When Canadian Labour Congress Secretary-Treasurer Barbara Byers found out she had been nominated for the Order of Canada, she was stunned.
Byers was one of 69 Canadians named yesterday as a Member of the Order, one of the country’s highest civilian honours.
Governor General David Johnston chose to recognize Byers “for her contributions as an important voice in the Canadian labour movement.”
Byers has a long history of fighting for the underdog. As a social worker in Saskatchewan, she addressed issues of poverty, youth unemployment, aboriginal concerns, inequality, and labour rights.
Her political activism brought her to the leadership of the SGEU, where she spent four years opposing the Grant Devine Conservative government’s attempts to privatize public services, weaken labour laws for both unionized and non-unionized workers, and cut social services.
As President of the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour, Byers worked to overwhelmingly defeat the scandal-ridden Saskatchewan government, and led the fight for a better province for over 14 years.
In 2002, she was elected Executive Vice-President of the Canadian Labour Congress and in 2014, she was elected Secretary-Treasurer.
“I’m absolutely humbled by this,” Byers said. “I share this honour with everybody who has dedicated themselves to the labour movement, the social justice movement, and the equality movement. I could not do what I do without their efforts, so this is a recognition I share with all of them.”
A few of the other Canadians named as Members of the Order of Canada yesterday include authors Joseph Boyden and Rohinton Mistry; Arctic explorer Richard Weber; Stratford Festival director Antoni Cimolino; photojournalist Ted Grant; lung cancer research leader Dr. Frances Alice Shepherd; and the first female Clerk of the House of Commons, Audrey O’Brien.