Since the last Convention, our Canadian Operations have continued to be a source of pride for our union. Under the leadership of Assistant to the General President Scott Marks and his staff, and working in close conjunction with our Canadian district vice presidents, our Canadian Office in Ottawa has met and exceeded its mandate to facilitate the delivery of IAFF services to our Canadian members and to advance the legislative priorities of Canada’s professional fire fighters.

Our Canadian membership is growing. Our French-language services are growing every week. Our federal legislative program is delivering results for our 27,000 Canadian members and our Canadian leadership and staff provide integral assistance to local and provincial affiliates every single day.

Our Canadian leadership is working together and in close contact with our leadership and staff at IAFF headquarters to ensure our Canadian members have the information and resources they need to safely protect their fellow citizens during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our Canadian Haz-Mat & CBRNE Training initiative continues to serve as a shining example of our union’s role as a leader in fire fighter and public safety, and our Canadian Legislative Conference and Biennial Canadian Policy Conference continue to highlight the IAFF calendar and unite our Canadian membership through the opportunity to participate in the advancement of our common goals.

One June 3, 2019, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the opening of the IAFF Canadian Office. It was a great opportunity to reflect on our union’s history in that great country while affirming our commitment to providing our Canadian members with the level of service they expect and deserve.

Legislative Update

Our Canadian legislative program has continued to flourish, as a result of the experience and hard work of our Canadian leadership and staff, and the close relationship we have cultivated with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal Government.

At our 26th Canadian Legislative Conference in March 2019, which I had the pleasure of attending, delegates from across Canada lobbied the Canadian Government on two important issues; strengthening fire fighter safety provisions within the National Building Code of Canada, and banning toxic chemical flame retardants in upholstered furniture.

Our hard work has resulted in advances on both issues. As a result of our advocacy and our relationship with the Liberal Government, our file was forwarded to the president of the National Research Council, who personally and skilfully mediated a pending resolve that will see language added to the Building Code clarifying that fire fighter safety is a code objective. And following talks with senior officials at Health Canada and Environment Canada, we are assured that efforts to ban chemical flame retardants are moving forward and that fire fighters are officially considered a key stakeholder in those discussions.

In the lead-up to Canada’s federal election in 2019, the IAFF did not sit on the sidelines and merely hope for a favourable result. We exercised our right to be politically active by registering as a Third Party with Elections Canada and developed a focused initiative called Fire Fighters for Canada.

Using FIREPAC Canada funds and technology to identify, engage and enlist not only our IAFF members but Canadians from all strides, Fire Fighters for Canada delivered content through social media and other online avenues designed to make people think about their election choices through the lens of the progressive values that support fire fighter and public safety, workers and working families and the unions that set the standard for wages, workers’ rights and workplace safety.

We welcomed the election result, a Liberal minority government with a strong opposition that includes Conservative Party, the New Democratic Party and Green Party MPs.

While we remain non-partisan and work constructively with all politicians and political parties, we don’t shy away from recognizing and supporting those who support us. The Liberal Government elected in October 2019 is the same Liberal Government that responded decisively to the IAFF and our legislative needs following the 2015 election and established the Memorial Grant Program for First Responders, launched a National Action Plan on post-traumatic stress in first responders and restored Canada’s HUSAR teams.

The Memorial Grant Program was established on April 1, 2018, by the Liberals following a tenacious 25-year lobby by our union. The program awards $300,000 tax-free to the surviving family of fallen fire fighters, paramedics and peace officers who die in the line of duty, as a recognition of their service and sacrifice.

Importantly, the benefit applies to all first responder deaths officially recognized by provincial workers’ compensation boards, including deaths caused by recognized occupational diseases, such as cancer, heart disease and post-traumatic stress. Since the program was established, the families of 91 Canadian IAFF members have received or are eligible to receive the benefit, totaling $27.3 million. While every line-of-duty death is tragic, and no family wants to endure the loss of their loved one, our Canadian members can rest assured that if they do make the ultimate sacrifice, it will be recognized by a grateful nation and their family’s immediate financial security will not be in jeopardy.

Our union was identified as a key stakeholder in the National Action Plan on first responder post-traumatic stress and has been a key participant in the initiatives that have stemmed from it. We’re in constant contact with the Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and Training (CIPSRT), which is implementing key mental health initiatives, and sharing those initiatives with our members – including virtual seminars that have been particularly vital during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With the building code and flame retardant issues advancing prior to the 27th Canadian Legislative Conference, we identified new priorities through a consultative process with our Canadian leadership: strengthening airport and aircraft firefighting regulations, funding for Wildland Urban Interface response training and Criminal Code amendments aimed at reducing violence against on-duty fire fighters and paramedics.

