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September 4, 2009

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When you think of community, think 'local' first

Labour Day is an important occasion for working people to celebrate our communities and the pride we take in building, serving and sustaining them. On September 7, communities throughout the province will be marking the occasion with picnics and other events.

For CUPE members in B.C., there’s a lot to celebrate: every day of the year we are out in our communities—raising money for good causes, supporting programs for youth and local sport and fighting to keep our public services public.

As part of the larger community, the labour movement wants the same things as everyone else. We want clean public water and affordable public infrastructure that works for everyone. We want to control our own local economies—rather than having those economies determined by outside forces.

Last year, I visited 20 communities throughout B.C., talking to boards of trade and chambers of commerce, as well as municipal and provincial politicians, about some of these issues. What I proposed was that continued increases in property taxes and cost development charges cannot—and must not—be the only two revenue streams that make our communities sustainable, especially not during tough economic times. Instead, local governments need to be more proactive in looking for other revenue streams.

There are many tools we can use to make import substitution a reality. We can make better use of capital stock, such as community-owned land, to create businesses that generate other business while encouraging young entrepreneurs to stay in their communities. Local procurement is even good for the environment: better support of farmer’s markets would reduce the food industry’s carbon footprint resulting from imports, a multi-billion-dollar problem.

So on September 7, let us celebrate Labour Day by renewing our commitment to make our communities stronger and more sustainable. Let’s buy local. And let’s support the legal right of our municipalities to promote local business first.

Barry O’Neill is president of CUPE BC.

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