It saddened me to learn of the recent passing of a great Canadian named Merv Lavigne
I knew Merv way back in the 1980s when he was a community college teacher from Haileybury, a small town in northern
And what made Merv a great Canadian, at least to my mind, was his courage and his willingness to fight for what he believed in.
In fact, that’s how Merv and I ended up crossing paths; in 1985 he joined forces with a group I once worked for, the National Citizens Coalition, to fight a legal battle aimed at changing
Canada’s labour laws so that union
bosses would no longer have the power to use forced dues to subsidize their
Merv, a Liberal activist who had run for federal office, didn’t like the fact that a portion of his dues was being used to subsidize the New Democratic Party and other causes.
So, with the NCC’s moral and financial support, Merv launched what would prove to be an historic court challenge.
Merv’s argument was simple: Forcing him to associate with a political party, through his compelled union dues, violated his freedom of association which was guaranteed in the then newly minted Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
And although Merv was just one guy, his challenge scared the bejeezus out of
entire union movement.
Indeed, just about every big union organization in the country intervened in this case to oppose him.
Alas, it was a David vs Goaliath battle where Goliath ended up winning.
In 1991 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled against Merv, which is why, by the way, unions today are free to spend millions of dollars in forced union dues on political propaganda campaigns, whether their unionized employees like it or not.
And a lot of them don’t like it.
At any rate, I’ll always remember Merv as a guy who cheerfully and tirelessly endured six years of arduous legal combat.
It was a lot of work for a guy who already had a full time job: He attended fundraising events across the country, spoke to countless organizations, did hundreds of media interviews.
He also, sadly, endured harassment.
But never once did I ever hear him utter a single word of complaint.
One positive by-product of Merv’s hard work, was it significantly raised his profile and made him something of a media star.
The NCC’s own internal polling showed he had incredible favourables. People liked him; they liked his message. And why not? He had proven to be an intelligent and articulate spokesman.
Had he wished to re-enter the political arena, Merv could have easily got himself elected to Parliament and we told him so.
But, having enough of the limelight, he decided to focus on his family and his career.
Mind you, Merv had already accomplished a lot.
He put a key question of individual freedom on the national agenda; he rattled the establishment’s cage, and he fought a good fight for his principles.
That’s a pretty good epitaph.