s a challenge for Gerard to reach shift workers with early morning or late night shifts. So he stopped in Sparwood Saturday to meet with USW Local 9346 before heading over the Kootenay Pass the following day.
“Our members come home tired and turn on the TV for their news,” Gerard said. “But they need to get their news from people who share their values, not just from the (media). That’s part of what I see as my role.”
Gerard spoke to more than 100 people of all ages who gathered for dinner in Trail and speeches from South Okanagan-West Kootenay NDP candidate Richard Cannings, retiring NDP MP Alex Atamanenko, and NDP MLA Katrine Conroy.
The USW leader affirmed Oct. 19 signals a time for Canadians to make historic change and set new direction by voting in an NDP government.
“When Army (Armindo deMedeiros, USW Local 480 President) said I am from Pittsburgh, that’s where I work,” he said. “But I am from Canada. I grew up in a mining cavern and in an environment where people helped each other. But this country no longer looks like the country I was born into.”
Travelling from the States to his home in Hammer, Ont., Gerard notes tangible and intangible change every time he crosses into northern country.
“In the Harper years, Canada has started to look, feel and almost smell, too much like the United States,” Gerard said. “I don’t want to say anything bad about American people because they treat me really well, but the American political system is marinated in money and it’s morally bankrupt.”
He maintains a vote for NDP leader Tom Mulcair, is a vote for change. Affordable childcare, decent seniors’ pensions, restoring international respect for Canadian peacekeeping, protecting the country’s natural resources and create good paying jobs would be part of new government, Gerard explained.
“We need to export raw materials like we need a hole in the head,” he continued. “Exporting raw resources doesn’t add any value and we should not be exporting raw logs to China then importing plywood.”
Exporting raw bitumen through the Keystone Pipeline from Canada to the Gulf States would end, he said.
“It’s refined then shipped to Europe,” Gerard stated. “That’s our raw materials and we need a government that is going to say we have raw resources in Canada – we are going to add value to those resources, in Canada.”
A vote for the NDP is a vote for the working man, he reiterated, mentioning the proposed $15 childcare system under the NDP, that ensures a living wage for childcare workers.
He discussed impacts on Canadian families following $36 billion in federal cuts for health care.
“That squeezes down on hospitals, not having enough doctors, and not funding medical students,” he said. “That brings consequences for people and families, like our members who get up in the morning or go to work at night.”
Gerard closed with a heartfelt message and reminder to voters of his friend, former NDP party leader, Jack Layton.
Gerard met Layton decades earlier working as a young staff rep, when the latter held a seat on Toronto city council.
“I was cleaning up my office this past Saturday and found Jack’s letter, when he knew his days were numbered,” Gerard shared. “And it still makes so much sense. He ends his letter saying hope is greater than fear and love is greater than hate.”