Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Funniest Political TV Campaign Ad Ever

Christy Mihos, Indepedent candidate for Governor of Massachusetts, ran this hilarious television ad dubbed "Heads Up!" as part of his unsucessful 2006 campaign. Mihos finished third, winning just 7% of the popular vote. However, if there had been an award for best TV ad, Mihos would have surely carried the day.

Boisclair: On The Way Out?

The National Post is reporting that former PQ Premier Bernard Landry is possibly aiming to get his old job back. Landry told the media, "What [Boisclair] has done has provoked this collapse of our party," referring to a recent public opinion poll which pegged support for the PQ at 32%, two points behind Jean Charest's Liberals. Although no official procedure exists to trigger a leadership election before the next provincial election, there seems to be mounting pressure on PQ leader Andre Boisclair to step down.

His current troubles began in December when he took part in a parody of the gay
cowboy movie, Brokeback Mountain. The sketch showed Mr. Boisclair interrupting a
mock love scene between George W. Bush and Stephen Harper characters.

Rumblings in his caucus intensified last week after Mr. Boisclair mused about the crucifix and gave an interview declaring an end to the days when the PQ and the province's trade unions were "buddy-buddy, spending their evenings together at dinners washed down with plenty of wine." Union officials said it was an unfair description.

This wouldn't be the first time the leader of a separatist party in Quebec stepped down before contesting a single election as leader. BQ leader Michel Gauthier, elected leader in 1996 to replace Lucien Bouchard, faced a caucus revolt and stepped down before the 1997 federal election. He was replaced by current BQ leader Gilles Duceppe.

Ali G on Abortion

English comedian Sacha Baron Cohen (as Ali G) conducts interviews with a relationship specialist, pro-choice advocates, members of the clergy, and anti-abortion demonstrators. Chaos and hilarity ensues.

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.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Politics of Abortion

This video montage displays slogans of both the pro-choice and pro-life movements as seen on bumper stickers and buttons. Some are funny, some are clever, and some are down right offensive. My favourites: "If you can't trust me with a choice, how can you trust me with a child?" and "Against abortion? Get a vasectomy".

Get Orange? Get Real.

Am I the only one who thinks the Ontario NDP’s new logo looks like an ad for a nuclear power plant?

Apparently, at this week’s Ontario NDP Convention in Toronto, the party unveiled some new modern slogans: "Fresh Ideas, New Energy" and "Get Orange."

Modern slogans? In the 2004 federal election, the federal NDP ran under the slogan “Fresh Ideas, New Energy”… hardly fresh, hardly new. In fact, we haven’t heard anything fresh or new come out of the Ontario NDP for quite some time.

As for “Get Orange”, I just don’t get it. When all the other parties are talking “green”, the NDP is talking “orange”?

Tunnel Vision: Howard Hampton and Strategic Voting

Ontario NDP leader Howard Hampton told delegates to this week's Ontario NDP Convention in Toronto that the party is in good shape going into the October 2007 provincial election because the province is no longer gripped by the "politics of fear". Here's what he told delegates:

"The cloud that we've had over Ontario for the last 20 years, `Oh that Mike Harris is a scary guy – Ernie Eves is a scary, scary guy.' I think that's gone....John Tory may be a very Tory guy, but he's not a scary Tory guy," so the "politics of fear" won't work this time and campaigns must run on real ideas.

Besides ignoring the fact that most members of the Tory caucus were elected during the Mike Harris years,and remain quite loyal to the ideas behind the Common Sense Revolution, I think Hampton has misdiagnosed the New Democratic dilemma in Ontario if he thinks that strategic voting is the primary obstacle for the NDP. I think there are bigger obstacles.

Hampton's leadership -- His personal popularity as leader has lagged behind popular support for the party since he took over from Bob Rae in 1996 (Rae was always more popular than the party). Despite being at the helm for over a decade, he has been unable to generate the kind of buzz or media attention that the party needs.

Weakened party-union relations -- The Ontario NDP's hypocritical decision to boot Buzz Hargrove from the party was just the tip of the iceberg. For the past several years, the Ontario Liberal Party has raised more money from labour unions than the NDP. By allowing party-union relations to erode further, the party risks losing an important financial and volunteer base of support.

The Legacy of the Rae Government -- Hampton is naive if he thinks Bob Rae's defection to the Liberals gives the NDP a clean slate in Ontario. After all, former Bob Rae cabinet ministers still constitute a majority of NDP MPPs - and four of them voted for the Social Contract. Policy reversals on public auto insurance, casino gambling, and common-pause day continue to plague the party with certain segments of the electorate and the party's fiscal record will not soon be forgotten.

Blaming strategic voting for the party's electoral misfortunes has been a favourite pass time of Hampton's since 1999. What he fails to appreciate is that strategic is both a cause and a product of bigger problems for the NDP. Until these larger issues are addressed in a constructive way, strategic voting will remain an obstacle for the party, reagardless of whether or not the opposition is scary.

Conservatives Warm Up to Gay Marriage

I bet the blogging Tories are just thrilled about this.

Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Diane Finley has informed the Standing Committee of Citizenship and Immigration that her department’s interim policy on same sex marriage, which did not recognize legal marriages performed in The Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, South Africa, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in the United States for immigration purposes, has been annulled.

Solidarity Forever: American Labor History in Pictures

Check out this slide show depicting American workers' struggles over the last century. In the background, folk singer Pete Seeger sings "Solidarity Forever".

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

Constitutional politics has dominated the study of Canadian political science. However, between Confederation and the Quiet Revolution, Canadian citizens generally paid little attention to constitutional questions. According to Peter Russell, “Constitutional politics throughout this period was a relatively low-key affair. There was no sense anywhere that the country needed a new Constitution or that national unity was at issue. Failure to patriate was more of an embarrassment than a practical inconvenience.”[1] Although most Canadians showed little interest in Canada’s “constitutional odyssey”, trade union leaders were not completely oblivious to the country’s constitutional questions. In fact, in matters where the constitutional division of powers impacted the Canadian labour movement, trade unions consistently made their views known.

