The titles Public Service Alliance of Canada and l’Alliance de la Fonction publique du Canada, would seem to imply a sense of national unity among members.
Indeed, as one of the largest unions in the country, its website boasts members from every region of the country.
“The PSAC is truly a national union with members from coast to coast to coast, in every province and territory,” the site says.
However, for some chapters of this “truly national union,” Canada may be a word they’re willing to drop from their organization’s name.
In a precise statement that leaves no room for misinterpretation, the union’s Outaouais arm has sent a clear message to its members: vote Bloc.
“PSAC is urging its members and the general public in the ridings of Argenteuil-Mirabel-Papineau, Gatineau, Hull-Aylmer and Pontiac to support the four Bloc Quebecois candidates,” a recent press release states.
Most of Outaouais’ region is located north of Ottawa, across the river from Parliament Hill.
The river actually has two names – Ottawa River on the Ontario side and Riviere des Outaouais along Quebec’s shore.
And, while the river divides the two provinces, it does not split the opinions of union executives in the area.
The president of the union’s local political action committee, the Conseil regional d’action politique de l’Outaouais, said it decided to support the Bloc after meeting with 18 of 20 candidates in the four ridings.
“In every one of those ridings, these candidates have a better grasp of our issues and are more supportive of the causes championed by PSAC,” Daniel Charron says in the release.
In the national capital region, which includes Outaouais, Ottawa and eastern Ontario, regional executive vice-president Ed Cashman also supports the move.
“Ed Cashman . . . commended the Conseil d’action politique on a job well done,” the release states.
After completing what Cashman called “painstaking work” the group determined it would ask the 15,000 union members living in Outaouais to vote for four candidates from Quebec’s separatist party.
The union does not support political parties; it supports individual candidates, said Cashman from Ottawa on Friday morning.
“The work we did was done on the basis of the candidate,” he said. “Our union does not endorse the party; it endorses candidate.
“We didn’t endorse the Bloc. We endorsed four candidates that happened to belong to the Bloc.”
It is important to understand the political demographics in western Quebec, he said, noting that the NDP and the Conservative Party have a tenuous foothold there.
“The reality of western Quebec is there are two parties to choose from, Liberal or Bloc,” said Cashman.
While the endorsement of candidates is a regional decision, the union’s Canada-wide name is attached to supporting the Bloc candidates in Outaouais.
This alliance troubles some northerners.
“It did raise the hackles of a couple of my members all the way up here,” said Yukon Employees’ Union president Laurie Butterworth.
“But I’m only one member on (the Public Service Alliance of Canada) board and I’ll go to speak to that next week and say, ‘you know, you’re pissing my members off.’
“But in the grand scheme of it, Quebec is a pretty large and loud voice.”
Each region decides if it wants to support a candidate, added Butterworth.
“We’re broken down into regions also and some regions take a little bit more political action than others do. And being from Quebec they’ve come out in support of candidates for the Bloc.”
Northern union members have decided not to enter the political ring in this federal election.
The Yukon Employees’ Union has not publicly supported any candidate, said Butterworth.
“We try to stay away from a political game. All we’ll usually do is a question and answer and let people make up their own minds.”
The northern branch of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, which represents Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut, has taken no official stance on which party members should vote for either, according to Suzette Montreuil, acting regional executive vice-president for the North.
It leaves those decisions up to individual areas, she said from Yellowknife.
“We’re certainly not neutral; we’re certainly pro-labour — no question on that one,” she said from Yellowknife.
However, rather than asking members to cast a ballot for a particular party, it has encouraged them to find out how candidates campaigned on issues that matter to the union, then to decide how to vote.
However, each territory was free to endorse a candidate, she said.
In terms of the Outaouais-region’s decision to support the Bloc, Montreuil agreed that each region is free to act as it sees fit.
When asked if it was problematic, symbolically, for a national union to support separatist candidates, she responded it had no position on federal unity.
The Yukon Federation of Labour has also opted to stay outside political fray.
“A lot of people in the Federation of Labour are working on the campaign,” executive director Douglas Rody told The News.
However, the federation itself has not come out sporting red, blue, orange or green.
The NDP has long championed labour issues, and the federal party’s Yukon candidate, Pam Boyde, supports the route local unions have chosen.
“I agree with the approach of local union organizations here,” she said in an interview today.
“They present the issues of concern to their members . . . then leave it up to the individual member to decide.”
The Public Service Alliance of Canada has painted itself many party colours for the coming election.
In the National Capital Region alone it has endorsed four Bloc candidates, four NDP candidates and two Liberals.
While supporting the Bloc may be a decision based on labour issues, the party is inextricably tied to the separatist movement.
Does the union have a position on national unity?
Cashman says it does.
“The union’s position is that it’s for the people of Quebec to make the decision about what’s best for their future.”