Black History Month is a time to learn more about Canadian stories and the many important contributions of Black Canadians to the settlement, growth and development of our country.
The movement was largely a grass root one. It got official recognition in Canada when in 1995 a motion was introduced to Parliament by the first Black Canadian woman MP, the Honourable Jean Augustine. The motion was carried unanimously by the House of Commons. Then in 2008, Senator Donald Oliver, the first Black man appointed to the Senate, introduced the Motion to Recognize Contributions of Black Canadians and February as Black History Month. Once more unanimous approval was given.
Black people have been a part of shaping Canada’s heritage and identity since the arrival of Mathieu Da Costa, an interpreter between Indigenous peoples and the Basque fishing and trading ships on the east coast, and maybe for the first French explorers in the early 1600s. The election of Rosemary Brown, the 1st black woman elected to a Canadian Provincial Legislature (B.C) and running for the leadership of the Federal NDP Party in 1975 needs to be recognized as much as Macdonald and Laurier.
Our history is greater than political leaders, wars, railroads and businesses. It is celebrating workers’ history and the involvement of our sisters and brothers of black ancestry. Black history month is a time to learn more about their stories within our own organizations. Here is the story of Percy Bourne.
A radio orator out of the Montreal Airport Local, Percy played an important part of building the union. He was a delegate to the founding convention of the PSAC in 1966 being elected as the Regional Vice-President for Quebec. In 1969, he was elected 2nd Vice-President at the component’s first convention.
In 1971, UCTE’s second President, John McLernon, had to give up the presidency after being transferred to another department. At that time Percy Bourne was holding the office of 1st Vice-President and therefore he assumed the responsibilities of the component president. He also became the first component president in the Public Service Alliance of Canada of Haitian descent.
In his report to the 1972 convention, he stressed the importance of reforming the Superannuation Act that discriminated against women,
It seems only logical that in this day and age, both women and men should be entitled to equal superannuation benefits. The Act as it presently stands is discriminatory, for example if a woman happens to be separated from her husband, and the children are residing with the mother who dies, the pension benefits would go to the husband.
He raised the issue of technological change and that members be placed ahead of machines.
Change is inevitable but must be done in a humane manner. We must ensure that the technology is used to elevate our standard of living, and guard against the danger of a cavalier disregard for those who were trained in the work habits and technologies of the past.
In the 1972 elections for the presidency, Percy faced 3 challengers, Guy Jacob, Bob Firth and Bill Diggwall. The race was narrowed to the two Quebec delegates Bourne vs Jacob. In the final count, Brother Bourne was edged out by 6 votes.
It is the contributions and progressive thinking of members like Brother Bourne’s that have helped shape UCTE.