Trade Unions and Constitutional Reform

As early as 1887, the Trades and Labour Congress of Canada was urging the federal government to revise the British North America Act.[2] However, it was the British Privy Council’s controversial decision in the Snider case which renewed the labour movement’s interest in Canada’s constitutional affairs. At the 1925 TLC convention, delegates were presented with the following executive report recommendation concerning constitutional reform in Canada:
"Your executive believes that the time has arrived when amendments to the British North America Act should be secured which would give greater authority to the Dominion Parliament and bring about more centralization of our laws which vitally affect the conditions of wage earners in this country, and that it is only by such a step that any essential social reform can be brought about and made equally applicable to all citizens of Canada."[3]

The report was adopted despite the protest of one delegate who complained “that any request which might come to the Federal Parliament should not be at the expense of the provinces.”[4] The next year, in its brief to the federal cabinet, the TLC delegation enumerated its requests for amendments to the BNA Act:
(a) Enable necessary steps to be taken to abolish the Senate as a non-elective body and introduce such reform as would prevent the vetoing of legislation passed by the elected representatives of the people.
(b) Abolish appeals to the Privy Council and establish the Supreme Court of Canada as the highest court of appeal.
(c) To give the Federal Government the necessary power to effectively administer to the Industrial Disputes Act, 1907, and later amendments.
(d) To foster “national unity” by giving greater powers to the Federal Government to deal with social and labour legislation and particularly that covered in the recommendations and conventions of the International Labour Conferences (League of Nations).[5]

The TLC made the same request, more or less, to the federal cabinet for the rest of the decade and throughout most of the 1930s. In 1929, the Quebec Provincial Council of Carpenters presented a successful resolution to the TLC’s convention which called on the federal government to request amendments to the BNA Act in order to accommodate the labour movement’s demand for an eight-hour work day and a forty-hour work week.[6] The resolution did not concern itself with the Quebec Question at all.

Soon after its creation in 1927, the All-Canadian Congress of Labour joined the TLC in calling for constitutional changes. In a report to delegates at the 1929 convention, the ACCL executive wrote “The amendment of the British North America Act to enable the Dominion parliament to pass social legislation, such as unemployment insurance, is a reform which all labour organizations should endeavour to secure.”[7] The fact that the Snider decision had overruled previous decisions by Canadian judges likely gave the labour movement the impression that its call for constitutional reform would find support in Ottawa. Canadian jurist H.E. Smith, for example, commented that “I do not think it is going too far to say that this result is the precise opposite of that which our fathers hoped and endeavoured to attain.”[8] Despite domestic protestations from both the Canadian judiciary and the labour movement, union requests for constitutional change were ignored.

Trade unions renewed their efforts to amend the BNA Act after 1931 when Canada became an autonomous dominion within the British Empire under the terms of the Statute of Westminster. In the new political climate created by the Statute of Westminster there were calls for a new constitutional order that would strengthen the central government. Trade unions were joined in their quest for centralization by the newly formed Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF). Adopted at the CCF’s first national convention, the party’s socialist “Regina Manifesto” declared that:
"The labour code should be uniform throughout the country. But the achievement of this end is difficult so long as jurisdiction over labour legislation under the BNA Act is mainly in the hands of the provinces. It is urgently necessary, therefore, that the BNA Act be amended to make such a national labour code possible."[9]

The CCF argued that Canada’s regional and linguistic divisions, exacerbated by Canada’s federal system of government, “are unnecessary and are the result of the inherent contradictions of capitalism.”[10] In 1935, the Royal Commission on Price Spreads, which was appointed in 1934, released its report which called for a “thorough exploration of the constitutional possibility of the enactment of Dominion labour legislation” and “the necessary amendments to the BNA Act” to attain them.[11] After the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that certain federal social legislation is ultra vires under the terms of the BNA Act, the ACCL urged in a memorandum that:
"the matter of jurisdiction, as between the Dominion and the provinces, is one which ought to be dealt with at the earliest possible moment. It may be pointed out, without reflection upon the framers of the British North America Act, that they could not possibly have forseen the developments of modern industry, and the need for legislative control of industry which is interprovincial or national in scope. Not only the workers, but the people of Canada generally have the right to demand that the basic constitutional document of Canada be amended in such a manner as to permit the proper exercise of the will of the people through Parliament."[12]

While the Royal Commission on Dominion-Provincial Relations deliberated between 1937 and 1940, the TLC, the ACCL, and the Railway Transportation Brotherhood all pressed, once again, for constitutional reform. The British Columbia Executive Committee of the TLC, in a brief to the provincial government, drew the attention of the provincial cabinet to:
"the need of uniform labour and social laws throughout this Dominion. It is impossible to have adequate standards of living in the face of unrestricted inter-provincial competition. The need of uniformity in labour laws must be recognized. Further, we request the Provincial Government co-operate with the Dominion Government to bring about the desired changes in the British North America Act, as exemplified by the need of a Dominion Act governing unemployment and other forms of essential social insurance."[13]

The independent Canadian and Catholic Confederation of Labour (CCCL), in a 1939 memorandum submitted to the Quebec provincial cabinet, argued in favour of a national system of unemployment insurance. The memorandum stated specifically that the CCCL “est en faveur d’un système d’assurance chômage à base contributoire... notamment, en faveur d’une assurance chômage contributoire, établie sur le plan national...”[14]

In its final report, the Royal Commission on Dominion-Provincial Relations declared that “The experience of the last decade is conclusive evidence that unemployment relief should be a Dominion function.”[15] The findings of the Commission, and the subsequent adoption of federal unemployment insurance legislation, by way of constitutional amendment temporarily calmed the labour movement’s demands for amendments to the BNA Act.

