Good public policy and consensus should be the products of study and collaboration by a nation’s leaders. All too often, however, the leaders doing the studying and collaborating are detached from the day-to-day lives of people affected by their decisions.

Greg Wright, left, business representative, Fredericton, New Brunswick, Local 37, NextGen Strategic Coordinator Kate Walsh, and First District Political Action/Media Strategist Matt Wayland were participants in this year’s tour of Canada by the Governor General’s Canadian Leadership Conference.

That’s what makes the Governor General’s Canadian Leadership Conference unique. In 1983, Governor General Edward Schreyer proposed to regularly bring together leaders of industry, unions and communities to tour each of Canada’s provinces.


This year’s participants included First District Political Action/Media Strategist Matt Wayland, NextGen Strategic Coordinator Kate Walsh and Fredericton, New Brunswick, Local 37 Business Representative Greg Wright. They were selected upon the recommendation of Local 37 Business Manager Ross Galbraith, a member of the International Executive Council, who is one of the 1,500 tour alumni, participating in 2000.


Wayland toured Manitoba; Walsh visited Alberta; and Wright traveled across Ontario as part of the tour that has its roots in the Commonwealth Study Conference first held in the UK in 1956.


“I spent 60 hours on a bus with my fellow delegates, which included a mayor, corporate lawyers, chemical engineers and members of organized labour, to name a few,” Wayland says. “We worked extremely well together and learned from each other.” After the tour of Manitoba, Wayland and the others presented their findings to Governor General David Johnston and made recommendations for assisting some of the most innovative groups they met with awards of government grants.


Governor General Johnston is appointed by the prime minister to be the “arm and ear of the Queen,” says Wayland. “He has a wonderful mind, asked tough questions and was personable from beginning to end.”


Wayland toured 40 locations in Manitoba. He says one of the most inspirational visits was meeting managers and union representatives of the United Food and Commercial Workers at Maple Leaf Foods, Canada’s largest meatpacker.


At Maple Leaf, the parties have been working together to assist temporary foreign workers who are helping to fill the nation’s labour shortage pass tests and requirements for citizenship. The UFCW hires interpreters to help the process. Both parties, says Wayland, act upon the notion, “If temporary workers are good enough to work here, they are good enough to be citizens.”


Another highlight of the two-week tour was a visit to the Siloam Mission, located in Winnipeg’s tough north end, which serves homeless and unemployed citizens. Medical volunteers, including chiropractors, dentists and optometrists, are available along with job placement services, meals, haircuts and new clothing. Administrators follow the progress of participants they dispatch to jobs. If temps are performing well, the mission works at finding them permanent employment. Volunteers staff a round-the-clock office that takes calls and email messages from current or prospective employers. The mission’s operations director, says Wayland, was called a “dream surgeon,” for helping repair the dreams of folks down on their luck.


“The conference was an incredible journey that allowed me, as a Canadian, to see and learn a lot about my country and fellow Canadians. And I was able to share my view as a young union member with folks that had little to no understanding of the labour movement,” Walsh says.


On a tour of Alberta, Walsh participated in a traditional Aboriginal sweat ceremony, including prayers and songs led by Hal Eagletail of the Tsuu T’ina Nation. Conferees heard from a survivor of Residential School, a program under which First Nation members were removed from the influence of their families and forced to assimilate into Canada’s mainstream culture. The visit coincided with the release of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Report.


“The importance of knowing our shared history as Canadians, good and bad, was an important point of discussion, especially looking towards the future and understanding the necessity not to repeat the mistakes of the past,” Walsh says.


“The IBEW is extremely proud of our members who are part of the Governor General’s Canadian Leadership Conference,” says First District International Vice President Bill Daniels.


While conference attendees engage as individuals, not as delegates of the union, says Daniels, “IBEW participants always bring union values and a spirit of social solidarity to the effort and establish lasting relationships helping the IBEW to influence Canada’s future.”