Canada

Canada

THE FIRE BEHIND THE SMOKE

October 20 1975
Canada

Canada

THE FIRE BEHIND THE SMOKE

October 20 1975

Canada

THE FIRE BEHIND THE SMOKE

Bryce Mackasey’s hearing is, literally, only half good: an infection picked up in a Lake Erie swim forced the surgical stripping of his left inner ear. But the ebullient 54-yearold Postmaster General is having no problems hearing the menacing noises emanating from the Canada Post Office. As of October 14, some 22,000 inside workers were in a legal position to strike. They had rejected both a proposed government contract and the suggested settlement by a conciliation board headed by Quebec Superior Court Judge Jean Moisan. Mackasey replied with a threat to close down the post office for up to three months in the event of a strike.

The talk was tough because Mackasey and leaders of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers have been at war for 10 months. The executive, which represents the interests of inside sorters and clerks, spoiled for a fight. Wages are modest and a dawning age of automation threatens membership ranks. Mackasey, on the other hand, was banking on a refusal by the membership to follow their leaders into a long and costly pre-Christmas strike.

Last spring the minister intervened personally in the settlement with the post office’s other main bargaining unit, the 16.000-member Letter Carriers’ Union of Canada. That contract provided a 38% pay increase, the first cost-of-living escalator clause in the public service, and consultation between union and management on the impact of new technology under the aegis of Toronto labor specialist Eric Taylor. Mackasey fought with the money-dispensing Treasury Board to get a richer contract than the letter carriers might have expected. He did so in order to be able to offer parity later to the inside workers, w ho wanted much more money than the rival carriers.

CUPw’s demand from the start was for a 71% pay increase, other benefits and the right to strike when mechanization adversely hits the work place. With other major civil service disputes looming and the government attempting to regulate wages and prices, Mackasey’s aim has been to hold the line with CUPW. Because of public frustration over strikes. Mackasey also saw a settlement with CUPW as the key to peace in the post office, which is viewed widely as a kind of national snail service.

The explosive situation is fueled, in part, by the militancy of Quebec’s labor scene. The de facto strategist for CUPW, although he disclaims it, is Marcel Perreault, boss of the Montreal local. Perreault is an intense and pallid 43-year-old bachelor whose dedication has taken him to the presidency of the Montreal Labor Council and the executive of Louis Laberge’s activist Quebec Federation of Labor.

Although there have been fires of undetermined cause in Toronto and wildcat strikes in the West and Maritimes, Montreal has been the most nettlesome post office in the system; disputes there have featured strong-arm tactics and intimidation by goon squads. Last spring a slowdown produced a backlog of 25 million pieces of mail in Montreal. Mackasey suspended 700 CUPW workers, fired 27 outright and imported 1,000 nonunionists, mostly students, to get the mail moving. The results of Operation Mackasey were predictably riotous, CUPW workers, blowing shrill whistles, encircled the casuals and herded them out of the building. Car tires were slashed, homes were vandalized and. in one case, a worker urinated on his boss.

Perreault also opposed the committee established under Taylor to work both with unions and the post office on the phase-in of automation. As Taylor prepared to call one meeting to order last winter, a gang of men appeared in the corridor. They told Jean Claude Parrot. Ottawabased vice-president of CUPW, that Perreault didn’t want him meeting with Taylor. When Parrot lingered, he was physically dragged away from the meeting.

Mackasey holds Perreault accountable for the violence in Montreal “to the extent that he must know it exists.” Perreault retorts: “He’s a demagogue. Never have our members used force.” As to assertions— and appearances—that he runs CUPW and that union president Joe Davidson is only a figurehead. Perreault declares it’s “a great honor, but it’s not true. Mackasey wants to isolate Montreal and say it’s a small group causing all the problems. It’s idiotic.”

One reason for the CUPW ire is the erosion of purchasing power for workers who are among the most poorly paid in the public service. Unlike employees in private industry, federal law also prevents the postal workers from negotiating changes caused by technology during the life of the contract. The threat of automation is palpable within union ranks. Many old. postwar buildings in the system of 8,600 offices are being consolidated. At a cost of $110 million for machinery alone, (the total capital program is one billion dollars) the post office plans to have 26 fully mechanized, regional postal plants in operation by 1978.