[1] Peter H. Russell, Constitutional Odyssey: Can Canadians Become a Sovereign People? 3rd ed., (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004), 57.
[2] Labour Gazette vol. 37 (1937), 1082.
[3] Labour Gazette vol. 25 (1925), 894.
[4] Labour Gazette vol. 25 (1925), 894.
[5] Labour Gazette vol. 26 (1926), 337.
[6] Labour Gazette vol. 29 (1929), 1014.
[7] Labour Gazette vol. 29 (1929), 1365.
[8] H.E. Smith, “The Residue of Power in Canada,” (1926) 4 Can. Bar Rev. 432 at 434.
[9] Article 7 of the Regina Manifesto as cited in Edwin Black, Divided Loyalties: Canadian Concepts of Federalism, (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1975), 47-48.
[10] Lewis, David and Frank Scott, Make this your Canada: a review of C.C.F. history and policy, (Toronto: Central Canada Pub. Co. 1943), 104.
[11] Labour Gazette vol. 35 (1935), 408.
[12] Labour Gazette vol. 37 (1937), 45.
[13] Labour Gazette vol. 37 (1937), 171.
[14] Labour Gazette vol. 40 (1940), 549.
[15] Royal Commission on Dominion-Provincial Relations recommendations as reprinted in Labour Gazette, vol 40 (1940), 545.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Is Stephane Dion a Leader?: Evaluating the Conservative Attack Ads

Some progressive bloggers don't like the new Tory attack ads, while others think they're okay. As far as personal attacks go, these ads are mild and stick to politics rather than the personal. I like them, but I wonder if the average Canadian will be able to make sense of Ignatieff and Dryden playing supporting roles in the ads. In some ways, I think the ads presuppose that voters have at least a cursory knowledge of "insider" politics. And for that reason, I don't think they're great ads.

Stephen Colbert Talks Trade Unions


Paulitics on Politics

I have been getting my daily dose of Paulitics these past few weeks and have decided to add his blog to my permanent links section. In particular I was impressed by this, and this.

Borat Helps a Republican

Borat "helps" Republican candidate James Broadwater in his bid for elected office. After interviewing the candidate about America's democracy, the two go door-to-door canvassing for votes.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

On War and Peace

I spent the weekend in the United States and noticed a "surge" in the amount of military advertising on both television and on billboards. It was depressing, but I was pleasantly surprised to see a small but spirited anti-war demonstration outside of an Armed Forces recruitment office in suburban western New York.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Liberal Riding Association President Predicts Liberal MPP Kim Craitor Will Lose in Niagara Falls Riding

James Curran, President of the Niagara Falls Federal Liberal Riding Association, and potential Federal Liberal candidate, is predicting that the McGuinty Liberals will lose seats in the 2007 provincial election. One of the seats Curran thinks the Liberals will lose is Niagara Falls, a riding which is currently represented by Liberal MPP Kim Craitor. Curran recently wrote on his blog:

Once again the Government of Ontario has decided to screw the "little guy" whilst trying to save its own ass. What will it amount to? My good friend Kim Craitor, MPP for Niagara Falls will be losing his job after the results are posted in the upcoming October election. That's it, that's all.

Who is Rob Nicholson?

Niagara Falls Review reporter Corey Larocque has written a in-depth article on Federal Justice Minister and Niagara Falls MP Rob Nicholson. It's mostly a fluff piece and is suprisingly lacking any discussion of Nicholson's politics, but is a passable backgrounder for political junkies in other parts of the country who want to know more about this recently promoted cabinet minister.

I Can't Wait To See This Movie

I don't believe in synchronicity, but I did have to look twice when I read this story from the Buffalo News about the upcoming film "The Savages" which is being shot in Buffalo and Niagara Falls. Living in Niagara Falls, and sharing the same name as the main character is just weird.

"The Savages" tells the story of an elderly man, Larry Savage, who moves to Buffalo to be closer to his estranged adult children. As the dark comedy unfolds, the son, played by Hoffman, and daughter, played by Linney, are faced with the legacy of their upbringing and the realities of family responsibilities.

Class Politics Making a Comeback?

The Federal NDP's new crusade against ATM banking fees is a welcome development for folks who yearn for more class politics in Canada. The Ontario NDP's campaign to boost Ontario's minimum wage to $10 per hour has also been welcome development. It has generated major buzz here and here. Of note, John Tory's position on increases in the minimum wage is more progressive than Sorbara's. Sadly, so-called "progressive" bloggers like this aspiring Liberal politician and this well known Liberal blogger have positioned themselves to the right of the Tories on this issue. Looks like the NDP is developing good wedge issues, let's hope the party continues on this route.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Support Striking Credit Union Workers

The St. Catharines and District Labour Council is hosting a fundraiser for members of COPE 343, credit union workers at First Ontario in Hamilton.


These sisters have been on the cold picket lines since October 20, 2006 with no end in sight. Their ruthless employer is attempting to cripple their union . We call upon all affiliates, unionized workers and supporters to join us in fighting First Ontario Credit Union attack on organized labour and in supporting our Sisters on the picket line.

124 Bunting Rd. St. Catharines,
7:00 p.m. 'till ?
Tickets $ 5.00
( price includes beef on the bun and D/J Karaoke)

Silent Auction



For tickets contact:Bruce Allen 905-934-6233
Sue Hotte 905-932-1646 , fax (905) 641-1646
In Hamilton area: Barb Rowell 905-560-3412

Please plan to attend a night of fun, music and unity

Defend Human Rights: Close Guantánamo

Amnesty International has kicked off a campaign to convince the United States to close Guantánamo.

Imagine being held at the U.S. detention centre at Guantánamo Bay. Never fairly charged with a crime. No lawyer of your choice. No fair trial. Abused and possibly tortured. At Guantánamo, the authorities can do anything they want to you, accuse you of anything, hold you as long as they want, and secretly send you wherever they want – and you have no right to ask for help. Frightening? Yes. Wrong? Definitely.

Is President Bush an "idiot" or just "inarticulate"?

This MSNBC report looks into Bush's "linguistic deficit" and calls on political pundits to determine whether or not George Bush is intelligent.

New Polls Show Tight Race Between Liberals and Conservatives

Bad news for New Democrats.


Conservative 35%
Liberal 32%
NDP 13%
Green 9%

margin of error +/- 3.1%


Liberal 33%
Conservative 32%
NDP 13%
Green 9%

margin of error +/- 3.1%

Instructional Video On How to Keep a Job

Are you an "eager beaver" or a trouble maker?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Tommy Douglas Speaks

Via Google Video, check out CBC coverage of Tommy Douglas' last speech as NDP Leader in April 1971. David Lewis won the race to replace Douglas at the NDP convention which took place in Ottawa. Check out the official ballot-by-ballot results here.

Where Do The Parties Stand In The Polls?

Paulitics has the best, most up-to-date, database of federal public opinion polls on his blog. For those of us who obsess over these things, bookmark this page.

