Demers took action for Canadians and fellow workers because she had empathy
With public services under siege, sudden death of president leaves PIPSC scrambling.
by Ish Theilheimer
OTTAWA, February 12, 2009 – a special PublicValues.ca report: A passionate defender of public services and working people, Michèle Demers, President of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) died suddenly this week, leaving her unions' members shocked and scrambling to take up where she left off.
President of PIPSC since 2005, the social worker from Montreal was extremely prominent in news reports on a series of battles with the Harper government over public services and the rights of public servants. Food inspection and consumer safety issues repeatedly put Demers in the media spotlight. Last week, for instance, PIPSC filed a notice of application in Federal Court in Ottawa to prevent the government from privatizing poultry inspection by handing over that responsibility to the poultry packers themselves.
"It was obvious to all the staff and all the members her passion came from the love of the people she served every day," PIPSC Vice-President Gary Corbett told PublicValues.ca.
"I learned from her, I travelled with her, and I'm going to miss her sorely," said PIPSC communications head Chantal Lecours. "It's a very sad moment for myself and all of our colleagues at the Professional Institute."
"Michèle had her roots in the union movement, and she worked very passionately for workers," said Corbett. "She was driven to help others." Here is the entire interview with him in video format:
Lecours worked closely with Demers for more than 20 years and recalls her as someone who always took action when events called for it. She says the way Demers got involved in her union was typical of the woman.
"She got her first paycheque when she was a social worker at Veterans' Affairs. She got her first paycheque and said 'How come I'm not paid more than this,' and they said 'If you're not happy you should go and talk to your union.'" There happened to be a union meeting that night. "So she came down to her first meeting, and that was the beginning of her union involvement."
Lecours said Demers "was a people person. She empathized. She did everything in her power to help other people." The two travelled to visit PIPSC workplaces across Canada. "She always had a very open ear to what people had to tell her," said Lecours.
When PIPSC member and Canadian Food Inspection Agency scientist Luc Pomerleau was fired last year for leaking government plans to privatize food inspection, Lecours says Demers "was devastated".
A video interview with Chantal Lecours can be seen here:
"She firmly believed in what the public service brings to the fibre of this society," said Lecours. When the two visited Institute members in their workplaces, "It was always a delightful experience to discover this wonderful work that our members do for Canadians."