While addressing Institute members at a meeting in Montreal on Monday, February 9th, PIPSC President Michèle Demers suffered a brain aneurysm. She was transported to the Royal Victoria Hospital where she underwent emergency surgery. Sadly, she passed away February 10th with her family at her side.
Institute members elected Michèle Demers President of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada in December 2004. Prior to her election as the Institute’s 50th President, Michèle had been active in the union for over twenty-five years, eleven as Vice-President. In December 2007, she was re-elected to a second three-year mandate.
Michèle Demers became a member of PIPSC on February 7, 1980. It was not long after that this Veterans Affairs Canada social worker at Ste-Anne de Bellevue hospital became politically active in her union.
She first made her presence known as a feisty steward dedicated to helping the members she served and to solving workplace issues. She became more and more involved with both the employer and the Institute as she worked on behalf of her colleagues.
She was a tireless representative who could not sit idly by when she witnessed her colleagues being treated unjustly in the workplace. Biased decisions and the unfair or unequal application of policies which went against collective agreements or the spirit of labour laws made Michèle see red. She willingly and with great passion stepped in when someone was wronged. Members knew that when Michèle acted on their behalf, in whatever forum, they were being represented by one of the best and one of the most caring.
Over the years, she established many contacts within the federal government, contacts with whom she used her persuasive powers to head off confrontation or to do behind the scenes lobbying or to intercede on behalf of members whose issues were not being resolved through conventional means.
One of her great accomplishments was leading the team that fought and won a Pay Equity battle with the federal government on behalf of her substantive group, Social Workers. Thanks to her and her colleagues, women in the Social Work Group were rewarded with salaries that matched those paid their male counterparts who performed the same functions.
She was a proud woman who fought hard to break through the glass ceiling that, for far too long, was a barrier to the advancement of qualified and dedicated women in the public service.
A woman with strong family ties, Michèle was instrumental in shaping an Institute policy that would ensure members maintain a healthy balance in their work and union activities so that their family lives would not suffer.
In recent years, Michèle championed issues such as collective bargaining, classification reform, official languages, term employment staffing, science funding for the public good, union-management consultation, contracting out and public service renewal, to name but a few.
Michèle held just about every post one could hold within the Institute. The list of committees, working groups, task forces, and executives on which she served is several pages long. Her rapid rise through the ranks, from steward to President speaks to her dedicated service and to the respect she earned from the members who elected her to the various positions in which she served them and the Institute so well.
This lady was one tough customer when the need arose. At the same time, she wore her emotions on her sleeve. For example, listening to and talking about the children who would benefit from the proceeds of the PIPSC Open golf tournaments was guaranteed to reduce her to tears.
She was fiercely proud of the work done by PIPSC members and made it a priority to visit them in the workplace from coast to coast. She was always impressed by, and appreciative of, their contribution to the public good and ensured that the importance of the work they do received wide coverage in Communications Magazine and on the Institute’s Web site.
Michèle was a passionate believer in the union movement. She firmly believed that the rights and interests of employees should be firmly upheld and vigorously promoted; that labour/management relations are critical to improving the working environment of public service employees dedicated to providing safeguards that protect Canadians while contributing to their well-being.
She inspired others through her commitment to union ideals, her dedication, her unflagging support of Institute members, and through the respect and affection she showed to all who surrounded her. Michèle held a special place in her heart for the staff of the Professional Institute with whom she travelled many roads over the years.
At this difficult time, our thoughts and prayers go out to Luc, former Institute negotiator, Michèle’s knight in shining armour, the love of her life and to her entire family.
So it is with heavy hearts that we say goodbye to a wonderful woman who has touched us so deeply. Farewell, Madame Demers, and thank you for sharing with us your indomitable spirit and tender heart and for making the world a better place. We hold dear the memories we have of you.
Bill Corcoran, retired Communications Officer
Canadians inside and outside of our public service were saddened to hear of the passing of Michèle Demers. The 55,000 members of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada were well served by Ms. Demers’ consistent, professional and tireless advocacy on their behalf. Her leadership will be missed. I extend my heartfelt condolences to her family.
Statement by Prime Minister Stephen Harper