A Tribute to American Labour Leaders - Past and Present

On the political spectrum, some of these iconic leaders weren't even close, but all shared a common vision of advancing the interests of working people.

Who Do You Trust? Union Leaders or CEOs?

According to a recent poll, Canadians trust CEOs more than they trust union leaders or politicians, but only marginally. On the surface, this doesn't bode well for organized labour. However, five of the top seven occupations have extremely high union density rates, so in fact, unionized workers are among the most trusted professionals in Canada.

Here are the rankings from the Globe & Mail:
Firefighters: 93 per cent.
Nurses: 87 per cent.
Pharmacists: 86 per cent.
Airline pilots: 81 per cent.
Doctors: 80 per cent.
Police officers: 69 per cent.
Teachers: 69 per cent.
Armed forces personnel: 65 per cent.
Day care workers: 61 per cent.
Accountants: 54 per cent.
Judges: 52 per cent.
Chiropractors: 49 per cent.
Financial advisers: 47 per cent.
Charitable organization employees: 41 per cent.
Environmentalists: 39 per cent.
Plumbers: 39 per cent.
People who work for religious institutions: 37 per cent.
Judicial system employees: 33 per cent.
Television and radio personalities: 29 per cent.
Real estate agents: 28 per cent.
Journalists: 26 per cent.
Lawyers: 25 per cent.
Auto mechanics: 25 per cent.
New home builders: 23 per cent.
Other members of the press: 22 per cent.
CEOs: 21 per cent.
Union leaders: 19 per cent.
Local politicians: 12 per cent.
National politicians: 7 per cent.
Car salespeople: 7 per cent.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms: For Sale on E-Bay!

A copy of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, signed by the late Pierre Trudeau, is up for sale on e-Bay. There are currently no bids, so for those of you who love your liberal rights and freedoms, bid often and bid early - you only have six days left!

Royal Endorses Quebec Sovereignty - What's the Big Deal?

Ségolène Royal, the French Presidential hopeful who caused an uproar this week by endorsing Quebec sovereignty is getting a bad rap in the Canadian blogosphere, particularly in the left-wing Canadian blogosphere. If you don't know what I'm talking about read this and this. I really don't understand what all the fuss is about. What did people expect her to say? So, she supports sovereignty for Quebec... so do a lot of people. If Royal had pronounced in favour of a united Canada, her statement would have surely won widespread support among federalist politicians and bloggers. You can't have it both ways. Support for Quebec sovereignty does not mean opposition to Canada.

What I find offensive is that some Canadian politicians, including most Liberals, Conservatives, and New Democrats continue to not respect Quebec's right to self determination. They proved as much by supporting the Clarity Act. It's easy to tell Royal to mind her own business when it comes to Quebec's National Question, but the same principle should apply to international allies of the federalist cause and to the Rest of Canada.

For my part, I think world leaders should engage in these discussions. Would it be appropriate for Royal or another world leader to criticize Canada for its rate of child poverty, or for its treatment of aboriginal peoples? Of course it's appropriate. Would it be appropriate for Royal or another world leader to criticize the United States for its decision to invade Iraq? Of course it's appropriate. By rebuking Royal, we risk becoming hypocrites on the international scene. If we were to hold our own political leaders to the same standard, they could no longer talk about human rights abuses in China. They would have to muzzle themsleves on the issue of America's decision to invade Iraq... In short, just because most people didn't like what Royal had to say, she certainly had the right to say it.

More Evidence That We Can Achieve a $10 Minimum Wage in Ontario

Rita Daly's story in the Toronto Star helps dispel many of the myths surrounding an Ontario NDP proposal to raise the minimum wage to $10 per hour.

...a number of more recent studies by American states and cities have concluded the positive effects for workers and greater consumer spending have more than offset any adverse employment effects. Other studies have found no job losses, including in San Francisco where the minimum wage rose by almost $2 overnight in 2003, and in Washington where small businesses are thriving despite a minimum wage nearly $3 higher than the national rate.

Democrats and Republicans: 2008 Presidential Hopefuls Assessed

All Politics is Local assesses Republican and Democratic presidential hopefuls for 2008.

Politics and Popular Culture: Communist Pingu

I never quite understood this show as a kid. I guess I understand it even less now.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Citizens Assembly on Electoral Reform: Niagara Falls Meeting Summary

Roughly twenty people attended the Citizens Assembly on Electoral Reform meeting in Niagara Falls which was competing with a politically charged meeting at City Hall over bringing an Ontario Hockey League team to the city.

Six people made presentations, three for the status quo, two advocating a mixed proportional system, and one advocating change in general . During the audience participation portion of the meeting, most people seemed to favour a mixed proportional system.

Of the Assembly members present, Stephanie Jones of Niagara Centre riding asked presenters the best questions, openly challenging participants on their assumptions about our first-past-the-post system.

All around, it was a poorly attended, but well run meeting.

The Assembly is receiving written submissions for one more week, so if you didn't get a chance to be heard at a public meeting, send them a note letting them know what you think. Opportunities to change the electoral system don't come around very often... make your voice heard today so we can ensure that every vote counts in the future.

Blog for Choice Day

Today is the 34th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark court decision on abortion and privacy rights. Bush v. Choice, a pro-choice website, is asking its readers to blog for choice today. I have been firmly pro-choice since as long as I can remember. I didn't inherent my support for abortion rights from my father though. As a teenager, I once asked him where he stood on the question of abortion. He responded by saying, "I'm against abortion 100%, unless of course it's my girlfriend who's pregnant!"

When Union Busters Attack!

Billy Bragg's cover of "Which Side Are You On?" provides the soundtrack for this video montage of union busting throughout U.S. history.

The Military, Metaphors, Motions and Commotions

Robert McClelland, Commander-In-Chief of the NDP blogosphere, has promoted Uncorrected Proofs to the rank of captain for my series of posts related to labour history. I'm not quite sure the military metaphor works, but the recognition is welcome. Speaking of the military, a colleague of mine recently lamented via e-mail that Canadians seem as obsessed as Americans with "supporting our troops". Another colleague, bewildered by what he sees as creeping Canadian patriotism blames Don Cherry and Rick Mercer for the knee-jerk support for Canada's military. Both are members of CUPE 4207, and recently ushered a motion through a union meeting asking Brock University to ban military advertising on its campus. Although I'm sure CUPE's request will ruffle feathers in both the university and the community, I don't think Canadians generally associate supporting our troops with supporting specific military missions, in Afghanistan or elsewhere. That's why I think the NDP's campaign to support the troops by bringing them home was a good message for the party. Which brings me back to Robert McClelland... read his excellent series of posts on Afghanistan here.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Bicycle Diaries: Jack Layton Meets Che Guevera

Click here to see what the offspring of Jack Layton and Che Guevera might look like... Be patient and watch the transformation unfold.