But then COVID-19 happened, forcing us to postpone our conference. In the face of the pandemic, and the need to look after the health and safety of our Canadian members, we quickly pivoted our federal legislative focus to pandemic issues.

When it became clear that the municipalities that are our employers will face significant revenue shortfalls as a result of the pandemic, the IAFF issued a statement calling on the Canadian government to provide emergency funding to municipalities so they can maintain vital municipal services, including public safety. Shortly afterward, the Canadian government announced $19 billion for municipalities under its Safe Restart program, which we welcomed. In August, we called for additional and ongoing funding for municipalities in our submission to the federal Standing Committee on Finance as part of its pre-budget consultations.

In November 2020, we held our first-ever virtual Canadian Legislative Conference during which delegates lobbied their MPs and Senators on a pandemic-focused legislative agenda: ensuring municipalities have adequate funding to maintain vital public safety services – such as fire and EMS – and ensuring that fire fighters’ medical roles are recognized when decisions about COVID-19 vaccine prioritization are made.

In the early days of the pandemic, I was honoured to receive a phone call from Bill Blair, Canada’s Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. We had a productive discussion about recognizing the fire fighters and paramedics we represent as essential workers and frontline responders, and ensuring our members have the resources they need to be safe while protecting their fellow Canadians. Minister Blair expressed to me his appreciation to the men and women of the IAFF all across Canada for our dedication and for the hard we do to protect the lives and property of Canadians every day.

Our Canadian legislative program has a strong foundation based on the grassroots lobbying we’ve been doing together for the last 25 years. Our lobby has yielded tremendous advances for our Canadian members, and even during this pandemic, it is making sure our voices are heard and our members’ priorities are known in the halls of power on Parliament Hill.

FIREPAC Canada

Our FIREPAC Canada fund has continued to serve as a powerful tool for the IAFF and for our provincial and local affiliates. By putting actual dollars behind the candidates we support, and by using FIREPAC Canada for focused political action initiatives at all levels, we’ve shown that we’re serious about the issues we’ve strived to advance on our members’ behalf.

Since the last Convention, FIREPAC Canada has been used to fund more than $1 million worth of fire fighter-friendly political action initiatives at all levels.

FIREPAC Canada has been used to support the Broadbent Institute and the Pearson Centre, two progressive groups that share our vision on labour rights and working families, and to launch Fire Fighters for Canada, a registered Third-Party political action initiative that brought fire fighter and public safety issues to the forefront during the 2019 federal election and ensured our members and the public alike knew which parties were prepared to stand up for fire fighter and public safety.

At the provincial and local levels, FIREPAC Canada funds have been provided to dozens of affiliates for approved political action initiatives that support those who support us and help bring fire fighter and public safety issues to the forefront.

In October 2018, FIREPAC Canada funds helped elect one of our senior leaders, 6th District Vice President Michael Hurley, to the mayor’s chair in Burnaby, British Columbia, as they have been used to support numerous other allies in the past two-and-a-half years.

As we assemble for our 55th Convention, our FIREPAC Canada fund is robust and as ready as ever to help us advance our goals at all levels of government.

Coronavirus Response

As General President, the health and safety of the men and women who pay dues to this great union has been my top priority, bar none. When the coronavirus emerged in early 2020, I made sure the IAFF responded immediately by tapping into top infectious diseases resources, designing protection protocols specific to fire fighters and paramedics and making that information accessible to all by sharing it online on the IAFF.org website. This was launched even before the virus was declared a pandemic, and I also made sure these resources were compatible and equally accessible to our Canadian members.

For many months now, the COVID-19 pandemic upended every sense of normalcy in our personal lives and in our role as frontline emergency responders. We’re used to having to consider our own safety while protecting our fellow citizens, but this dangerous virus entered us into a new universe of safety precautions.

I’m proud of the way our Canadian leadership and members have responded during this time of unprecedented emergency. We immediately closed the IAFF Canadian Office to protect our staff but have maintained full and complete operations remotely. From the earliest days of the pandemic, our Canadian Office staff – working in close conjunction with the Canadian district vice presidents and with leadership and staff at IAFF headquarters – helped local and provincial affiliates deal with a multitude of safety, labour, operational and other issues that arose.

