BRITISH COLUMBIA

B.C. Federation of Labour elects first female leader at annual convention

11/27/2014 06:37 EST | Updated 01/27/2015 05:59 EST
VANCOUVER - Raising British Columbia's minimum wage to $15 per hour is among the top goals the new president of the province's labour federation has set for the coming year.

Irene Lanzinger has become the first female to lead the half-a-million strong B.C. Federation of Labour, beating out Amber Hockin by just 57 ballots during voting at the 56th annual convention in Vancouver on Thursday.

She replaces Jim Sinclair who announced in October that he would not seek re-election after serving 15 years as the president.

"We are seeing a growing gap between rich and poor and a lot of poverty in British Columbia," said Lanzinger in an interview.

"We lead the country in poverty and that is terrible and so the minimum wage will counteract that to some degree if we raise it to $15."

B.C.'s current minimum wage is $10.25 per hour, although the minimum wage for liquor servers is $9 per hour.

Earlier this month, the province's Finance and Government Services Committee made 58 recommendations, and among them was a review of the minimum wage.

Lanzinger said her other goals will focus on health-and-safety issues, bargaining, organizing, and trying to figure out how to respond to what she said was a government attack on the public service.

While noting her leadership style differs from Sinclair's, she said she shares his passion for working people and their rights.

"I'm determined to fill those shoes even though my feet are somewhat smaller, actually," she quipped.

Lanzinger is a former president of the province's powerful teachers union and served as the B.C. Federation of Labour's secretary-treasurer coming into the convention.

Premier Christy Clark took to Twitter to congratulate Lanzinger on her victory, saying she looking "forward to working together for B.C.'s workers."

"Glad we could work together to create and protect B.C. jobs," she tweeted of Sinclair and his service.

Jim Iker, president of the B.C. Teachers' Federation, said he nominated Lanzinger to become president and was "ecstatic" with her victory.

"Irene is without doubt the best person to lead the labour movement in these difficult times facing the B.C. Liberals," said Iker in a news release.

After the voting was over, the union announced Lanzinger received 1,137 votes to Hockin's 1,080 votes, and Aaron Ekman was elected the new secretary-treasurer.

Ekman recently served as the northern regional co-ordinator for the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union and is the former president of the North Central Labour Council.

Despite the close vote for the leadership, Lanzinger said she was confident the federation will remain strong and united after the convention.

She was matter of fact about being the first woman to serve as president.

"I think it says it's about time for a woman, right, you know partly that's coincidence," she said. "There wasn't a man out there who put his name forward, but partly it's that women are taking their rightful place as leaders in the labour movement."