Post X-Mas Fun

When I saw this picture, it reminded me that my neighbour still has a rather large X-mas snow globe and plastic Santa on her lawn. My guess is that she will get around to removing them sometime in March.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Teachers Union Votes Against Boycott of Isreal

Delegates to the OSSTF convention have overwhelmingly rejected a motion to support an international boycott of Isreal, similar to the one CUPE Ontario delegates endorsed unanimously last year. My guess is that the negative press surroundings CUPE's actions convinced OSSTF activists that supporting the motion would be a strategic error.

According to news reports:

B'nai Brith launched an e-mail campaign calling on teachers and others to contact the union local and urge it to drop the motion, adding it ignored human rights abuses in other countries and contained no condemnation of Palestinian violence.

Sir No Sir! Anti-War Documentary Available For Online Viewing

The critically acclaimed anti-war documentary "Sir No Sir!" by David Zeiger is available for online viewing here.

In the 1960’s an anti-war movement emerged that altered the course of history.
This movement didn’t take place on college campuses, but in barracks and on aircraft carriers. It flourished in army stockades, navy brigs and in the dingy
towns that surround military bases. It penetrated elite military colleges like West Point. And it spread throughout the battlefields of Vietnam. It was a movement no one expected, least of all those in it. Hundreds went to prison and thousands into exile. And by 1971 it had, in the words of one colonel, infested the entire armed services. Yet today few people know about the GI movement.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Saskatchewan Young New Democrats Talk Socialism... But No One's Listening

Sam Roberts' song "The Canadian Dream" plays in the background while a parade of young New Democrats in Saskatchewan explain their vision for the province. Although youth wings of social democratic parties are almost always to the left of the party it seems as though there is an ocean of difference between the neo-liberal record of the Saskatchewan NDP government and the progressive socialist vision of these young New Democrats.

Here are the lyrics to " The Canadian Dream"... Let's hope Lorne Calvert goes out and buys the CD.

The Canadian Dream

Went out on the street today
The Canadian Dream was as far away as it’s ever been
As it’s ever been here to stay
S.O.C.I.A.L.I.S.M. is the only way
Frozen land, frozen minds
Frozen hands and frozen time
‘Cause everything moves real slow when it’s forty below

John Edwards Bashes Wal-Mart

Democratic Presidential candidate John Edwards has some harsh words for Wal-Mart. Towards the end of the video, he argues that Wal-Mart is a burden on the public purse because of its unwillingness to pay medical benefits for its workers. Interestingly, he closes his speech by arguing that the United States needs to adopt a system of public universal health care.

Concessions Are Not The Answer! Support COPE 343

The strike by COPE 343 against First Ontario Credit Union in Hamilton is entering its fourth month with no resolution in sight.
The employer's concessionary demands include:


Apparently, management has taken the unusually cruel step of cutting off sick leave benefits for employees who were using the benefits prior to the labour dispute.

Also, contrary to its own by-laws, the credit union postponed its annual general meeting with the help of the Ontario Ministry of Finance. By doing this, management will not have to face members of the credit union upset with how management has treated union members. And they say the state is a neutral umpire in labour relations...

More Evidence the Greens Deserve a Spot in the Next Leaders Debate

The results of the latest Decima poll provide more evidence for why the Green Party should have a place in the next Leaders debate. When a party is polling higher than the third largest party represented in Parliament, it's hard to argue that the Greens are irrelevant.

See my previous post on including Elizabeth May and the Green Party in the next Leaders Debate here.

Is YouTube broken?

I haven't been able to post videos from YouTube for several days now... I go through the motions, but the videos never appear... is anyone else having this problem?

Why The Green Party Deserves a Spot in The Federal Leaders Debate

Liberal leader Stephane Dion has indicated that he won't stand in the way of Green Party leader Elizabeth May's bid to participate in the next Federal leaders' debate. Whether or not he's doing this for self-serving political reasons is really beside the point. Given the Green Party's electoral performance in the last two elections, and its current standing in public opinion polls, including May in the debate is the right thing to do.

Under the Canada Elections Act, broadcasters are required to afford equitable broadcasting time to all political parties. Broadcasters are restricted from providing additional time to some parties without providing additional time to all parties. While this scheme of allotting “free time” equally to all parties appears fair on the surface, in practice it results in great inequity to small parties. This is because Canadian courts have consistently held that there is no requirement that small parties be included in leaders’ debates, and that the debates are “non-partisan,” similar to news reports, and are therefore not subject to the requirement of equitable coverage contained in the Canada Elections Act. In reaching these conclusions, it appears that Canadian courts have failed to recognize two important aspects of leaders’ debates. First, the television audience for leaders’ debates often dwarfs the audience available to any other form of political broadcasting or news reporting,[1] and second, media exposure on that scale has been shown to factor significantly in election outcomes.[2]

Fringe parties, unable to gain access to the debates through the Canada Elections Act, have instead turned to the Charter to seek a remedy. These efforts to date have met with failure due to the courts’ unwavering findings that the Canadian Broadcasting consortium is not a government actor, and is therefore, not required to act in accordance with the Charter. Campbell J. made a representative comment in Trieger v. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that “[i]t is not the function of the government […] to dictate to the news media what they should report. The broadcasters are exercising a function that is very central to the democratic process. But it is a function that they perform quite independently of government.”[3] However, there is some evidence that the courts have started to see the issue differently. L’Heureux-Dubé J.’s majority opinion in Haig v. Canada included the obiter comment that “it is well understood, that a philosophy of non-interference may not in all circumstances guarantee the optimal functioning of the marketplace of ideas.”[4] This came immediately after she agreed with the appellants’ contentions that “freedom of expression must be broader than simply the right to be free from interference… the state has ‘a more affirmative role to play in the maintenance of a system of free expression.’”[5] The court’s emerging view on this issue may be articulated soon, since the Federal Green Party has launched a judicial review of the CRTC’s most recent decision to not include the Green Party in the leadership debate.