We made sure our Canadian affiliates were aware of our online COVID-19 resources and participated in the IAFF survey tracker that helped us understand the scope of the outbreak across North America and direct our resources where they were needed.

I watched proudly as Toronto Local 3888 and other Ontario affiliates publicly turned down temporary pay raises made available to many frontline essential workers in the province, with the explanation that they intend to honour the salary they negotiated with their employer, a salary that already recognizes the dangerous nature of our work and our value in our communities.

In Ottawa, we used our well-oiled political action machine to lobby the Canadian government for emergency funding for municipalities so they can maintain vital public services, including fire and EMS, and we are currently in discussions to ensure the Public Health Agency of Canada affirms the results of a previous lobby effort and recognizes fire fighters’ medical roles when decisions about COVID-19 vaccine prioritization are being made.

While many Canadian IAFF members have been infected by COVID-19, all have thankfully recovered so far. Many more have been required to isolate and quarantine, but it’s fair to say the direct impact has been minimal in Canada as a result of our combined efforts.

Fighting Back/Assistance to Affiliates

Throughout my presidency of this great union, I have always adhered to the maxim that an attack on one fire fighter is an attack on all fire fighters, and an attack on one local merits a response from the IAFF and the weight and full resources afforded us by a membership of more than 323,000 strong across the United States and Canada.

In the U.S. and in Canada, a key function of the IAFF has been to help affiliates fight for the staffing needed to safely and effectively protect the public, and to fight against employer cutbacks that threaten jobs and to roll back the clock on public and fire fighter safety.

And at the state and provincial level, we help our affiliates fight back against legislation and other government actions that threaten our members’ safety, hard-fought union rights, pensions and ability to bargain collectively on a level playing field with employers.

Since the last Convention, we have activated many times on behalf of our local and provincial associations in Canada to help them fight back.

Working in close conjunction with the Canadian district vice presidents and staff at IAFF headquarters, our Canadian Office has assisted countless affiliates across Canada in response to a variety of attacks.

Canadian affiliates have enjoyed full access to our suite of custom services through the Canadian Office and through our headquarters in Washington, DC, including GIS analysis, municipal financial analysis, strategic communications plans, strategic advice, media relations assistance, labour relations assistance, health and safety resources and more.

Locals such as Montreal, QC Local 125 have used our E-18 Media studios to produce custom videos showcasing the vast array of services it offers to their citizens and excellent charitable work in the community.

Oshawa, ON Local 465, Charlottetown, PEI Local 5219 and Saint John, NB Local 771 have called on the IAFF to assist with resources to help with tough fights for safe staffing levels. We’ve assisted numerous locals, including Richmond Hill, ON Local 1957 and Scugog, ON Local 4679 engage the media and the public to highlight the failure of local authorities to grow their fire departments in the face of booming population growth and construction.

In Sudbury, Ontario, IAFF resources helped Local 527 win a landmark arbitration in August 2020 that ordered the city to staff an outlying full-time fire station with four personnel all times in order to address their safety. We made sure through our website and our social media channels that every IAFF local and every full-time fire department across Canada was aware of this important and precedent-setting decision.

In Fredericton, we assisted Local 1053 with a successful tribunal decision in 2020 that ordered the city to fire its pension actuary and recalculate what’s owed to the fire fighter pension plan after the city short-changed fire fighters by $6 million after refusing to participate in a risky, new plan for municipal employees.

In Alberta, the IAFF has the back of the Alberta Fire Fighters Association as it responds to probably the most regressive and damaging anti-worker and anti-union legislation ever introduced in Canada at the hands of the United Conservative Party.

These are just a few examples of the many times we’ve answered the call on behalf of our Canadian affiliates, large and small.

In addition, our Canadian Office has responded to hundreds of routine requests for assistance on such topics as health and safety, collective bargaining, media relations and more.

I’m proud of the level of service our union has made available to our Canadian affiliates and the many victories and advances we have achieved. We may not have won every battle, but we always give it everything we have while making sure that employers and governments alike know that if they pick on fire fighters, they’ll be dealing with the full force of the IAFF.

Organizing

Since the last IAFF Convention, our union has grown steadily in Canada with new locals and members, from one end of Canada to the other. New Canadian locals joining the IAFF since August 2018 are:

  • Lloydminster, AB Local 5182
  • Shawinigan, QC Local 5209
  • Charlottetown, PEI Local 5219
  • Fort Saskatchewan, AB Local 5277
  • Sidney, BC Local 5282
  • Chestermere, AB Local 5284

Together, these new locals added 158 members to the IAFF and with steady growth in our existing family of Canadian locals, the IAFF now has 26,249 active members in 191 locals across Canada, and we now represent fire fighters in all 10 Canadian provinces and in two of its three territories.

