Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Constitutional Politics of Labour: From Confederation to the Quiet Revolution - Part Two

Organized Labour and Centralization in Post-War Canada

When the labour friendly CCF swept to power in Saskatchewan in 1944, the Douglas government remained true to the federal CCF’s constitutional vision. On issues of federal-provincial relations, Douglas was planted firmly in the centralist camp. According to Edwin Black, “this attitude stemmed from CCF fears that a socialist government at Ottawa might be thwarted in its efforts to inaugurate social reforms by provincial regimes controlled by the ‘capitalist’ parties.”[1] Black also argued that:

"Douglas promoted the advisability of entrenching minority rights in a federal bill or rights and giving Parliament virtual carte blanche to amend the rest of the BNA Act. Unable to prevail with this argument, the Saskatchewan Premier sought continuously to reduce the areas in which unanimous provincial consent would be required to make constitutional amendments effective, and to enlarge the number of provisions which would require approval of a simple majority of the provinces."[2]

In its 1950 brief to the federal cabinet, the CCL pressed for a National Labour Code which would establish “uniformity in the legislation governing labour relations, particularly with respect to industries of national scope.”[3] In its brief of the same year, the TLC went one step further by urging that “all jurisdiction over matters of health, social welfare and labour relations be placed under the Federal Government and the Parliament of Canada.”[4]

Organized labour's strong preference for a centralized federation had been consistent ever since Confederation. However, the labour movement's support of the federal power of disallowance was perhaps the best indication of how strongly it felt about the degree of centralization that was required in Canada. The constitutional power of disallowance enables the executive of the federal government to disallow provincial government laws, even if the province is acting exclusively within its own jurisdiction. Disallowance, which theoretically violates the federal principle of two separate and sovereign orders of government, had become a constitutional relic in Canada by the 1940s, but that had not prevented the Canadian labour movement from urging the federal government to use its outdated and contentious centralizing power. Quebec's anti-communist "Padlock Act" of 1937,[5] Prince Edward Island's repressive Trade Union Act of 1948,[6] and Newfoundland's undemocratic decertification of the International Wood Workers of America in 1959,[7] all prompted the Canadian labour movement to call for the power of disallowance to be used against provincial governments. Needless to say, the federal government consistently declined to use its controversial power to prevent the adoption of anti-union legislation at the provincial level.

In their 1956 joint submission to the Royal Commission on Canada's Economic Prospects, the Trades and Labor Congress of Canada and the Canadian Congress of Labour, adopted a more nuanced approach to constitutional reform, stating that:

"Nothing in the Confederation Debates is clearer than that the Fathers intended and expected that Confederation should benefit all parts of the new nation. They would have repudiated instantly, and with horror, any idea that one province, one region, or one group of provinces or regions, should progress, while the others stood still or fell back."[8]

This statement led to the suggestion that “The British North America Act has been amended to transfer jurisdiction from the provinces to Parliament in the case of unemployment insurance and old age pensions. It might conceivably be amended again if the situation warranted.”[9]

Much of the labour movement’s centralizing tendencies during this period were influenced by Eugene Forsey who worked as research director for the CCL from 1942-1956 and for the CLC from 1956-1966. Forsey, an expert on constitutional affairs, wrote his doctoral dissertation on the King-Byng affair and used his position within the Canadian labour movement to promote his views on Canada’s constitutional questions. J.E. Hodgetts noted “one gets the impression that his colleagues in the CCL sometimes thought he misspent his time chasing constitutional exotica... Forsey, ever the independent, was always more comfortable speaking on his own account, even though he might be signing a letter in one of his many official capacities.”[10] His view of Canada’s constitutional question closely mirrored that of the CCF; both favoured a strong central government in order to promote national economic planning and national social programs. Forsey was a member of the CCF, served as President of the party’s Quebec Provincial Council in the 1930s, and ran unsuccessfully for the party several times during his stint as research director for the CCL. Forsey’s strong ties to the labour movement and the CCF both inside and outside of Quebec go a long way in explaining why labour federations in both Quebec and English Canada did not diverge in any significant way on constitutional questions during this period. Forsey, for example, pushed for both the CCF and labour movement to advocate use of the power of disallowance, drafted detailed labour memorandums calling for centralization of labour law and social policy, and passionately defended national unity and the British constitutional tradition from the separatists and provincialists who began to make waves towards the end of his career at the CLC.[11]

In his last year as CLC research director, Forsey gave a keynote address to the education conference of the Ontario Federation of Labour in which he argued that Quebec separation would lead to an American takeover of English Canada and the establishment of a “chilly banana republic” in Quebec.[12] Although Forsey was careful to let delegates know “nothing I say here represents anyone but myself”[13], there is no question that his strong penchant for centralization rubbed off on the CLC. Although Forsey played a key role in influencing the labour movement’s take on constitutional issues, his influence did not extend to the CSN, or its predecessor, the CCCL.

