Peterborough and District Labour Council

Standing up for Working People
In our workplaces and our community

The following is a presentation made by Dean Shewring, president of the Peterborough and District Labour Council to the Select Committee on Ontario in Confederation. The hearings were held at Peterborough City Hall on Wednesday, February 27, 1991. Please click on the link below to see all the presentations made by trade unions and other community organizations before the select committee.

SELECT COMMITTEE ON ONTARIO IN CONFEDERATION

Wednesday 27 February 1991

The committee met at 1541 in the city hall, Peterborough.

The Chair: I call the meeting to order. Good afternoon. My name is Tony Silipo. I am the Chair of the select committee on Ontario in Confederation. I would like to welcome, on behalf of the committee, all of the members of the public who are here with us in Peterborough this afternoon. We are continuing our hearings across the province, to give the people of the province an opportunity to talk to us as a committee of the Legislature of Ontario on their wishes and aspirations for the future of the province and the country, and we appreciate the opportunity to be able to be here in Peterborough this afternoon and this evening.

First of all, I want to apologize for being late in starting, partly due to the committee members being late getting here from Kingston. That is where we were meeting earlier today. As people know, the proceedings are being televised over the parliamentary network, and we had some delays because of technical problems with that. In any event, we are beginning and we will ensure that all of the people who are on our list to speak will get heard. We will extend the time accordingly to make sure that happens.

I want to introduce the members of the committee. This is a committee made up of representatives of the three political parties. From the NDP caucus, in addition to myself we have Gary Wilson, Gilles Bisson, the Vice-Chair -- he will be joining us shortly -- Marilyn Churley, Gary Malkowski, Fred Wilson and David Winninger. From the Liberal caucus we have Charles Beer, who will also be joining us shortly, Yvonne O'Neill and Steven Offer. From the Conservative caucus, Charles Harnick and Chris Stockwell.

It has been a long day and a long week. This is the fourth week of our hearings, so we are getting a little tired. I think it is fair to say that, but we are none the less very interested and will be quite interested in the views of the people in this area of the province.

I think members of the committee have been told that the microphones here are voice-activated. I gather that some of the conversations we were having were being heard in the audience, which is fine. I think this is part of the process as well, but just so people realize that.

PETERBOROUGH AND DISTRICT LABOUR COUNCIL

The Chair: I would like to call the first group to speak to us from the Peterborough and District Labour Council, Dean Shewring. I point out, as indicated on the schedule available to people, that we have allocated 15 minutes for each group presenting, and we would appreciate if within that presentation you would also allow a little time for us to deal with some questions from the committee.

Mr Shewring: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters. My name is Dean Shewring. I am the president of the Peterborough and District Labour Council. I have provided copies of my brief plus a supplement with source material for my presentation.

The Peterborough and District Labour Council, representing 44 affiliated locals with over 5,000 trade union members, has been asked to appear before this committee to present its position on the kind of Canada we would like to see in the future.

I, on behalf of the executive council and delegates to the labour council, would like to thank the members of the select committee on Ontario in Confederation for giving me this opportunity to appear before you to present our views. We do, however, question the value of such an exercise, given the plethora of committees, commissions and fact-finding bodies currently criss-crossing Canada in search of the elusive soul of our country. Will the findings of this committee end up gathering dust on the same shelves as numerous royal commissions and committees of the past?

In any case, at least organized labour is being asked for its opinions. Labour is usually asked what it thinks after decisions have already been made, and then only as a matter of token concern. In spite of our doubts about this process, there is much to be said regarding the future of Canada and we, as representatives of organized labour in Peterborough and area, will endeavour to contribute positively to this debate.

We, as working people, sometimes despair at the games-playing of politicians, who seem to spend much of their time worrying about how they will appear in the history books instead of getting on with the job of governing this country on behalf of its citizens.

Organized labour has watched political parties, largely representing big business, manipulating the economy of Canada in the interests of the wealthy few at the expense of everyone else. The main technique used by these politicians to disguise their activities and to get themselves re-elected is through the promotion of regional tensions across the country. An obvious example of this is the blaming of Newfoundland for the failure of the Meech Lake accord. It was obvious to everyone that it was the single stand by Elijah Harper which killed the accord, but Mr Harper as a villain was not acceptable to the federal Tory government. They had to insist that Premier Clyde Wells and Newfoundland were the ones to blame. That is how it is done in this country: If your region or province fails at something, blame another region for your problems.

The past two federal governments have very successfully mastered this technique. It has been very easy over the years for politicians to use our country's geographic and linguistic differences to divide and conquer Canadians again and again. There is, however, a price to be paid for their success, and that price has been paid through Canada being brought to the point of disintegration.

