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February 11, 2010

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Invest in your community, CUPE recommends

The president of CUPE B.C. wants people to support their communities through a Local First campaign, and Local 439 is embracing his message.

Barry O'Neill was in Comox to speak to School District 71 support staff members during their professional development day Monday at Highland Secondary School.

The day's theme was Investing in Your Community, and CUPE Local 439 provided a series of workshops to educate members on the Valley and a lunch with local food prepared by local businesses and students.

"It's about investing in our local community," said Janice Wright, president of CUPE Local 439, which represents about 550 members.

In his keynote speech, O'Neill spoke about thinking locally and how that impacts the community, the economy and the environment.

"Communities, in particular rural B.C., small communities need to develop other revenue streams," he said. "The main revenue streams of property tax and development cost charges are not going to cut it."

CUPE wants to set up a Local First pilot project in the Comox Valley to create new revenue streams.

"We've looked at some of the things being done here, and we think Comox- Courtenay has a good footing and a good sense of how this can work," said O'Neill. "We would like to get together with those who are interested to talk about how we would like to make this better. How do we shift the tax base a bit to develop more local or regional business that can be expanded?"

Local First is more than buying locally, explained O'Neill.

"There has got to be a significant commitment from the business community," he explained. "The commitment to make it sustainable has to be that businesses get together with other businesses to create a climate that if you buy tires, they may not be as cheap as in Vancouver, but you get a deal with detailing ... things that move people from one local business to another."

This is something CUPE Local 439 wants to do, according to Wright.

"We've seen when the mill shut down, the impact it had on this community," she said. "We've seen the WestJet flights full of workers going to Alberta."

CUPE Local 439 began its Local First initiative by going to the school board office and suggesting they get Lifeskills programs in the schools to cater their meals - which is what CUPE does.

CUPE has also seen the impact the arrival of big stores like Walmart has had on small businesses, and the union is encouraging its members to shop locally, noted Wright.

"We want our members to support those businesses, and we're going to work with them to entice them to do so," she said. "We know we've got the membership to get on board with it, and we know we can do it."

Local 439 has developed a plan and spoken to the Comox Business in Action and Comox Centre Mall and plans to speak to the Downtown Courtenay Business Improvement Association next, according to Wright.

O'Neill is impressed with Local 439.

"This local is really more progressive in what they're doing and just in the interest they have," he said. "These folks have done a really great job of making people aware and walking the talk."

Comox Valley Record, Tue Feb 9 2010

Byline: Lindsay Chung