Kevin Tetlow, Tyler Packham and Jeff Anderson all attended the Biennial Canadian Policy Conference July 28 to 31 in Halifax, Nova Scotia

IAFF August 2,2013 - Canadian IAFF local leaders came away from the Biennial Canadian Policy Conference July 28 to 31 in Halifax, Nova Scotia armed with communication strategies that will help them fight back against employer attacks on pensions and worker rights such as collective bargaining.

The messaging strategies were developed by delegates during two special sessions that focused on identifying the strengths and weaknesses on current messages on pensions and bargaining; examined challenges facing locals; examined the most effective way to convey desired messages to members, the public and the media; and discussed resources available to help local leaders launch effective communication strategies to protect fire fighter's rights.

Noted Canadian author and political strategist Warren Kinsella set the backdrop for the strategy sessions with an eye-opening talk on messaging and Canadian politics. Kinsella described how right-wing forces have used deceptive rhetoric to hijack the conversation and influence public policy and stressed that unions and like-minded groups have to manage the dialogue and use relevant stories to win the conversation back.

IAFF General President Harold Schaitberger was frank and candid when describing the importance of responding forcefully now that the kinds of attacks on jobs, worker rights and pensions seen in the United States during the past five years are spreading in Canada.

"These are challenging times; there's no doubt about it," Schaitberger said, describing how 10 years ago, nobody could have imagined Michigan becoming a right-to-work state. Schaitberger minced no words in describing how public policy makers in the United States are using the ailing economy as an excuse to attack worker rights "to get more out of people for less."

Added Schaitberger, "It appears some of that, unfortunately, has flowed north of the border" and asserted that so-called pension reform "is really about taking away what you've worked for all these years."

Schaitberger reminded delegates that those who challenge the rights of professional fire fighters will come and go, but the IAFF has remained the one constant for fire fighters for more than 90 years. He also told delegates that he's excited about E Street Productions, a state-of-the-art video studio being built at IAFF Headquarters that will produce professional-quality videos for the IAFF and for local affiliates to use in public relations campaigns to fight back against employer attacks.

IAFF General Secretary Thomas Miller also greeted delegates. He thanked them for taking time away from home to do attend the conference and described how the IAFF has streamlined and improved a number of services.

Delegates adopted two important resolutions, including one that will result in an analysis of EMS in Canada to establish a strategy to maintain and enhance fire-based EMS, which is under increasing attack from paramedic associations and other groups. An interim report on the resolution will be provided to Canadian IAFF locals following an October 2013 meeting of the provincial presidents and Canadian District vice presidents.

Delegates also adopted a resolution calling on the IAFF to amend its convention and conference policies so that more locals can bid to host IAFF events.

The conference attracted 100 delegates and 12 alternates. During the conference, Ann Bryan of Kingston, ON Local 498 and Clive Deonarine from Ajax, ON Local 1092, were elected to the IAFF's Human Relations Committee. Schaitberger congratulated both.

Also during the conference, Provincial Association presidents and Canadian Trustee Alex Forrest provided reports to delegates, and Canadian Legal Counsel Sean McManus of McManus Hubler Lawyers delivered an informative legal update on work hours, which is a pressing issue in Canada as employers increasingly attempt to fight against 24-hour shift schedules.

Scott Treibitz of Tricom Associates gave a talk that underscored the importance of member communications. Treibitz also facilitated a plenary session that discussed the results of the pension and collective bargaining strategy sessions.

Shelley McWilliams, Atlantic Canada representative for Muscular Dystrophy Canada (MDC), thanked IAFF locals for raising more than $1.35 million last year. In a moving speech, six-year-old Van Bernard, a Halifax-area child with muscular dystrophy, and his mother, Julie Clegg, told delegates how MDC services and assistance have had a tremendously positive impact on their lives.

In addition to providing valuable information to attendees, Halifax Local 268 did a great job of showcasing the region's rich maritime culture through a number of activities and events for delegates and guests and also arranged activities for the many spouses and children who accompanied delegates to the conference.

The next edition of the Biennial Canadian Policy Conference will be hosted by Calgary, AB Local 255 in 2015.