Naming Harper as “World Statesman of the Year” perplexes Canada’s leading union

Canada’s leading union is questioning why a foundation that trumpets “freedom, democracy and human rights” as “fundamental values” has chosen Stephen Harper as their pick for the 2012 World Statesman of the Year. The Award, doled out annually, is the creation of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, an American group started in 1965 as an “interfaith coalition of business and religious leaders that promotes peace, tolerance and ethnic conflict resolution.”

“Starting with Canadians, people around the world need to tell the Appeal of Conscience Foundation that picking Stephen Harper as the World Statesman of the Year is unconscionable,” says Wayne Hanley, the national president of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW Canada), which represents a quarter of a million workers across the country.

“Thanks to Stephen Harper, the distance between the federal government and everyday Canadians is greater than ever, the gap between the rich and the poor grows by the second, and our international reputation concerning the treatment of migrant workers is in complete tatters,” adds Hanley.

As Canada’s leading voice for migrant and temporary foreign workers, UFCW Canada is especially perplexed by the Foundation’s description of Harper as a "champion” of “human rights”. Under the Harper Conservative government, the Temporary Foreign Worker Program has expanded exponentially with over 200,000 Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs) entering the Canadian workforce each year as live-in-caregivers, agriculture workers, manufacturing workers, construction workers, and service and hospitality workers.

"These vulnerable workers are subjected to some of the worst kinds of rights abuses. They are denied full access to health services while sometimes being forced to work in dangerous or hazardous working conditions. They are commonly denied promised wages and forced to live in substandard housing. These conditions are the hallmarks of a program that puts workers under the thumbs of employers," Hanley says.

The Harper government has also drawn the outrage of people in Canada, and around the world, for recently passing legislation that allows employers to discriminate against TFWs by paying them up to 15% less for doing the same work as domestic workers. Given his track record when it comes to working families, many Canadians would be disappointed – but not surprised – to discover that Prime Minister Harper has repeatedly refused to ratify three international conventions governing forced labour, child labour, and the right to collective bargaining.

Harper’s supposed commitment to “freedom and democracy” is also a serious stretch, after the G-20 boondoggle that resulted in the imprisonment of hundreds of peaceful protesters, curious passersby and unsuspecting dog walkers. Also, lest we forgot that Harper has the dubious honour of being the only Canadian Prime Minister to be found guilty of contempt of Parliament.

And when it comes to boondoggles and the democratic use of public funds, Canadians are now facing a $30 billion invoice for warplanes, plus massive tax cuts for big banks and foreign corporations, while transfer funding for health care and education dwindles to an all time low.

The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW Canada) is Canada's leading union and social justice voice for workers and their communities across the country.