Divisions Within Quebec Labour

The CCCL offered a unique perspective on constitutional questions in Canada. In its annual report to the federal cabinet in 1950, the CCCL addressed the issue of Dominion-Provincial relations and constitutional reform by asserting that “on no consideration must the constitutional independence of Canada, which we approve, mark the beginning of an encroachment on the rights of French Canadians.” Despite its support for a national system of unemployment insurance a decade earlier, the CCCL stated its firm support for provincial autonomy and also expressed the view that Quebec’s attitude toward the issue of constitutional reform was “firmer” and that its resistance was “greater” due to the province’s unique “ethnical, linguistic and religious characteristics”.[14] The Confederation also pressed the federal cabinet to reconsider its ties to the British Empire by requesting the introduction of a new flag which would not include any “foreign emblem.” More controversial was the CCCL’s request that the federal government, in the words of the Labour Gazette, “proclaim the complete independence of Canada in order to make it an autonomous republic.”[15]

The CCCL’s perspective on constitutional issues in Canada stood in stark contrast to the TLC-affiliated Quebec Provincial Federation of Labour. A portion of the QPFL’s annual brief to Premier Duplessis in March 1950 concerning Federal-Provincial relations was reprinted in the Labour Gazette:

"Our political leaders have placed the welfare of Canada above their political interests. We are also pleased to note that the Quebec political leaders have proved themselves to be well-informed statesmen and to be primarily seeking the interests and welfare of the Canadian people."[16]

The QPFL’s brief reflected the Federation’s subordinate position as simply a branch of the TLC made up of American-based affiliates. Unlike the CCCL, which frequently found itself at odds with the TLC and CCL, there is no evidence to suggest that the QPFL ever contradicted the policy preferences of its parent organization. This unquestionably reflected the Federation’s weak membership base, its lack of financial resources, and its absence of ideology.

The QFIU’s positions on constitutional questions can be situated somewhere in between the fierce French Canadian nationalism of the CCCL and the QPFL’s subservience to the TLC’s strong centralism. Although the QFIU espoused a social democratic ideology, it did so within the framework of Quebec. The Federation, for example, found itself at odds with the CCL and the CCF by the supporting the Quebec government’s calls for fiscal decentralization.[17] The QFIU also adopted the “Two Nations” conception of Canada. At the 1955 CCL convention, the QFIU proposed a resolution which would have ensured French Canadian representation on all international missions. However, the resolutions committee rebuffed the Federation by arguing that competency, rather than ethnic origin, should be the only selection criteria. Delegates to the CCL convention voted down the proposed resolution after the QFIU’s Roméo Mathieu accused the Congress of wanting francophones to be followers and not active participants.[18] The seeds of Quebec nationalism which were taking root in the QFIU were temporarily frustrated by the merger of the Federation with the QPFL in 1957.

[1] Black (1975), 53.
[2] Black (1975), 53.
[3] Labour Gazette vol. 50 (1950), 639.
[4] Labour Gazette vol. 50 (1950), 461.
[5] Eugene Forsey, Freedom and Order, (Ottawa: McClelland and Stewart Ltd., 1974), 182.
[6] J.R. Mallory, The Structure of Canadian Government, (Toronto: Gage Publishing Ltd., 1984), 370.
[7] Richard Gwyn, Smallwood, the Unlikely Revolutionary, (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Ltd., 1968), Chapter 18.
[8] Trades and Labor Congress of Canada and the Canadian Congress of Labour, Joint Submission of the Trades and Labor Congress of Canada and the Canadian Congress of Labour to the Royal Commission on Canada’s Economic Prospects, Ottawa (February 27, 1956), 3.
[9] Trades and Labor Congress of Canada and the Canadian Congress of Labour (February 27, 1956), 149.
[10] J.E. Hodgetts, The Sound of One Voice: Eugene Forsey and his Letters to the Press, (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2000), 6.
[11] Frank Milligan, Eugene A. Forsey: An Intellectual Biography, (Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2004), Chapters 8, 9.
[12] Toronto Star, (Feb 14 , 1966), 9.
[13] Eugene Forsey “Canada, One Nation or Ten?” OFL Education conference, (Feb 12, 1966), 1.
[14] Labour Gazette, vol. 50 (1950), 476.
[15] Labour Gazette vol. 50 (1950), 468.
[16] Labour Gazette vol. 50 (1950), 474.
[17] Tremblay, (1972), 137.
[18] Ibid.