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February 2016

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Young IBEW Volunteers a Force in Election

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's October election was a resounding rejection of the previous government's hostility toward working families and organized labour was a foundation of that victory.

A key component of the of the IBEW's strategy was mobilizing young members. They answered the call, said Matt Wayland, First District political strategist.

"We had young members and their families knocking on doors across Canada and I think our impact on the election was very large," Wayland said.

The young IBEW member with the most at stake in the election was Winnipeg, Manitoba, Local 2085 member Daniel Blaikie. The 31-year old journeyman inside wireman ran for Parliament and won by 61 votes out of 43,000 in a four-way election, the closest election in the country.

He becomes the only IBEW member of Parliament, taking the seat away from the Conservative Party and represents one of the only seat pickups for the New Democratic Party on an otherwise rough night. The NDP lost more than half of its seats in Parliament and fell to third party. The sitting Conservative Party did worse, losing 67 seats.

Most IBEW volunteers, first-time and veteran, got involved supporting a candidate rather than becoming one. Canadian election laws limit how directly involved the IBEW can be in supporting candidates.

"The IBEW is, and has to be, strictly nonpartisan. We wanted [Former Prime Minister Stephen] Harper out, but it was up to each volunteer to find the candidate they believed would best serve working families," said Kate Walsh, First District strategic coordinator of the NextGen Initiative, the Canadian program akin to the Reach out and Engage Next-gen Electrical Workers (RENEW). "All we could do was educate IBEW members about where candidates and parties stood on important issues, and train them to be effective for whichever candidate they chose to support."

Wayland was in charge of organizing the plan to train and deploy IBEW volunteers across Canada.

"We did trainings in nearly 50 out of 338 ridings, targeting our attention where a Conservative MP could be knocked off," Wayland said. "Everywhere we went, we had 10 to 30 volunteers. It was a great showing."

Fredericton, New Brunswick, Local 37 Business Representative Greg Wright attended one of the First District trainings. Wright, a member of Local 37's NextGen committee, along with his Local Union Political Action Committee helped organize support for a Liberal Party candidate in his rural riding about an hour east of the Maine border.

Wright's backing of the Liberal party candidate was not a given. The Canadian Labour Congress helped found the NDP, and when Harper called the election, the NDP was second behind the Conservatives. Justin Trudeau's Liberal Party was in distant third position.

"[My riding] has been very conservative for years," Wright said. "I supported the [Liberal candidate] Karen Ludwig because she is part of the community, labour friendly and she did the work walking the district, talking to voters, that no one else has."

After his training, Wright said he called Ludwig's office to volunteer and went door knocking with the candidate.

Wright also said he was very active on social media, promoting Ludwig and the Liberal Party in a way that may be more familiar to Americans.

"I went very public about my support and no one does that in Canada," Wright said.

For Wayland, the 2015 election was the culmination of years of work and an indication of how much is left to do.

"The First District political program is only four years old. We have been doing political training over a few years with a modest goal of just showing we can make a difference," he said. "Our hope is that this will be a generational change and political engagement becomes second nature, a part of your apprenticeship, and after that, a part of being a member."


Fredericton, New Brunswick, Local 37 Business Representative Greg Wright volunteered for Liberal Party candidate Karen Ludwig's successful campaign to oust a conservative MP in rural New Brunswick.