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Speakers and facilitators

Here are some of the speakers you'll hear from at the 2023 Regional Conference!

Friday, June 9

Les Baker, president, Lheidli T’enneh ‘Atsiyan Ink’E ‘Atsoo Elders Society

Les Baker (he/him) is a Lheidli T’enneh Elder, and President of the Lheidli 'Atsiyan Ink’E ‘Atsoo Elders Society. Retired after 35 years in the sawmill industry in Vanderhoof, he volunteers his time to support language and culture resurgence for Lheidli T’enneh people by teaching traditional food gathering and preservation, making of traditional teas and salves, drum making, bone and antler carving, and hide tanning. His work with the Lheidli 'Atsiyan Ink’E ‘Atsoo Elders Society has secured significant funding for Lheidli Dakelh language revitalization planning, which is underway now.

Community showcase:

North Central Labour Council

Red Dress Society

Prince George Pride Society

Stand Up For The North

UHNBC Drummers

Saturday, June 10

Hon. Harry Bains, Minister of Labour

First elected in May 2005, Harry Bains has been Minister of Labour since 2017. He served on the Kwantlen University College board of governors from 1993-99, including as vice-chair for three years, and has volunteered with community organizations including Habitat for Humanity. A life-long advocate for workers and human rights, he was an elected officer of Steelworkers-IWA Canada Local 2171 for more than 15 years, and served as vice-president of his local.

Panel 1: Building a Strong Community: Working Together to Solve Growing Social and Economic Challenges

Candis Johnson, NCLC

Candis Johnson (she/her) is the vice president of the North Central Labour Council. She is a supported child development consultant at the Child Development Centre of Prince George and District, where she is the Health Sciences Association lead steward. She is also faculty at the College of New Caledonia in the Early Childhood Care and Learning program.

Brian O’Rourke, USW

Brian O’Rourke (he/him) is president of United Steelworkers Local 1-2017. He began working in the forest industry in 1983, serving as job steward and then plant chairperson and executive board member for his operation before becoming the local’s business agent in 1997. Elected as financial secretary in 2003 and 1st vice president in 2015, Brian is also health and safety director, and sits as a trustee on health and welfare plans and the IWA Forest Industry Long Term Disability Plan.

Chris Holowka, UFCW

Christine Holowka (she/her) is the executive vice president of UFCW 1518, serving on the union's provincial Indigenous committee and the UFCW Human Rights committee. She lives in the unceded historical lands of the Lheidli T'enneh people, and is proud of her Cree Métis heritage. With 35 years of front-line work as a cashier/clerk and shop steward, Holowka believes in using her voice to help workers, cultures and 2SLGBTQ+ communities get the dignity and respect they deserve.

Panel 2: Workplace Mental Health in the Spotlight

Hermender Singh Kailley, BCFED

Hermender Singh Kailley’s (he/him) first involvement with the labour movement began when he helped organize his fellow Vancouver Fringe Festival workers with IATSE Local 118. After a career change in 2004, he became a member of ILWU Local 502, joining the executive board in 2018 and becoming secretary-treasurer in 2019. A first-generation Canadian born to Punjabi parents, Hermender also serves on the executive board of the New Westminster and District Labour Council.

Triffini Benedict, HEU

A member of the Hospital Employees' Union, Triffini Benedict (she/her) is a program clerk at Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster. Due to short-staffing, unmanageable workloads and high levels of stress, Triffini experienced mental health injuries which led to a 4 month unpaid sick leave. When she returned to work with a new supervisor, they advocated together for more staffing and began team-building within their department. Currently, Triffini is a representative trainee at HEU.

Allan Lee, BCTF

Allan Lee (he/him)is the salary indemnity plan administrator at the BC Teachers’ Federation, helping teachers with short-term and long-term disability claims, as well as support the BCTF Health and Wellness Program. In his private practice as a registered clinical counsellor, he works within a trauma-informed framework with adults, adolescents and children using body-centred modalities and anti-oppressive approaches. He’s also a registered pharmacist and works with pediatricians and family physicians to facilitate diagnosis and develop pharmacological and non-pharmacological approaches to healing.

Sheila Moir, BCFED

Sheila Moir (she/her) is the BC Federation of Labour's occupational health and safety director. She is a tireless voice advocating for stronger workplace health and safety protections and better treatment of workers by the Workers' Compensation Board, and has been especially active in pushing the board to treat mental health injuries with the same dignity, respect and standards of evidence as physical injuries.

