Nycole Turmel was in familiar territory Wednesday morning as she addressed delegates at a labour union convention in St. John’s Wednesday morning, though she may have been figuratively wearing new shoes.
“I would say there’s some similarities in the role,” said the interim federal NDP leader, refering to her six-year reign as president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) from 2000 to 2006.
Turmel spoke at the triennial convention of the National Component, a group of public service employees which falls under the leadership of PSAC.
“They represent workers, but (the objective) for us and them together is to make sure we get a better life for Canadians all together, (whether) coming from a union or coming from a social democratic party.”
Her past involvement with the labour union movement may have made her a popular speaker Wednesday, but it was her past ties to the sovereignist movement and the Bloc Québécois that was still making national waves, particularly after media reported on Conservative Minister of Transport Denis Lebel’s past membership with the Bloc.
“I respect Mr. Lebel for the way he has done (it), but I want to move on now,” she said, citing the need to focus her attention on the issues like the economy and childcare. “I think it’s over.”
A primary concern of PSAC remains cuts to the public service sector, of which the interim opposition leader is highly critical.
During her speech, she noted the government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper is planning to cut $17 billion in public sector spending over a five-year period while also offering $15 billion per year in tax credits to large corporations.
“It’s more than their jobs — it’s what they like to do and what they’ve been hired for, and they know the importance.”
Noting the National Component covers Parks Canada employees, Turmel said cuts to its labour force would impact Canada’s ability to share its history and heritage with the world.
Turmel said she agrees with others who state Canada is in a good position economically, but added it needs a plan to diversify its economy to protect jobs.
“To say what’s happening in the (United) States won’t affect us is not right,” she said, referencing concerns about the economy south of the border.
“It will affect us, so we need a plan to be ready for that. We need to make sure that the plan of government is to (not just) protect jobs, but to create jobs, and I don’t think cuts to the public sector will help that.”
Turmel said party leader Jack Layton is doing well as he continues to take a break from politics to treat cancer.
She could not provide any new information regarding whether he will be back in time for Parliament’s reopening next month.
Her trip to Newfoundland and Labrador for the convention was Turmel’s second in a week.
Last Wednesday she was in St. John’s to attend The Royal St. John’s Regatta.