The government has guaranteed there will be no layoffs because of machines. But for the union, the whirring of International Telephone and Telegraph and Nippon Electric coders and sorters sounds decidedly like attrition—thus their campaign to boycott the postal code. Maurice Lavigne, a manual worker at the new, automated plant in Ottawa, observes: “It’s very easy to be efficient but they’re forgetting that we’re human.” Another major irritant is the supervisory staff. Many are authoritarian army veterans who have trouble relating to a younger, better educated breed of worker. They also have trouble expressing themselves. In Calgary one woman was incensed by a written warning that “if your conduct does not improve, I will have to terminate your resignation.” Another worker was told that repeated orders to shape up “proved no detergent.”

CUPW’S demand for an hourly pay increase of $3.26 would raise top pay for most workers from the current $9,500 to around $ 16.000 per year. The government offer was $1.15 extra per hour (or just over $12,000). Judge Moisan suggested that CUPW. in effect, accept the same deal as the letter carriers with some additional sweetening. He recommended an hourly increase of $ 1.70 over 30 months (to around $13,000), a cost-of-living clause, plus extra pay for weekend and night work. On the crucial issue of technological change, the judge pleased the union by suggesting a consultative process leading to binding arbitration in the event of disagreement.

The union flatly rejected the recommendations on pay while the government accepted them. With the two sides apparently hopelessly deadlocked, CUPW called for a strike vote. “Strikes seem to have been effective in the past,” declared CUPW president Joe Davidson. “It’s the only time Treasury Board and the post office negotiate seriously.” Mackasey said the government had made its best and final offer. “If they want $3.26 an hour, they’re going to wait a long time for it. 1 won’t recommend it to cabinet. There are times when a strike has to run its course.” Since Mackasey tried to prepare the public for a strike in his pronouncements, the question was whether the workers would back up their leaders by walking out. ROBERT LEWIS

QUEBEC_

Bungling in the wilderness

“As I’ve already said, our goal is to create 50 national parks by the end of the century,” Jean Chrétien, Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs, declared in 1973.

Jean Chrétien did his darndest. Before he moved to the Treasury Board in a cabinet shuffle he had increased Canada’s national parks from 18 to 28. Parks Canada had grown by only five parks in the 35 years before that. What’s more, it was under Chretien’s stewardship that Quebec first turned over provincial land for federal parks at Forillon on the Gaspé Peninsula and in the Mauricie District, north of Shawinigan. And now Chrétien, minister no longer but still exhibiting what a department official calls “a considerable interest” in Quebec parks, is negotiating from his Treasury Board post for a third park on the banks of the Lower Saguenay River.

But Quebeckers have grown shy of Ottawa’s park plans. First, Quebec nationalists don’t like them because they represent an invasion of the Quebec “nation.” Others have reasons that are more downto-earth. The first two parks were born in a climate of well-orchestrated hype—with pro-park hymns, JE SUIS POUR bumper stickers, and sound-and-light shows—that would have done Madison Avenue proud. Jobs, money, and that cure-all for all economically lagging regions, a tourist boom, were all just around the corner. People liked the idea and pressured the Quebec government to cede the land to Parks Canada. But either Parks Canada, or the local parks support committees it did nothing to contradict, had been telling whoppers. Instead of the 1,000 jobs that were supposed to be created in the wake of the 92-squaremile Forillon project, there are fewer than 200 new full-time jobs in the park and a negligible number in the area. And to make way for the park more than 200 families were forced to leave homes that had in some cases been in their families for generations. Only this month, five years later, has the Quebec government, the expropriating agent for the federal government, come to financial terms with those who lost their properties. (Ironically, some will be invited back as tourist exhibits for a “model village.” They’ll pretend to fish and mend nets—dressed in costumes of 50 years ago-while the tourists look on.)

