Historic leadership vote suggests appetite for change at OPSEU

By Meagan Christou 

The Ontario Public Services Employees Union (OSPEU) just held its first hybrid in-person and online convention. The convention was attended by around 700 physical delegates and 180 online delegates over 4 days at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. 

Announcing his retirement to the membership back in December, outgoing President Warren (Smokey) Thomas gave his final address to the convention floor. Many called his exit “bittersweet”— after 15 years in this position, Thomas’s departure at the age of 70 finally left this leadership spot open. 

Elder Ethel La Valley, the first elected Indigenous Vice-President of the Canadian Labour Congress, spoke on Truth and Reconciliation. She encouraged the assembly to “move beyond tokenistic gestures and form relationships with us. Listen to Indigenous peoples and be comfortable in allowing us to take the lead.” 

The following day, just steps from the convention center, Chiefs Namoks, Gisdaya and Madeek arrived from unceded Wet’suwet’en territory to protest the Royal Bank of Canada’s involvement with the pipeline being pushed through their land. However, the majority of delegates voted down a proposed motion to suspend the order of the day until lunch to allow membership to join the protest. Some members, including OPSEU’s own Indigenous Circle Committee, ignored the motion and stepped away to personally show solidarity. 

An intense morning led to a tense afternoon with four presidential candidates participating in a question-and-answer period, followed by their passionate closing speeches. Voting took place through a digital platform, with candidates requiring a majority of the vote (50 percent plus one) to win. 

After the first ballot, JP Hornick won a clear majority of 494 votes, to secure the President’s seat without the need for a run-off ballot. The convention floor positively erupted after the result was called and for a good reason, as Hornick has no previous ties to past leadership. 

Running on a platform on effecting social transformation through structural change, Hornick brought a powerful track record that affected much of the membership. She successfully led a 5-week strike as chair for the College Faculty Bargaining team in 2017. Hornick is also a Queer activist who challenged the Charter in courts twice and beat discriminatory charges from a bathhouse raid by the Toronto Police in 2000.

Not to be overshadowed, another new fresh face was elected to the post of Vice President/Treasurer. Laurie Nancekivell received the majority of the vote against previous VP Eduardo Almeida. Nancekivell’s closing remarks included challenges about previous fiscal transparency and the accessibility of funds for the union’s locals and equity branches, comments which resonated loudly with the membership. 

This is the first time in OPSEU’s history that two women stand together at the top of the union’s leadership. With a commitment to building stronger contracts, enforcing collective agreements and mobilizing membership, these two have impressive amounts of passion towards creating an inclusive “big and rowdy” tent. It is with optimism that the union enters a new chapter, harnessing that passion to rebuild a strong, powerful and just labour movement. 

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