At the provincial level, most fringe party leaders have never been invited to participate in the all-important televised leaders debates. This is a major obstacle for minor parties because, in many ways, the debate helps frame the terms of the election campaign for voters. The format provides an indispensable tool for delivering a party’s message to the widest possible number of voters. It gives an opportunity for the major parties to showcase their leaders. The importance of the debate is compounded by the fact that the ensuing spin about who won and who lost occupies the media’s time for at least a couple days afterwards. By barring minor parties from participating in these events, the media outlet hosting the debate essentially eliminates the possibility of a minor party breakthrough.

Major parties can also act as a cartel in preventing minor parties from participating by insisting on certain conditions for the debate. In provincial jurisdictions where minor parties were offered the opportunity to participate, they have, on average, electorally outperformed their counterparts in provinces where fringe parties were barred from leaders debates. For example, in 1991, the Confederation of Regions Party (CoR) was allowed to participate in the New Brunswick leaders debate and went on to win over 20% of the vote and formed the official opposition. In British Columbia’s 1996, 2001, and 2005 elections, several fringe parties participated fully in the debates and took over 10% of the vote in each of those elections. In Alberta’s 2004 election, the inclusion of the Alberta Alliance Party in the leaders’ debate helped the small right-wing fringe party win almost 10% of the vote and elect its first MLA.

For info on the Green Party's campaign to be included in the next leaders debate, click here.

[1] See e.g. Randal Archibold and Raymond Hernandez, “For Cheney and Edwards, It’s now a Running Debate” The New York Times (6 October, 2004) p. 31, and Jim Rutenberg “First Debate Draws Large TV audience” The New York Times (1 October 2004) p. 10 both online:
[2] See e.g. Libman v. Quebec (Attorney General) [1997] 3 S.C.R. 569; 151 D.L.R. (4th) 385 at para. 47.
[3] Trieger v, Canada Broadcasting Corpoation (1988), 54 D.L.R. (4th) 143..
[4] Haig v. Canada [1993] 2 S.C.R. 995; 105 D.L.R. (4th) 577 at para. 74.
[5] Suora note 24. at para. 73.

Upcoming Labour Studies Conferences

The Department of Labour Studies at the University of Windsor is hosting a conference entitled "Building Bridges".

The United Association of Labor Educators is hosting a conference entitled "The New Faces of the American Worker: What Implications for Organized Labor?" at the National Labor College in Maryland.

CUPE 4207 is hosting a conference entitled "Building a Working Class Culture" at Brock University in St. Catharines.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Teachers' Union Eyes Boycott of Isreal

The Ontario section of the Canadian Union of Public Employees caused a stir last spring by debating and passing a resolution condemning Isreal for its human rights abuses and calling for an international boycott.

It looks like other unions may follow in the footsteps of CUPE.

The motion put forward by Jason Kunin, an English teacher and Jewish activist who has frequently criticized Israeli government policies, and Hyssam Hulays, a computer science teacher, decries "Israel's continued violation of the human rights of Palestinians." Among other things, the Toronto teachers want the union to develop classroom materials on the Israeli Palestinian conflict, and to support an international boycott of Israel. Their motion also calls on the union to press Prime Minister Stephen Harper to criticize Israel's "aggression" against Gaza and Lebanon, and to end sanctions against the Palestinians' Hamas government.


- Business group endorses socialism!

- NDP leader Jack Layton's latest gaffe!

- "Unpleasant faces" all the rage in Quebec!

- Women cheer "Happy Birthday and Thanks for the Support!"

The New Left Battles The Old Left

Check out all of the attacks, excuses, and debate by following the links listed here.

Separated at Birth? George Bush and Rosco P Coltrane

Not only do they look alike, but they talk alike! One was always in hot pursuit of the Duke brothers while the other is in hot pursuit of the evil doers.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

SEIU Field Staff Walk Off the Job

Organizers and Union representatives working for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) local 1 are on strike despite a last minute attempt to avoid a labour dispute. The workers, who belong the Teamsters local 879, are set to picket the headquarters of the Ontario Federation of Labour, where SEIU has an office. Labour disputes between a union and its own employees are never easy and have the potential to be very embarrassing for everybody involved. That said, having previously worked for a union, I can say that I understand the need for union organizers and union representatives to form their own unions and to strike, especially when the employer is pushing concessions.

Why a Teacher Should Never Leave The Classroom

Thankfully, I don't normally run into this problem at the university.

Catholic Website Condemns Hate Mail From the Religious Right

John Borst from the Catholic Education website Tomorrow's Trust wades into the religious right hate mail controversy which stemmed from my support for a unified secular public school system for Ontario. To his credit, Borst argues in his post that the author of the hate mail was "misguided" and that such responses "only hurt the cause of Catholic education rather than help it." He also links to Dymaxion World's contribution to the debate before concluding that "as a Catholic community we have to do better than this...We must also become more involved with this new, very powerful, medium of the Internet. If we continue to ignore it, we do so at the peril of our Catholic school systems."

Politics and Popular Music in Quebec: Gilles Vigneault Interviewed on "Tout le monde en parle"

Singer song writer Gilles Vigneault interviewed on the popular Quebecois talk show "Tout le monde en parle". Vigneault, talks about politics, sovereignty, and the changing nature of Quebec.

COPE 343 Strike at First Ontario Credit Union Enters Third Month

A strike involving credit union workers at First Ontario Credit Union in Hamilton has entered its third month. Read all about the concessions the employer is demanding to resolve the dispute. Very few workers in the banking sector are organized, which makes them an easy target for anti-union employers. Support the workers, members of COPE 343 by visiting their picket line or by sending a contribution. A fundraiser for the workers is currently being organized in St. Catharines... details to follow.

Barack Obama: Future President or Despised Terrorist?

Illinois senator Barack Obama is in the process of organizing a run for the Democratic nomination in the 2008 presidential election. However, his name is apparently causing people to confuse him with Osama Bin Laden. Sound crazy? Watch this CNN news segment via YouTube.