Canada's economy at the federal level is being restructured by the Mulroney government to fit in with its narrow philosophy of: What's good for General Motors, or Argus Corp or the Canadian Manufacturers' Association, etc, is good for the country. We are told that free trade, contracting out, deregulation and privatization are good for Canada. The benefits of these wonderful new ideas, however, have proven to be very elusive for working Canadians.

Free trade with the US has been a disaster for Canada. Many new jobs were supposed to be created under this deal, but only 148,000 jobs have been created during the period of free trade while we have lost about 226,000 jobs in Canada during this same period. The chance that we can be winners in a new deal with both the US and Mexico is even more ludicrous, given that it is impossible for Canadian workers or businesses to compete with wages as low as $5 a day in Mexico.

The purposes of contracting out, deregulation and privatization are to reduce wage rates, standards of quality and to try to reduce the influence of trade unions, if not to eliminate them entirely. Both unionized and non-unionized workers only make advances when trade unions are strong and able to bargain for good contracts for their members and to lobby good labour legislation for all working Canadians.

The current recession has resulted in the loss of many jobs in the region, which includes the Peterborough area. The unemployment rate is up to 15.2%, according to the most recent figures. The recent massive rise in the cost of living can be directly linked to the introduction of the goods and services tax.

Big business, which can move to any place in this country where it can get the best deal, or can now move out of the country so much easier under free trade, has certainly gained a great deal from virtually every economic incentive introduced by the federal government. You do not hear many complaints from that quarter, except perhaps how Canada's social safety net must be cut to reduce the national debt, the deficit being that wonderful all-purpose excuse to do nothing when something clearly has to be done.

It is our economy which holds us together. It contains all of those activities of work, culture and communications which give us the common framework upon which the country is structured. Public works such as the building of railroads and other forms of mass transportation, social programs such as Medicare and national communications such as the CBC are all part of this framework, and all are under attack by this government. The failure of recent initiatives by the federal government to promote the unity of Canada corresponds with its failure to promote an economic blueprint to contribute to the well-being of working people, the majority of Canadians.

There is no better example to give regarding the current federal government's failure to provide unity to this country than to state the example of what has happened to Canada Post. In January 1986, there were 5,955 rural and urban post offices in Canada. By mid-1990, 22 urban post offices and over 700 rural post offices had been closed. Canada Post plans to shut down its entire network of public post offices -- all 5,221 rural post offices and all 734 city and town post offices -- by 1996. Just as an aside, I should point out that I expect Canada Post to fail at this goal, because it is so incompetent at running the post office that even in dismantling it, it is showing its incompetence.

The rural post offices in this country and many of the urban post offices represent the only -- and we mean the only -- federal presence across much of Canada. When these offices are replaced by privatized postal outlets, there is no obligation to provide the full range of federal government materials or services which most Canadians should expect as a matter of course. It may seem a small point, but privatized postal outlets are under no obligation to fly the Canadian flag. There are no provisions made for other federal government operations to be provided at privatized postal outlets. The presence of the federal government will soon disappear entirely from much of rural Canada. Who is to blame for this state of affairs?

1550

To quote the current president of Canada Post, Donald Lander, the program of privatization is "a government plan." How can you expect a country to remain united when the government itself is in the process of dismantling major areas of its structure which could be used in a positive way to keep Canada together?

There is one other important question which must be asked. What kind of future can Canada possibly have if our foreign policy is seen by most Canadians as being dictated by the government of the United States? Canada built a reputation as a responsible peacemaking power through its efforts in the United Nations. Canada has been very well regarded over the years as a country that could be relied on to make positive attempts to resolve international disputes and, on occasion, to take a different stance from the US on key issues when warranted.

Under the current federal government, Canada is being seen as lap-dog for US interests and, coupled with a toadying domestic economic policy, has brought our nation increasingly into international disrepute. How can we have a successful foreign policy if it is perceived as Brian Mulroney phoning George Bush to find out what it is?

Canada is in for a difficult time over the next few years. Our domestic economy is the key to our future, but it is now in the hands of an incompetent and corrupt federal government. Therefore, the first order of business for organized labour is to employ all means possible to remove this government from office. The Canadian Labour Congress, in conjunction with the provincial federations of labour and the labour councils, is currently implementing a program to achieve that goal.

There will be, for example, a demonstration against the economic policies of the Mulroney government at Queen's Park in Toronto on Saturday 16 March. The Peterborough and District Labour Council will be providing a bus for members from our affiliated locals, which will be leaving that morning from the Canadian General Electric, Monaghan Road parking lot about 8 am. All interested members of the public are invited to join us at this demonstration.

The Canadian Labour Congress, working with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, provided an alternative budget to the one presented by Finance Minister Michael Wilson. This alternative budget called for, among other things, the scrapping of the goods and services tax; a halt to all privatization and deregulation; a restoration of funding to Via Rail, the CBC, and for research and development; a tax increase for corporations and the wealthy; investment in public works, education and the environment; the introduction of a national non-profit child care system; a withdrawal of cuts to federal transfer payments; a lowering of interest rates; and provision of more social and non-profit housing.

