A traditional Aboriginal drum ceremony officially welcomed 90 Unifor members to the inaugural Northern Ontario Council held in Thunder Bay on October 21-22. “The challenges are very different here given that members are defined by the unique, vast geography and history of the North,” said Unifor Ontario Regional Director Naureen Rizvi. The new Council was introduced to address concerns specific to the region, which is bigger in area than most of the European Union. Speaking to delegates Rizvi addressed key northern issues including internet access, hydro rates, under representation in government and support for truth and reconciliation.
Thunder Bay Mayor Keith Hobbs told the Council that the city is a key region for Indigenous issues as he expressed concern over the lack of funding from the Provincial and Federal governments to develop and support Aboriginal programs. The Council also heard from Volker Kromm, Executive Director of the Regional Food Distribution Association, who shared his personal memories of going hungry as a child as he outlined how the organization distributes over three million dollars worth of food each year across the region. “They’re the working poor, sometimes they’re children who are trying to fend for themselves,” said Kromm of the clients who utilize the banks. On the final day of the conference, local Thunder Bay MP and Minister of Status of Women Patty Hajdu spoke of the importance of equity work. “We all want a society where women and girls have the same opportunity to thrive as boys as men,” said Hajdu. “Now is the time, we all need to recommit to gender equality.”
Unifor Assistant to the National President Katha Fortier, who was born and raised in Northern Ontario, reminded delegates of the power of solidarity. “Thunder Bay has the highest density of union organization in the country,” said Fortier. “You have the opportunity here in to influence politically and socially. I challenge everybody to see how we can build that higher.”