Let them eat... steak!
For a little musical accompaniment: click here
They came from far and wide - from across Canada and the US - just to be there. It was May 23, 1992 and that night, hundreds of UFCW elite (some with their families in tow), accompanied by assorted corporate big shots, labour movement luminaries and V.I.Politicians flocked to a posh Toronto convention centre to pay tribute to the man who had been and, for all intents and purposes, would continue to be their king. A glorious retirement party was being held in honour of UFCW Canadian Director Clifford Evans, under whose watch had unfolded a most inglorious chapter in the history of Canadian unionized service industry workers. But none of the enthusiastic revelers were sweating this and other unpleasant details on this spectacular night.
That our country was, at the time, plunged into the depths of recession with unemployment lines and welfare roles bulging, troubled the well-heeled gathering not at all. As a campy trio (one of four live bands to perform that night) played in the background, the chosen ones feasted on steamed roast loin of veal and salmon in foil and sipped Crystal d'Alsace white and Mouton Cadet Bordeaux. Those whose tastes ran to higher-octane refreshments could drink 'til they dropped (and some did) at an unlimited free bar. For those hungry to connect with the mighty, networking opportunities were in abundance with union fat cats, corporate big wheels and obsequious political leaders.
Labour movement VIP's and men of influence graced the opulent head table: Audrey McLaughlin, at that time head of the federal NDP; Bob Rae, Ontario Premier and leader of the governing provincial NDP; Gord Wilson, head of the Ontario Federation of Labour; Dick Martin, Canadian Labour Congress Executive VP; Jim McCambly, President of the Canadian Federation of Labour; Leo Gerard, National Director of the Canadian Steelworkers; UFCW International President Bill Wynn; Tom Kukovica, Canadian Director to-be, Bernard Christophe, head of UFCW Local 832 (the only one of the dozens of UFCW Local executives to be seated in a place of such honour); and John R. Evans, son-of-Cliff, an articling law student and future UFCW lawyer.
The sweetness of the lavish dessert tables was eclipsed only by syrupy accolades as one after another of the dignitaries lauded and applauded Evans for his contributions to the cause of organized labour, whatever those may have been. And lest their fond recollections and sincere warm wishes fade from institutional memory when the wining, swining and dancing were over, a glossy full colour 112-page "souvenir of the night" featured several pages-full. "Cliff, my sincerest accolades to a man whose personality and character are matched only by his intelligence." said one admirer (take that any way you want). "Have a great retirement, Cliff. Stay healthy, and play lots of golf in Florida." said another. From Howard Preston (employer trustee on the CCWIPP - the UFCW pension plan - and along with Evans, an officer in various private corporations): "To Cliff Evans-- With my best wishes to your future prosperity and happiness -- and a sincere 'thank you' for our past association." From Provigo Foods (of Provigo-UFCW "Partnering Agreement" fame): "Sinceres Felicitations Un partenaire". And capturing what being the leader of a large international union is really all about, "From Stroh's Beer to Napoleon Brandy, Thanks, Friend!", UFCW Local 777 President Gib Whitlock and wife Bonnie (a Local 777 VP-to-be). We're not sure whether the rags-to-riches analogy was meant to apply to Evans or the Whitlocks or the all of the above.
No send-off of an exalted leader would be complete without a leader-sized token of gratitude and affection - in this case a house in Florida (with renovations to suit) and a really neat little Rolls-Royce look-a-like golf cart and trailer were presented to the retiring Evans. The presentation however, was before an audience of only the elitest of the elite, doubtless to keep the run-of-the-mill guests from being overwhelmed with emotion at the thoughtfulness of it all.
Of course, as the booze was spilled and the luminaries danced the night away to the swingin' strains of the Guido Basso orchestra, rank-and-file UFCW members paid a much different type of "tribute". To them fell the honour of paying for a good portion of the extravagant event. The airline tickets that flew the elite and their families to Toronto, their tabs at four star hotels, their cab fares, their luxury car rentals, their meal money per diems, the cost of admission to the great fete - were paid for by the little folk, through their union dues. Sadly, none of them could afford to attend - most were by now struggling to cope with disappearing jobs and shrinking pay cheques and there were champagne-buckets more of that on the horizon. But it was only fair that they pay something. After all, a number of the larger employers (Steinberg Inc., Canada Safeway Limited, Loblaw Companies Limited) gave "generous contributions." Toronto's Barnes Security Services Limited, and LGM Graphics, Thistle Printers and E.H. Ferree Company Limited, gave "special assistance". So it was only equitable that rank and filers cough up for Cliff.
The irony of it all was that this pretentious gala was being held for a man who was, for all intents and purposes, pretending to retire. Although stepping down from his throne as UFCW Canadian Director, Evans wasn't departing from the trough for a minute. He would continue on in a new role as UFCW Director of International Relations, maintain his spot as Chair of the CCWIPP Investment Committee of the CCWIPP, and would maintain various other interests that involved the union and its money. Behind the scenes Evans would continue to wield considerable power and influence within the Canadian UFCW - the grand old man to whose wisdom the next generation would defer in difficult times.
And the band plays on...