Jimmy Hoffa: Alive and Blogging!

Check out Jimmy Hoffa's MySpace, linked from the Teamsters MySpace. It's amazing how many labour unions have joined the MySpace craze. Check out a sample list via the Daily Dissidence.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Jesus Christ: Socialist or Conservative?

I've been receiving so much hate mail from the religious right lately that I've decided to post this interesting video from YouTube which asks: "Did Jesus care more about war and the poor or gays and abortion?"

Green Party Prospects in Ontario By-Elections

Ever since Green Party leader Elizabeth May finished a respectable 2nd place in the London North Centre federal by-election in November, pundits have been musing about a Green Party breakthrough. I'm more sceptical about the prospects of a Green breakthrough. After all, the party didn't even field a candidate in the Repentigny by-election in November 2006. Even so, by-elections probably offer the best chance for a good Green Party results for several reasons. 1. By-elections rarely have a large impact on government, therefore the public is free to vote their conscience or vote for new blood without having to worry about political consequences.
2. By-elections tend to work against the party in power. Since the Greens aren't in power, they stand a better chance of winning more votes.

Three Ontario by-elections have been called for February 8, 2007. Given that the best results ever for the Greens occurred just a few months back in an Ontario riding, I thought it would be interesting to look into the races in York South-Weston, Burlington, and Markham to determine Green Party prospects. Admittedly, the federal Green Party is different from its Ontario section, but their "values" and policies are virtually identical.

I have listed below the 2003 provincial election results along with the 2006 federal election results followed by my predictions for each by-elections. You'll notice that I don't predict any major breakthroughs whatsoever for the Greens. In fact, I don't believe any Green Party candidate will crack double digits on February 8. Although Greens did finish third, ahead of the NDP, in a couple of by-elections in 2001 (Parry-Sound-Muskoka, and Vaughan-King-Aurora), the party has failed to repeat a third place finish in every provincial by-election since. I also believe that the NDP's opposition to the 25% MPP pay raise will help rally protest votes that would normally have gone to the Greens. Lastly, Green Party leader Frank DeJong is no Elizabeth May. It will be interesting to see the level of support the Greens will win without May at the helm, or as a candidate.

York South-Weston

2006 federal result

Liberal 57.0%
NDP 21.3%
Con 17.5%
Green 4.2%

2003 provincial result

Liberal 61.6%
NDP 19.3%
Con 15.2%
Green 2.4%

2007 by-election prediction

Liberal 49-53%
NDP 24-28%
Con 19-23%
Green 4-8%


2006 federal result

Con 43.1%
Liberal 39.1%
NDP 12.4%
Green 5.3%

2003 provincial result

Con 46.2%
Liberal 42.2%
NDP 8.2%
Green 2.3%

2007 by-election prediction

Con 45-49%
Liberal 34-38%
NDP 10-14%
Green 5-9%


2006 federal result

Liberal 61.6%
Con 27.0%
NDP 8.0%
Green 3.4%

2003 provincial result

Liberal 51.7%
Con 40.3%
NDP 5.1%
Green 1.6%

2007 by-election prediction

Liberal 43-47%
Con 40-44
NDP 5-9%
Green 2-6%

Politics and Popular Culture: Chairman Mao Gets Angry

Weirdest video ever.

Monday, January 15, 2007

A Short History of the Labour Movement in Canada and Quebec: Part Six

Within the context of the Duplessis regime’s brutal repression of trade union freedoms and in the midst of an increasing level of government corruption, Le Devoir’s André Laurendeau developed the “roi nègre” theory in the late 1950s to explain the political situation in Quebec. As opposition mounted to the lack of democracy in Duplessis’ government, the Premier had a journalist from Le Devoir ousted from a press conference after the newspaper had printed a particularly stinging story about corruption in his government. The francophone press universally condemned the Premier’s actions. Interestingly, the anglophone press outside of Quebec joined the francophone press in condemning the Premier while the anglophone press within Quebec avoided the story. This incident encouraged Laurendeau to reflect on the relationship between the Premier and the anglophone community in Quebec. In essence, Laurendeau argued that the Duplessis regime’s impact on Quebec was best understood by comparing it to the colonial status of many African nations ruled by “roi nègres” controlled by the British Empire. As Claude Bélanger has explained, “The British, always pragmatic, did not necessarily destroy and replace the existing political power in the colonies. In fact, they frequently accommodated themselves with local customs and rulers, as long as these petty rulers recognized the superior authority of the imperial power and protected its economic interests. To maintain traditional rulers was useful; the local people were used to them and obeyed them.”[1] Laurendeau unquestionably considered Duplessis to be one of these “roi nègres” who would carry out the policy preferences of the English in return for protection and support for his regime. Laurendeau, referring to the anglophone community in Quebec, wrote “they close their eyes to the abuses of authority, as long as their interests are well served.”[2]

Also during this period, CCCL members, frustrated with years of paternalism and conservatism, began a process of radicalization and secularization which culminated in the creation of the Confédérations des syndicats nationaux (CSN) in 1961. That year also saw the newly minted CLC develop the New Democratic Party (NDP), a more moderate and union-oriented offspring of the CCF. This event represented a clear break from the TLC’s tradition of Gomperism and entrenched the labour movement’s support for social democracy and electoral politics as a political strategy. One of the NDP’s first major accomplishments was its ability to convince the Liberal minority government of Lester Pearson to pass the Public Sector Staff Relations Act (PSSRA), which extended collective bargaining rights to civil servants. The explosion of union activity in the public sector which followed the passage of the PSSRA in 1967 combined with a nascent sense of Canadian nationalism to bolster the strength of the Canadian labour movement and significantly reduce the influence of international unions in Canada. In 1962, just under 25% of unionized workers in Canada were represented by national unions. That number increased dramatically to nearly 50% by 1978 and again to 64% by 1990.[3] The Canadian labour movement, after a century of having been controlled by forces outside of Canada, began to chart its own course. And in doing so it moved away from continentalism and embraced a position of economic nationalism in political affairs.[4]

The turn to economic nationalism happened to coincide with fundamental changes in industrial relations. In the mid 1970s, the post war compromise began to unravel as business and government adopted a more hardline approach to labour relations. Beginning with Trudeau’s wage and price controls, federal and provincial governments of every political stripe led an assault on trade union freedoms designed to weaken the collective strength of the labour movement.[5] This new era of neo-liberal globalization was characterized by massive job losses in manufacturing, an increase in outsourcing and privatization, restrictions on the right to strike, increased use of back-to-work legislation, and the introduction of continental free trade.

