OCTOBER 15, 1975
Law and Order in the Labour Movement
AN ADDRESS BY M. Brian Mulroney, Esq.,
OGILVY, COPE, PORTEOUS, HANSARD, MARLER,
BARRISTERS AND SOLICITORS, MONTREAL
CHAIRMAN The President,
H. Allan Leal, Q.C.
Mr. Mulroney, Mr. Attorney, ladies and gentlemen: Our welcome visitor and distinguished speaker today is no stereotype. First of all, he is an Irishman. It is one thing to put an Irishman in a nutshell, but quite a different thing to keep him there. It is said of your ancestors, Mr. Mulroney, that the English never solved the Irish problem. The moment they thought they had it solved, the Irish changed the problem. He is a Roman Catholic, a Progressive Conservative, a native son of Quebec fluent in the now official language of that Province, and a lawyer, with a well established and enviable reputation, practising in Montreal with one of Canada's leading law firms. While all this may not make him unique, it does confirm the word that is abroad that Mr. Mulroney is very much his own man.
He was born in Baie Comeau, took his early education in the local schools, subsequently was graduated with an honours degree from St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, and later acquired his law degree from Laval University, Quebec City, and was admitted to the Bar of Quebec.
Our guest has been active in political life, having served in senior positions in his party and for a time as Executive Assistant to the federal Minister of Agriculture. I note in one of the morning papers that he is the latest entry in the Progressive Conservative leadership race. For myself, I thought that Mr. Stanfield, from his present vantage point, was doing a commendable job of formulating government policy and running the country, but apparently he has asked to be relieved of these burdens. My information is that Mr. Mulroney is not politically ambitious, but presumably he would welcome an opportunity to serve. Some of you may have a part to play in providing him with that opportunity.
During his professional career, our guest has specialized in labour law and in March, 1974 he was appointed by the Government of Quebec to act as one of three Commissioners in the so-called Cliche Royal Commission inquiry into violence in the construction industry. It would be comforting to be able to assert that these matters are not relevant in Ontario. It would also be inaccurate. We are no longer to be counted among the innocents.
It is a privilege then to invite Mr. Martin Brian Mulroney to address us on the arresting topic, "Law and Order in the Labour Movement".
On March 21st, 1974, a gentleman called Yvon Duhamel boarded a D-8 bulldozer and drove it willfully and unerringly into the electric generators at James Bay. Within moments, he had secured for himself an inglorious footnote in Quebec history: his deliberate and criminal action resulted in the evacuation of the largest construction job site in the history of Quebec, the paralysis of Premier Bourassa's "project of the century" and direct costs to the consumers of Quebec of 35 million dollars. For his dubious role in this bizarre event Mr. Duhamel got ten years in a federal penitentiary.
This was symptomatic of a decade of excess everywhere. American politicians were in constant danger of being shot in the streets. Business executives were being kidnapped and held to ransom. Fratricidal wars were waged, in the name of religion.
We had our own serious problems in Canada. Five years ago this month, a diplomat was abducted and a Cabinet Minister slain, to mention but the most tragic of our collective misfortunes.
In the mid-sixties, the quiet revolution had paused for breath. There was no relationship of cause and effect, but by that time certain things had become unfashionable. It was unfashionable for example to proclaim any belief in the federal concept of government; it was unfashionable to acknowledge any possible benefits from our free enterprise system because no venture was considered of value unless big Government was involved; it was unfashionable to stand firm on any moral issue because, in the minds of many, anticlericalism and its attendant social postures was the wave of the future; and, most of all, it was unfashionable to contemplate anything but a totally unionized society because, we were told, politicized trade unionism was to be our collective salvation.
I remember well the alacrity with which part of the Quebec media responded to these challenges: each night brought Louis Laberge, or Marcel Pepin, or Yvon Charbonneau in living colour on the National News with their three minute homilies. These invariably involved vitriolic denunciations of elected governments, business, social standards, each other, and anything else that happened to be lying around that day. There have been few recorded cases in Canada involving such remarkable--and misplaced--glorification of individuals.