Haz-Mat program

Our Canadian Haz-Mat training program continues to serve as a credit to the IAFF in Canada and an affirmation of our union as a leader in first responder and public safety.

Since the last Convention, 88 classes have taken place, training more than 1,800 students across Canada, including IAFF members and other first responders, volunteer fire fighters, paramedics and military personnel.

In 2019, what was first approved and funded by the Conservative Government as a two-year program marked its 10th year of training first responders using the IAFF curriculum and IAFF master instructors. Working in close partnership with Canada’s Ministry of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, we have secured yet another funding extension that will see our program operate through at least March 2023.

Along the way to making thousands of first responders and millions of Canadians safer, our Canadian Haz-Mat training program became Pro Board accredited, enlisted French-speaking instructors and delivered training courses in Quebec, and in summer 2020 broke new ground by delivering training in Indigenous communities in western Canada.

Our Canadian Haz-Mat training has been a major success, and it was implemented as a direct result of our political action. I commend our Canadian leadership, staff and instructors who have worked hard to make this program the success that it is.

Presumptive Coverage

Canada continues to be a leader in the area of presumptive workers’ compensation coverage for the diseases that impact professional fire fighters.

Since the first presumptive legislation was enacted in Manitoba in 2002, it has been nothing short of breathtaking to see how our affiliated provincial associations have used political action and research from the IAFF to create the robust framework of coverage that exists in Canada today.

Every year, multiple jurisdictions add new coverage in response to lobbying by our affiliates, including in six provinces, coverage for post-traumatic stress injuries. As recently as November 2020, Nova Scotia moved to top off its list of cancers to 17, which is the benchmark across Canada, and Quebec has finally tabled legislation.

Presumptive coverage helps ensure that our Canadian members are properly compensated for diseases that are clearly linked to our chosen profession, without the uncertainty, delay and bureaucracy of a claims process. The proliferation of presumptive coverage across Canada and its various expansions in the past two years is just another example of how we all fight together to advance our goals, fight to make our profession as safe as possible and look after each other as brothers and sisters in this great union.

EMS Advocacy

The IAFF helps Canadian affiliates advance fire fighters’ medical roles where the opportunity exists to improve patient care through the use of existing fire department resources.

This includes a designated fund, authorized by Convention action in 2018, for Canadian Prehospital Care Advocacy. The fund is to be used to assist the IAFF and local and provincial affiliates seeking to effect legislative and other change required to advance fire fighters’ medical roles and capabilities.

The fund was used for example in 2019 to successfully mediate a conflict with the Canadian Union of Public Employees which in 2018 made an unsubstantiated claim that IAFF advocacy on EMS issues violated the Canadian Labour Congress’s Constitution.

The Canadian Prehospital Care Advocacy Fund remains in place to assist with future initiatives that support the expansion of affiliates’ medical roles across Canada.

IAFF Canada Social Media

IAFF Canada actively promotes its activities and the activities of our Canadian affiliates through our social media channels on Facebook and Twitter. Through these channels, we also participate in the larger discussion about fire fighter safety, public safety, the value of public services and other issues of importance to our affiliates and our members.

Our reach on Facebook continues to grow in Canada with more than 8,700 Twitter followers and over 6,400 Facebook likes. Posts are regularly shared, thereby increasing our reach exponentially. Our social media presence helps cement the IAFF’s role as the official voice of Canada’s most trusted profession.

IAFF Canada also showcases the medical roles of our members on our Send Fire Fighters social media channels.

Member Engagement

Building on the success of the Fire Fighters for Canada political action initiative we launched during the 2019 federal election, in 2020 we launched “IAFF Canada – For You, For Your Family” as a way to reach our to our rank-and-file members and to foster the sense of family we feel as members of this great union.

Using leading-edge software that helps us engage and enlist our members, we’ve tapped into the feeling of pride we share as professional fire fighters and generated some amazing and touching stories about our work, our families and what it means to us to call this IAFF our own.

Our members’ experiences and stories are shared through the website iaffcanada.ca, and we’re also offering our local and provincial affiliates across Canada the opportunity to use our online platform for their own local outreach campaigns.