In addition, a recent conference on job loss sponsored by the Ontario Federation of Labour has called on the Canadian Labour Congress to organize a one-day work stoppage during 1991 as part of the CLC's fight-back campaign.

These and other measures to be announced in the near future will be used to try to force the current federal government to call an early election. It is important that the Mulroney government be removed from office as soon as possible to prevent it doing further irreparable damage to our Canadian federation.

Canada needs a government with direct involvement and input from the labour movement and workers in general if there is to be any hope of a positive future for Canada. Why? For one thing, Canadian workers cannot easily pack up and leave the country when the economic situation gets rough, unlike certain very mobile big business interests. Workers have a stake in the success of Canada as an independent nation. We cannot expect to attain our goals of peace, security and economic well-being if Canada is not united and secure from sea to sea.

The questions of native land claims, of Quebec's place in Confederation and of our relationships with other governments, both domestic and foreign, could all be satisfactorily dealt with if working people had a more direct voice in government. The events of the last six years demonstrate this very well.

The future of Canada looks rather bleak at the moment, but we have gotten through worse in the past. Through all sections of society working together we can provide a future for our children and grandchildren in a united and prosperous Canada. Thank you.

Mr G. Wilson: As the past president of the Kingston and District Labour Council, I am particularly pleased to welcome you to this forum. You certainly provide a lot of solid data about why the Mulroney government represents such a threat, and I think you would agree that it represents it to all of Canada.

My question concerns the relation between organized labour in Quebec and organized labour in the rest of the country. From your experience, I would like to ask you whether you think the relation is as strong as it could be and, if not, how it could be fostered so that there is more contact, because presumably the policies of the Mulroney government are disastrous for labour in Quebec as well.

Mr Shewring: One good thing about it is the fact that the Canadian Labour Congress is represented in Quebec through the Quebec Federation of Labour, so there is regular contact every two years at the conventions as well as ongoing programs of the CLC which occur. The labour councils, as you should know from direct experience, are directly chartered by the Canadian Labour Congress, so we can get all sorts of information from the labour movement in Quebec and find out more about what is going on. There is at least a major line of communications with labour in Quebec, although, as you also well know, there are other labour confederations in Quebec which are not affiliated with the CLC. But on an ongoing basis, particularly at the CLC conventions, a lot of these questions are dealt with, and hopefully, if the atmosphere gets a little better, then perhaps we can foster a better relationship across the boundaries.

In fact, I recall watching this committee hearing a couple of days ago, and I heard a gentleman, I believe from Quebec, express the position that it would be a good idea to have more ordinary citizens going to and from Quebec to Ontario and obviously other parts of the country as well to try to communicate more directly, because that is one of the major problems we have, the fact that the politicians with their own interests -- their own obvious interests, from my point of view and I think from a lot of people's point of view -- have been mainly involved with the process of the disintegration of Canada. I know it would be a lot better if ordinary citizens, working Canadians, had a chance to talk to each other, and that is an idea perhaps you might consider in your report.

Mr G. Wilson: Could I just have a brief supplement?

The Chair: I am sorry, we are going to carry on.

1600

Mr Harnick: Sir, you made mention of the visibility of the central government, and your reference was the post office.

Mr Shewring: Yes. I work there.

Mr Harnick: That the federal or central government should be visible. We have heard a lot from different people, some who believe that with constitutional amendment the central government should be less visible and should decentralize, the provinces should become stronger, and we have also heard the opposite. In terms of labour's position, does labour believe in a decentralized federal government or does it believe that we should have, after any amendments to the Constitution are made, a stronger federal government?

Mr Shewring: It is difficult for me to speak on behalf of all organized labour on this particular issue, but I know the question of the visibility of the federal government is important, and also the question that the federal government should be living up to its responsibilities. It should not be getting out of everything the way it has been doing.

I do not have information prepared to state exactly what particular areas it should be in or not in, but, for example, national transportation is very important, national communications are very important. If those things are not in the hands of and controlled by the federal government, then we are in real serious trouble. We are in trouble now, but we would be in worse trouble.

But when you think about the ones I mentioned in my brief, communications, transportation, those areas -- and the post office is part of communications -- the flag has to be shown across the country. The way to do it is in those areas where the federal government is responsible, most importantly responsible.

The economic leverage of this country has to be at least shared with the provinces. We understand that the provinces have almost all the economic responsibilities pretty much right now, with the exception of, say, trade and several other areas, but there should be a sharing of those areas where there is a federal government interest.

I know it is hard to explain in that way, but as long as the major segments of transportation and communications are in the hands of the federal government, administered by it and definitely something which it knows it is responsible for and is not going to try to slough off on someone else, then that, I think, is the most important thing.

The Chair: Thank you, Mr Shewring. We have to carry on.