I believe strongly in the value of vigorous trade unionism. The benefits of this kind of collective action are there for all to see. But trade unions and management associations are precisely what they are called. Political parties and elected governments are quite another thing.
If we live in a democratic country, all of us must accept the majesty--and the weaknesses--of the concept. It seems to me that there can be no- compromise however where the supremacy of Parliament is involved.
In Quebec, as elsewhere, we try to follow the basic rules of the game. During the mid-sixties, however, thoughtful observers began asking whether the duly elected government or highly vocal pressure groups were exercising real and effective power. In the United Kingdom, the question is straightforward: can the Government now enact legislation without the prior approval of the Trades Union Congress? And the answer seems to be in the negative. Little wonder that, having passively accepted, such a degree of erosion of the supremacy of Parliament, the British Government today should be so hard pressed to explain its own inadequacies.
But we were not to be outdone by the British. On March 24, 1971, a Parliamentary Commission of the Quebec National Assembly was in the process of analyzing a piece of legislation. Led by Andre Desjardins, the Director of the Quebec Federation of Labour construction wing, thirty strong arm men invaded our Parliament, disrupted proceedings, intimidated MP's, assaulted other trade unionists, damaged four automobiles, left Quebec City and laughed all the way home. No charges were ever laid, even though the witnesses indeed, the victims--were our duly elected members of Parliament, to say nothing of the institution itself.
Little wonder then that Yvon Duhamel decided to destroy James Bay. He never expected to be penalized for his actions--after all, if one can assault the Quebec National Assembly with impunity, what's wrong with a little friendly violence on a construction site?
Such was the legacy of a decade of permissiveness, governmental inaction and neglect in Quebec, particularly in the construction industry.
In large part, this was the reason for the creation of the Cliche Royal Commission, sworn in on May 3, 1974. Generally speaking, its mandate was to analyze the conduct of all those associated directly or indirectly with the construction industry to ensure that in the future basic union freedoms would be maintained.
This was not an unchallenging task inasmuch as the construction industry is, by far, the single most important in Quebec--the six billion dollars expended annually in this field, the 150,000 people it employs, the multiplier effect it has on all sectors of economic growth, testify eloquently to its vitality.
By way of comparison, the Ontario construction program this year is valued at nine billion dollars and will provide over 240,000 man-years of on-site employment. Its importance to everyone in this room is self-evident. The Commission held public hearings for 80 days during which time 279 witnesses were heard, from all walks of life. During the course of these hearings, almost a thousand exhibits were filed and analyzed by the Commission. It was as a result of the evidence adduced in public that the existence of an organized system of corruption became apparent. This system which had the effect of seriously diminishing individual freedom in trade unions was certainly not easy to unearth or define for a number of reasons, chief among which was the fact that the main protagonists were, when called upon to testify, suddenly afflicted with a very severe case of selective amnesia. In some instances, this contagious illness causes deafness--witnesses who could not recall previously corroborated testimony; in other cases, it induced blindness--witnesses who could not see acts of violence and criminality committed before their very eyes.
But anyone who had eyes to see and ears to hear now knows full well that the system of unfettered corruption and violence which existed in the construction industry in Quebec was entirely without parallel in the history of labour relations in Canada. Other jurisdictions, such as; Ontario, made strenuous efforts to lay claim to this dubious honour but the Commissioners felt that, on the merits of the case, the award really should go to Quebec.
But lest anyone here feel that it was a walk-away for Quebec, I would strongly recommend a close reading of the Waisberg Royal Commission Report into construction violence in Ontario released last year. Having done so, I think you will understand why we hesitated greatly before giving this questionable award to Quebec.