Canadian Policy Conference

The Biennial Canadian Policy Conference is a unique forum for our Canadian affiliates, and I was honoured to attend the most recent edition held in August 2019 in the colourful and historic city of St. John’s, Newfoundland.

We were privileged to have Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as a surprise guest at our conference, and truly appreciated the time he spent thanking fire fighters for what they do in communities and shaking hands with all of our delegates and guests in attendance.

Our conference featured informative sessions focusing on such important issues as mental health, strategic communications and political messaging, and our delegates adopted a resolution affirming the need to strengthen Canada’s airport fire fighting regulations. St. John’s Local 1075 did a wonderful job of making sure our delegates and guests enjoyed their time there and showcasing the region’s unique culture and spectacular scenery.

Mike Hurley – Burnaby Election

There is no political action victory sweeter than when we elect our own. That was the case in October 2018 when, as the result of a focused campaign, our 6th District Vice President Mike Hurley was elected mayor of Burnaby, British Columbia’s third-largest city with a population of 250,000.

Mike’s election not only put a progressive, fire fighter-friendly voice at the municipal table in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland, but also at the national table where municipal leaders gather to discuss policy and set municipal priorities.

We were proud to support Mike’s campaign through FIREPAC Canada, and it was truly inspiring to witness how the BCPFFA, Burnaby Local 323 and members from across British Columbia assisted him in his campaign and celebrate with him when his victory was declared.

Progressive Partnerships

In the past two years, IAFF Canada has continued to walk the walk as a trade unionist organization and a supporter of progressive politics and messaging. We are a proud and active participant in the Canadian Labour Congress and its initiatives, and we proudly support the Broadbent Institute and the Pearson Centre, two important progressive voices that have emerged in Canada’s political atmosphere.

Through contributions from FIREPAC Canada and through our participation in their initiatives, the IAFF supports these progressive voices and their goals to reach Canadians with progressive messaging and ideas.

MDC and other fundraising

In FY 2018-2019 and FY 2019-2020, our Canadian affiliates demonstrated their commitment to the cause that is closest to our hearts by raising more than $2.5 million for Muscular Dystrophy Canada.

In doing so, fire fighters are carrying on a tradition of support for MDC that is now more than 65 years old and has carried through to today.

In August 2019, IAFF Canada was honoured to accept the Dr. David Green Impact Award from Muscular Dystrophy Canada, in recognition of our dedication to supporting Muscular Dystrophy Canada’s mission to support families affected by neuromuscular disorders.

When the COVID-19 pandemic put an end to our traditional fundraising activities, our Canadian affiliates responded by supporting MDC’s virtual Fill the Boot campaign to ensure the flow of funds to this important organization continues.

Our Canadian affiliates’ fundraising for Muscular Dystrophy Canada is remarkable, and it’s our biggest single recipient of support. But it’s not the only one. Day in and day out, our affiliates’ social media feeds are overflowing with examples of local community support, from helping food banks to reading in schools, and organizing events in support of countless local charities across Canada.

Every October, our Canadian members don pink T-shirts and raise funds for breast cancer research and awareness, and the following month put the razors away and grow moustaches as part of Movember fundraising for men’s health initiatives.

From British Columbia Bright Nights to Edmonton Local 209’s rooftop campouts and Shawinigan Local 5209’s Défi Gratte-ciel, our Canadian affiliates have given selflessly of their time and energies and shown that they are truly dedicated to the communities they serve. Our Canadian locals’ community involvement is one of the main reasons that year after year, fire fighters are ranked as Canada’s most trusted profession.

Moving Forward

As we gather virtually for our 55th Convention, we do so with the knowledge that this great union is meeting the needs of a growing Canadian membership at every level. We’re strong, capable and responsive. We’re working hard to protect your health and safety, especially during this COVID-19 pandemic; we’re helping you fight back against employer attacks and against regressive legislation, and we’re building on our strong foundation of political action to bring forward the issues that matter most to Canada’s professional fire fighters in the federal arena.

When I reflect on the time that I’ve been privileged to serve as the General President of this great union, few things will touch me as strongly as the affinity I have for our Canadian members and the pride and the admiration I feel about the many important advances that were achieved in Canada when we all worked together in solidarity with the leadership and resources of the IAFF.

I will always cherish the many friends I’ve made in Canada and the fond memories I have from countless trips to virtually all areas of that great country.

As we move forward, I have every confidence that through great leadership, the treasure trove of resources we have built and the experience we’ve gained along the way, IAFF Canada will continue to grow and flourish and continue to deliver on the priorities most pressing to the men and women of this great profession.