Hon. Jennifer Whiteside,
Minister of Mental Health and Addictions

Jennifer Whiteside (she/her) was elected as the MLA for New Westminster in October 2020, and served as Minister of Education before her current role. Prior to entering politics, she was the chief spokesperson and lead negotiator for the Hospital Employees’ Union, where she fought for strong public healthcare and health-care workers’ rights. She has dedicated her career to advocating for working people, leading B.C.’s first campaign for a living wage and, during the COVID-19 pandemic, working tirelessly to protect seniors and workers in nursing homes throughout the province.

Sunday, June 11

Panel 3: When the Right Captures Your School District

Tina Cousins, NCLC

A member of the North Central Labour Council's executive committee, Tina Cousins (she/her) is a primary teacher, a teacher librarian, a union activist, a karaoke singer and a movie reviewer. Born and raised in Prince George, she believes strongly in her community; being honest and kind are the cornerstones of her life. She is a proud auntie to hockey boys and a cat mom.

Paula Bass, CUPE 3742

Paula Bass (she/her) started working as an educational assistant in School District 57 in 2011, eventually becoming the president of her CUPE BC local and later the regional vice president. She has been an activist since childhood, advocating both for workers' rights and for the needs of diabetic children, receiving the Canadian Diabetes Volunteer of the Year award. She has lived in Prince George for 17 years, raised 5 children, and is proud to be part of the community.

Daryl Beauregard, PGDTA

Daryl Beauregard (he/him) was recently re-elected as president of BCTF Local 571, the Prince George District Teacher’s Association. Over the past eight months, he has been a painful irritant to his local School Board and their alt-right supporters who strive to take away human rights for 2SLGBTQ+ union members and the students they support. He passionately enjoys defending the human rights of equity-seeking people while collecting a drawer of harassment letters from alt-right groups, who have dubbed him "Communist," "Fascist" and "Little Dictator."

Sharon Thira, BCOHRC

Sharon Thira (she/they) is the Executive Director of Education and Engagement at BC’s Office of the Human Rights Commissioner. She has focused much of her work on equity issues, serving as Executive Director of the Indian Residential School Survivors Society and participating in the development of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and working in Indigenous health research and education. She is the proud mother of a strong daughter and step-daughter and while she is adopted through Halalt FN on Vancouver Island, she is Indigenous and of mixed race from South America.

Denae Stegeman

Denae Stegeman (they/them) is a non-binary teacher who lives and works as an uninvited white settler in the unceded land of the the Lheidi T’enneh Nation, colonially known as Prince George. Two years ago, they moved to BC from Treaty Six territory in Saskatchewan with their partner and their two pups. Denae is just past the one-year mark working as a teacher for SD57. Denae is a ceramic artist, a person who lives with several invisible disabilities, and an educator who is committed to antiracist, anti-oppressive education..

Panel 4: Influencing Change with Workers at the Centre

Amandeep Nijjar, CLC

Amandeep Nijjar (she/her) is from Vancouver, where she currently works as a Regional Representative with the Canadian Labour Congress, and is an IAMAW member. She was a Federal candidate for NDP in 2015, and has served as Vice President of the BC NDP. She is an advocate for worker’s rights and social justice and started as a Young Worker activist while she was a member of the United Steelworkers.

Wesley Mitchell

Hon. Rachna Singh,
Minister of Education and Childcare

First elected as the MLA for Surrey-Green Timbers in May 2017, Rachna Singh (she/her) served as the parliamentary secretary for Anti-Racism Initiatives where she led the development of the Anti-Racism Data Act. She was previously the convener of the Special Committee to Appoint a Police Complaint Commissioner, as well as the Special Committee to Appoint a Conflict of Interest Commissioner. She has worked as a drug and alcohol counsellor, a support worker for women facing domestic violence, and a community activist.

Sussanne Skidmore, BCFED

Sussanne Skidmore (she/her) was elected BCFED president in 2022 after being elected as the federation's secretary-treasurer in 2018 and 2020. A well-known human rights, social justice and queer rights activist, she served as executive vice-president of BCGEU for 5 years. She has co-chaired the BCFED’s Human Rights Committee and is active in the federation’s Women and Gender Rights Committee.