The CLC’s all out war against the Canada-U.S. free trade agreement in the late 1980s, although ultimately unsuccessful, demonstrated the labour movement’s strength as an independent, progressive coalition builder. However, the triumph of neo-liberalism over Keynsianism in Canada has left the labour movement at a crossroads. Aware of the contradictions of neo-liberal globalization, but unwilling to challenge them in any serious way, unions in Canada have been unable to develop a coherent strategy for growth, let alone survival.

[1] Claude Bélanger, La théorie du roi nègre, Department of History, Marianopolis College
[2] Laurendeau quoted in Bélanger, La théorie du roi nègre.
[3] Jon Peirce, Canadian Industrial Relations 2nd ed., (Toronto: Prentice Hall), 146.
[4] Miriam Smith, “The Canadian Labour Congress: From Continentalism to Economic Nationalism,” Studies in Political Economy, (Summer 1992) Vol. 38 pp35-60.
[5] Panitch and Swartz (2003), Chapter 1.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

A Short History of the Labour Movement in Canada and Quebec: Part Five

The management of discontent took on a different meaning with the onset of the Cold War. The anti-communist hysteria of the late 1940s and 1950s manifested itself in both the Canadian and American labour movements in the form of a concerted campaign to rid trade union organizations of communist influence. The successful CCL and TLC-led purges of Communists from within the ranks of labour were carried out with the assistance of the CCF, and set the Canadian labour movement on a clearly social democratic political course.

In Quebec, this period was known as “la grande noirceur” and in the words of Carla Lipsig-Mummé, was characterized as “mature coercive integration larded with simple and devastating repression.”[1] The Asbestos strike of 1949 best exemplified the Duplessis government’s treatment of the labour movement. In February 1949, Catholic workers in Quebec’s asbestos mines launched a six month strike. The union, which had attempted to negotiate in good faith for union security, pensions, and improved safety measures, were ordered back to work by Premier Duplessis, but resisted. The Company, with the full backing of the Premier, fought back by hiring replacement workers. The picket lines turned violent as provincial police and strikers battered one another. The striking workers quickly gained public sympathy and even enlisted the Catholic Archbishop of Montreal to their cause. When the strike ended through a mediated settlement, it was unclear whether or not the union’s strategy had been successful. Faced with an unprecedented assault on trade union freedoms, trade unionists in Quebec turned to politics as a defensive weapon against an increasingly brutal state apparatus. Violent confrontations between workers and the police at Asbestos, and the series of bitter labour disputes which followed, radicalized Quebec’s labour movement and helped to usher in a Quiet Revolution in Quebec.

Social democracy, let alone communism, had long been denounced in Quebec by the clergy and the State, who argued that it was anti-Catholic and alien to French Canadians. However, social democracy did gain a toehold in Quebec with the creation of the CCL-affiliated Quebec Federation of Industrial Unions (QFIU) in 1952. Unlike the QPFL, the QFIU did adopt a clear ideological orientation based on its industrial and nationalist roots and developed an adversarial relationship with Duplessis’ Union Nationale Regime.[2] In 1955, the QFIU adopted its Manifeste au peuple du Québec which declared:
Alors que nous vivons dans un monde divisé en deux, soit d’une part les forces capitalistes, soit d’autre part les forces totalitaires, nous refusons de croire que nous avons à choisir entre ces deux régimes. Nous préconisons une sociale-démocratie. Nous voulons un socialisme démocratique qui respectera la propriété personnelle, les traditions et la foi des masses canadiennes-françaises.[3]

In December 1955 the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and the Committee for Industrial Organizing (CIO) held a reunification convention, twenty years after industrial workers and craft workers parted ways. Years of raiding and the changing nature of work convinced both labour organizations that the interests of working people would be best served through the establishment of a single labour federation in the United States. Because international unions continued to represent the vast majority of Canadian workers, the merger movement could not help but spill over into Canada. In April 1956, the craft-based Trades and Labor Congress (TLC) and the industrial-based Canadian Congress of Labor (CCL) merged to form the CLC. The Quebec wings of both the TLC and the CCL followed suit less than a year later. The TLC-affiliated Quebec Provincial Federation of Labour (QPFL) and the CCL-affiliated Quebec Federation of Industrial Unions (QFIU) merged to form the FTQ in February 1957.[4] By 1960, the FTQ claimed roughly 100,000 members, representing 40% of the province’s unionized workforce.[5] Despite the fact that members of the former QPFL outnumbered former members of the QFIU, and despite the fact that Roger Provost of the former QPFL took over the leadership of the newly minted FTQ, the new union organization continued to champion the social democratic political orientation espoused most forcefully by the leadership of the former QFIU. This interesting ideological development was precipitated by the Murdochville strike, which broke out less than a month after the founding convention of the FTQ.

In March 1957, miners in Murdochville Quebec launched a seven month strike against Gaspé Copper Mines, a subsidiary of Noranda. The miners, who had joined the USWA, were striking for union recognition. The provincial government and its police force backed Noranda and the picket line became a bloody battleground between workers, the employer and the state. The newly-minted FTQ rallied around the striking miners by organizing a march on Murdochville which brought together trade union activists from every corner of the province. The government’s brutal repression politicized the new labour organization and precipitated the adoption of a more militant style of trade union politics favoured by the former QFIU, which had long advocated a social democratic opposition to Duplessis’ Union Nationale government. Despite the best efforts of the FTQ and its affiliates, after seven long months, the miners were defeated. The Murdochville strike, although ultimately unsuccessful, represented a pivotal moment in Quebec labour history because it precipitated a progressive ideological shift in the politics of the FTQ. Like the Asbestos strike before it, Murdochville was a rallying point for progressive forces battling the Duplessis regime in Quebec.

[1] Lipsig Mummé, (1980), 129.
[2] Tremblay (1972), 131.
[3] QFIU, Constitution et Manifeste politique, (Montréal, 1955), 11.
[4] CSN (1987), 161.
[5] Ibid.