Some time ago, the Justice Department, concerned about the rising wave of violence in the construction industry, initiated a series of police operations to ascertain precisely what was going on and what could be done about it. In the course of this initiative, known as "Operation Raymond", a substantial number of telephone conversations were wire tapped by the appropriate police officers and within the framework of the law. These conversations and all of the information accumulated by the various police forces were made available to us. It must be said that, at the outset, we were reluctant to use these telephone conversations because of our concern about the civil liberties of people who might be called to testify before us. Faced, however, with a growing mountain of mendacity and a series of witnesses whose proclivity for deceit was no less monumental, the Commission had no choice but to confront the perjurers with the clear evidence of their crimes.
At the conclusion of Phase 2 of the inquiry, our Chairman Judge Cliche issued a statement in which he said in part: "La Commission a, par son enquete publique, fait la preuve concrete de l'existence de maladies graves affectant l'industrie quebecoise de la construction. Les symptomes de ces maladies se manifestent sous forme d'actions inadmissibles et de pratiques deloyales qui ont eu libre cours dans le cadre meme de l'application du regime des relations du travail avec une efficacite telle qu'elles se sont imposees aux parties concernees comme partie integrante de ce meme regime. C'est ainsi que la Commission a mis a jour des actions illegales et des pratiques deloyales qui ont pris des formes variees, tant de la part du syndicat, du patronat que du gouvernement."
Clearly, the most spectacular dimension of our hearings related to the foregoing. It became obvious, as we dug deeper, that a relatively small group of men had succeeded, at least in part, in erecting a new set-of social standards in Quebec.
The hallmarks of this new era were lawlessness and violence. Illegality was the key to success. Union monopoly of strategic services and industries was to be the end result. In quest of this domination, the laws that apply to you and me were breached regularly, enthusiastically and with impunity. The word "anarchy" is not too strong a term to describe accurately the Quebec construction industry these last few years.
No industry is so important and no group of men is so powerful as to be permitted to impose its own base and scurrilous set of standards upon an entire province. Any such attempt, from whatever quarter, must be resisted with every energy because our collective, social and moral standards, with all their imperfections, are those by which we live our lives and by which we consent to be governed.
That is why the Commission set out in blunt and uncompromising language its assessment of a brutal, indeed, a criminal system, and of those people responsible for its existence. We believed then, and we believe now, that this assault on the basic values of our society must be repulsed, and its legacy excised, lest it spread to other fields of economic activity in Quebec.
How did we get ourselves into this jackpot anyway? I'm sure that sometime in the future an appropriate explanation will be given by some thoughtful academic. My own view however is quite simple:
1. Politicization of trade unions
2. Non-enforcement of the law
In the early 1960's, when asked about his Government's attitude regarding collective bargaining in the public service, Premier Lesage replied: "La Reine ne negocie pas avec ses sujets--The Queen does not negotiate with her subjects." How delightfully quaint that statement sounds now! Not only does the Queen negotiate with her subjects today, she often is required to do so in an atmosphere of hostility and rancour which would make even the most bitter political opponents in Canada look like a bunch of choir boys.
In 1971, Bill 46 set out the bargaining structure in the health and education sectors and provided for Government participation on the management team as well as province-wide bargaining in these areas. By insisting upon a general salary policy for the entire public sector and a common bargaining posture regarding hospitals and schools, the Government, unwittingly, I suspect, forced the unions into a common front for collective bargaining purposes. This new grouping, representing some 250,000 people, shortly became a political instrument of unquestioned strength. Because they were on opposite sides of the table on bread and butter matters, they quickly took opposite sides of the fence on political issues. The Government soon found itself with an official opposition, in everything except elected status.
The bitterness quickly accelerated. Defiance of a court injunction in 1972 sent Messrs. Laberge, Pepin and Charbonneau to jail. The La Presse strike was used as a symbol of worker oppression. The unions threw themselves into an aggressive campaign against the Government in the 1973 election. Positions, and people, became irreconcilable.
In this two-way fight there were two quasi-winners: the Government and the Union establishment. There were two sure losers, the public and the worker--the forgotten guy who pays his dues, pays his taxes, respects the law and does an honest day's work. He became the tragedy of politicization: his interests were subordinated to the political aspirations of the leadership. Equally tragic is the fact that when his leaders now present legitimate demands on his behalf, they are perceived by the Government as self-serving incursions of political adversaries and are dealt with as such.
