IAFF members across Canada lobbied members of parliament and senators on key issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic in November as part of the first-ever virtual Canadian Legislative Conference.
The conference, held online to ensure the safety of delegates and staff, opened with a three-hour online Zoom session on November 16 watched by close to 200 delegates. It included video greetings from federal political leaders, a live greeting from General President Harold Schaitberger, a briefing on federal legislative issues and a political pundit panel.
Following the opening video session, delegates had two weeks to conduct virtual or in-person lobby meetings with MPs and senators from all political parties, asking them to support continued federal emergency funds so that municipalities can maintain essential frontline emergency services and to ensure that fire fighters’ medical roles are recognized when decisions about COVID-19 vaccine prioritization are made.
Delegates reported strong support for both issues, which the IAFF will continue to bring forward before Canada’s minority Liberal government.
Canada’s Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair told delegates during the opening session that Canadians are grateful that fire fighters are on the frontlines in the fight against COVID-19 and welcomed the IAFF lobby effort. “I don’t think there’s any greater responsibility for elected officials than the safety of their communities, and your advocacy on behalf of your members and on behalf of the communities you serve is important and valued by all of us. We know as well that we can’t keep Canadians safe if we don’t keep fire fighters safe.”
In his video greeting, Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole thanked fire fighters for putting others ahead of themselves every day and pledged to always support fire fighters’ needs. “I will always have your back, because you always have ours.”
Speaking to delegates by video from IAFF headquarters in Washington, DC, General President Schaitberger commended delegates for their commitment to political action, reminisced that he has attended every single one of the IAFF’s 27 Canadian legislative conferences and remarked how the Canadian legislative program has grown since its humble beginnings.
“I’m confident each and every one of you will continue to build on the proud gold and black political brand of this IAFF of ours that turns political action into legislative successes,” Schaitberger said. That’s what this business is really all about.”
Schaitberger, who is retiring in January, expressed pride in what he has accomplished at the IAFF and warmly noted that it’s been a privilege for him to be involved since starting as a local union officer at the age of 24 in 1968. Delegates responded with numerous accolades.
Also addressing delegates were New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh and Green Party Leader Annamie Paul, both of whom thanked fire fighters and expressed strong support for both legislative issues.
The pundit panel, consisting of noted political experts Kathleen Monk and Tim Powers and Supriya Dwivedi, entertained delegates onscreen with insightful political banter. The conference closed with an online wrap-up session.
The 28th Canadian Legislative Conference is tentatively scheduled to take place in April 2021, and will be held in person if pandemic safety restrictions and regulations permit.