Mauricie National Park was equally long on promises and almost as short on delivery. In 1969 people there were told the park would bring between 500 and 7,500 jobs (depending on who was doing the talking). Minister Chrétien suggested a million visitors a year would come to the 210-square-mile park and those visitors would bring $24 million with them. It hasn’t happened there either. There weren’t even 100,000 visitors last year, and since work began in 1971 an average of 200 men have found seasonal jobs on the site. Three motels were built outside the park. And now the Saguenay. A Hollywood hack could call the tumbling hills and bluffs along Quebec’s second river “God’s country” and get away with it. Quebec’s Premier Robert Bourassa calls it “one of the loveliest natural sites in the world” and he’s probably right. Lonely, all but untouched by time, even the names of the landmarks—Rivière Eternité and Cap Trinité—speak of some big, exalted destiny. “No doubt about it,” says Gustave Gagné, a postman who lives in a small weathered shingle house on land that would be part of the new park, “it would make a very nice park. All we want before it happens is some solid information—not the stufi'they told them in Forillon and Mauricie.” Gagné says, “When the park support committee comes calling they say only ‘Do you want $20 million? Do you want 300 jobs? Then support the park—pressure the provincial government to turn over the land.’ ”

Gagné and a local committee called “Opération-Survie” are in the minority. More people want the park than not. “Well, what would anyone say when they’re asked if they want $20 million? But nobody’s even asking any questions. Who does the $20 million go to? To us, or the contractors in Chicoutimi? Are all the woodworkers around here still going to be able to cut wood? Will people keep their homes? And those 300 jobs. What is there going to be for 300 men to do full-time? Guard the roads? Will there even be any tourists when the park is open? The price of gas is 90 cents here already. There won’t be many Americans coming if it goes much higher. We can’t get answers. We can’t even get a real public hearing.” (Chrétien once said he was all for public hearings after a park was begun, but not before.)

A Quebec city geographer and former Parks Canada employee named Léonce Naud says there have been seven attempts to start parks since 1968. Besides Forillon, Mauricie and Saguenay, four others—near Sept-Iles, Temiscaming, on the Chaudière River near the Maine border and at Matapedia—have failed, are in limbo or are still in planning stages. “It always happens the same way,” says Naud. “Someone in the area gets a bright idea, then before you can turn around Parks Canada is saying it’s ready and willing to undertake negotiations with the province for the land. There are visits from Parks Canada information people, citizens committees are formed and if things aren’t going too well the big shots come too.” (So far Chrétien, the current minister Judd Buchanan, a deputy minister, and the regional director for Quebec have all shown the flag in the Saguenay.)

Gordon Avent, head of Parks Canada’s legislative division, says since the department hadn’t created any parks for so many years before Chrétien’s arrival "many of our staff didn’t know much about it. But we’re learning as we go along.” Parks Canada director-general J. 1. Nicol says, “Where there is a ‘local movement’ to have a national park we will provide an offiqer to go up and give a slide show, but that’s all.” Will there be more parks? Nicol said there were 39 physiographic regions in Canada and it was the department’s goal to have at least one park in each. “Where there’s no representation we’d like to fill in the blanks.” GLEN ALLEN

BRITISH COLUMBIA___

For the good of all concerned

Premier Dave Barrett gave the olive in his perfect martini a prod and tried to explain himself: “What we did today was like parents talking to adolescents.” In the carefully tailored atmosphere of the Bengal Room in Victoria’s Empress Hotel, the NDP’S paterfamilias was being overly modest. What he had done that morning was pull the plug on his party’s union support by bluntly ordering 60,000 men back to work, something it was thought he could never bring himself to do. At a stroke, Barrett won the heartfelt thanks of beleaguered British Columbians and, in the process, undercut a blood-fevered opposition furious at more than two months of strike turmoil.

His “adolescents,” while resigned to the impact of the bill, were still unruly. They began calling the legislation simplistic and wholesale strikebreaking. The bill, the Collective Bargaining Continuation Act, gave labor and management 48 hours to resume work for a 90-day cooling-off period during which they are to settle their differences in new contracts. It covers four major areas: the disputes that have shut down the forest industry since midsummer; the food industry stalemate that had closed 125 Vancouver-area supermarkets; the Teamsters’ strike cutting off gas supplies to northern Vancouver Island homes; and the rotating walkouts that had crippled BC railway service.

For Barrett and everyone involved it was a hectic week. Despite public utterances, the BC cabinet had been thinking of massive intervention in the disputes for at least two weeks. Lost tax revenue from the forest industry alone was bleeding one million dollars a day from the provincial treasury. With the refusal of two pulp unions to negotiate, Barrett felt he had to act “despite my principles.” He called a secret weekend cabinet meeting and expanded his original bill to include all the major disputes. When a grim Labor Minister Bill King introduced the legislation at a special sitting, reporters watched Social Credit Leader Bill Bennett and his shadow cabinet sag visibly as they realized the bill frustrated their plans for a wholesale attack on the government’s failure to intervene in the disputes.