Good laws are of little value unless they are enforced. Non-enforcement is an insidious thing because it breeds a gentle but progressive suspicion in the minds of the governed that a statute need not apply to all, that exceptions can be made, that demonstrations can supplant debate, that Parliament is in fact somewhat less than supreme.
This is not to say that, in drafting legislation, Government should ignore voices of reason from any quarter. Only an exceptionally foolish and vain group of men and women would do that. But when our duly elected parliaments have spoken, be it in Ottawa, Queen's Park or Quebec City, there can be no turning back, no exceptions and, in the face of resistance, no compromise.
I realize that politics is still the art of possible, that our society is highly complex and that running a government is not an easy thing. But in regard to Parliament itself, its members are merely custodians of its supremacy. Anything that diminishes its magnificence, impairs its effectiveness or erodes its authority is a grievous act.
As Commissioners, we were dismayed to hear a Minister of the Crown, in sworn testimony before us, say that he was "powerless" to enforce legislation. And we were shocked to hear a Deputy Minister say that "when the unions have a gun to your head, what do you do? You cave in."
And cave in they did on a regular, ongoing basis. Small wonder that growing members of Quebecers began to decide for themselves what laws they would obey, and what laws they wouldn't. Unless this trend is firmly arrested, one day we, as Canadians, shall all pay a heavy price for our indifference.
If I have concentrated upon the Quebec situation this afternoon, it is merely because I am more familiar with it. But only a naive man could fail to notice that the same phenomenon is gaining popularity and credence elsewhere, in the federal sector and here in Ontario, for example.
In the federal sector alone, since public service bargaining began, there have been about thirty unlawful work stoppages. A vital question in Canada today is what has happened to blur the distinction in workers' minds between "legal" and "illegal" strikes? What causes a postal union leader to say, "to hell with the public"? What causes longshoremen to hold a meeting to decide if they will obey federal legislation, and then decide they won't?
The answer, I believe, is neither "in our stars" nor in "the universe unfolding as it should". The answer is in our leadership.
As responsible citizens of Canada, we too must start asking ourselves some blunt questions at this juncture in our nation's history. Where are we going? Who is in charge? In the astonishingly revealing phrase of no less a person than the Governor of the Bank of Canada to the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Saskatoon, "one wonders what is going on here"!
In a remarkable speech on October 6, former Auditor General Maxwell Henderson told the Montreal Canadian Club that: "Irresponsible hands on the Ottawa purse-strings are feeding inflation, sapping the initiative of youth and leading to higher taxes and prices which strip the young Canadian of buying and investment power."
Mr. Henderson described Canada "as one of the most grossly over-governed countries in the world, with duplicated bureaucracies and a civil service force of 450,000 that keeps growing . . . where salary levels and fringe benefits are comparable or often greater than in the private sector."
From Paris comes the OECD report showing that Canada leads the entire non-Communist industrial world in benefits to the non-employee. At the same time, the OECD reports that Canada lost more man-hours per capita to labour disputes than any other industrialized nation except Italy. And while Richardson Securities reports that the purchasing power of the 1961 dollar is now 55 1/2 cents, a University of Toronto professor tells the Sixth Muskoka Conference that the "average Canadian chooses materialistic fulfillment and enjoyment more than anywhere else".
Leadership--that indeed is the question today. If we are led by people who accept sacrifice themselves before inflicting hardship on others; who practice the virtues of thrift, compassion and humility before exacting them from us; who respect Parliament and its institutions before castigating those who have walked the slippery road of defiance; who tell us the truth even when they think we don't want to hear it--if we have that kind of leadership, and have it we must, Canada may yet fulfill that most splendid promise of her youth.
Our distinguished visitor and speaker was thanked by Mr. Graham M. Gore, a Past President of The Empire Club of Canada.