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Federal union goes anti-Scheer, appears to break own rules

The biggest federal employee union is mimicking Unifor’s “resistance” against Andrew Scheer, but behind bureaucratic ramparts in partisan emails, The Post Millennial has learned.
Jason Unrau Montreal, QC

The biggest federal employee union is mimicking Unifor’s “resistance” against Andrew Scheer, but behind bureaucratic ramparts in partisan emails, The Post Millennial has learned.

In an electronic missive an Industry Canada employee received at work and shared with TPM—Public Service Alliance of Canada’s Political Action Officer Jill O’Reilly’s September 9, 2019 “special election bulletin”—the union specifically targets the Conservative leader.

“Andrew Scheer is going to pick up where Stephen Harper left off,” the email warns about “job cuts” and “working conditions.”

This despite the fact that under the current government, half of the union’s 140,000 federal employees remain without a collective agreement since June of 2018 as negotiations reached an impasse at the end of August.

While PSAC’s backdoor politicking appears to have run afoul of the rules, private sector cohort Unifor’s anti-Scheer campaign has been very public, despite the blatant conflict of interest—Unifor represents thousands of media workers in Canada who stand to benefit from Ottawa’s $600 million newspaper bailout.

According to Treasury Board Secretariat, the Public Service Alliance of Canada’s partisan messaging to members’ federal government email accounts has breached collective agreement terms.

“If political or partisan material is distributed by unions using government email networks or bulletin boards in government workplaces, this would be considered a contravention of the collective agreement,” said Treasury Board spokesperson Martin Potvin.

“In these cases, the employer would require the union to remove or recall the material.”

As of publication, Industry Canada (Innovation, Science and Economic Development) could not confirm whether the emails were authorized by the department or if dispensation was made in collective agreements; the only terms under which such communications would be sanctioned.

Meanwhile, the Public Service Commission warns forwarding such emails on to other colleagues would qualify as political activity under the Public Service Employment Act.

“Employees disseminating politically partisan material in the workplace, whether wittingly or unwittingly, is a political activity,” writes an unnamed commission’s spokesperson in an email to TPM.

“If the PSC receives an allegation that an employee performed such an activity, it may conduct an investigation. This investigation will determine whether this activity impaired or was perceived as impairing the employee’s ability to perform its duties in a politically impartial manner.”

O’Reilly, the Public Service Alliance of Canada’s Political Action Officer, did not respond to TPM’s request for comment on the matter, nor did several other union reps who were contacted for this story.

The Industry Canada employee who received the email and forwarded it to TPM expressed frustration that union politics continues to permeate federal workspaces.

“It’s such bullshit (PSAC) assume(s) everyone’s not conservative,” said the source who did not want to be identified for fear of retaliation.

“It’s the union’s fault they don’t have a deal and now they go after a federal party that has nothing to do with it…more negotiating, less activism might help.”

While there appears no immediate, punitive recourse for PSAC’s political emails to federal employees, previous commission probes into federal employee abuses of the public trust for expressing political beliefs have resulted in sanctions and terminations.

Others, like Emilie Taman have prevailed in federal court under similar circumstances. In January of 2017, the Federal Court of Appeal ruled that the Public Service Commission lacked “justification, transparency and intelligibility” after it tried to prevent the former federal lawyer from running in the 2015 federal election.

Taman ignored the commission’s edict, took an unauthorized leave of absence to run under the NDP banner in Ottawa-Vanier and was subsequently fired (Taman is running again this year as New Democrat hopeful against Environment Minister Catherine McKenna in Ottawa Centre).

And also following the 2015 election cycle, federal scientist Tony Turner decided to retire rather than endure a public service commission investigation into his political activities that involved writing and performing his protest song, “Harperman”.

Turner had been suspended in the summer of 2015 for alleged breaches of the Public Servant Employment Act’s rules on the political activity of a federal employee.

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