Around the province, labor leaders reacted like stabbed Caesars. But, in turn, they recommended to their members a return to work. Art Gruntman of the Canadian Paper Workers Union spoke for many unionists: “Today Mr. Barrett and his government ride the crest of a wave of popularity which approaches near hysteria. We have no doubt there is widespread popular support for his simplistic solution.” The BC Federation of Labor indulged in some lastminute posturing by threatening to run labor candidates to oppose every NDP member who supported the bill.

Premier Barrett headed back to his month-long tour of the province, testing popular support for his government, with the knowledge that his intervention in the strikes has given him a strong plank for an election campaign that could come as early as next month. JACQUES HAMILTON

INUVIK_________________

The silenced minority

For politicians supposedly open to all sides of a touchy issue, many of the 17 MPS who went north last week showed themselves to be markedly one-sided. The Commons Committee on Resources was in the Northwest Territories to study firsthand the proposal for a seven-billion-dollar pipeline down the Mackenzie Valley. But by listening only to the yea-sayers. their pipeline study was more a case of tunnel vision. The committee deliberately excluded from its schedule native groups such as the Indian Brotherhood of the Northwest Territories. The native people want their land claims settled before any pipeline is built. The government’s spokesman on the committee, Maurice Foster (Liberal, Algoma), argued weakly that land claims were the business of the Indian Affairs Committee—and besides his committee was too busy. But it was not too busy to listen to pipeline companies, government officials and businessmen who are pushing for the pipeline. The committee also found time to hear a 60-minute tirade against the native groups by the pro-development head of the government’s Northern Research Lab.

Some committee members were annoyed at the lack of attention paid to native groups. Guelph Liberal Frank Maine said: “I just can’t see coming all the way up here without meeting with these people.” NDP member Wally Firth mourned the fact that the trip was the only opportunity native people had to meet the committee. Under pressure, the committee agreed to an informal get-together the last night of the trip. But by then native leaders were tied up elsewhere.

The National Energy Board is preparing to open its lengthy hearing in Ottawa on the natural gas pipeline. Applicants are a consortium of 17 companies—most American-owned—operating as Canadian Arctic Pipeline Ltd., and a breakaway group, Foothills Pipe Lines Ltd., which is arguing for a cheaper all-Canadian project. To some Ottawa observers, the NEB hearing is something of a sham. Support by some Liberal cabinet ministers for the project suggests the government has made up its mind to go ahead. Not so, according to NEB chairman Marshall Crowe. “The board will hold its hearings and might turn down the pipeline or approve one of the two proposals.” IAN URQUHART

ONTARIO______

Doctor in the house

A lively round-faced woman, built roughly along the lines of a pepper pot. Bette Stephenson looks every inch a 51-year-old mother of six. Her matronly appearance, however, belies her national reputation as a tough-minded doctor, outspoken head of the stodgy Canadian Medical Association and, as of early this month, labor minister in the cabinet of Ontario Premier William Davis. A full-time politician for less than a month, she is the first woman in Canada to hold the labor portfolio. Stephenson and new Attorney General Roy McMurtry became overnight stars in the rather pallid firmament of Davis’ post-election cabinet. Along with new Housing Minister John Rhodes, they will play a critical role in keeping alive the Tories’ minority government. the first in 30 years.

Stephenson has a history of setting precedents. In 1954 she became the first female head of the general practice department at Toronto’s Women’s College Hospital. She became the first woman president of the Ontario Medical Association in 1970 and, last year, the head of the CMA. She is an outspoken advocate of liberalized abortion. family planning and easier divorce laws. Earlier this year she called for the resignation of the then Justice Minister Otto Lang for allowing his personal bias to interfere with the laws on abortion. She has condemned labor unions and “flannelmouthed fuddle-duddlers in Ottawa” for failing to provide leadership in fighting inflation and has urged her colleagues in medicine to temper their pay demands. Coincidentally, Ontario doctors are asking 35% to 50% raises and Dr. Stephenson, as a cabinet minister, will have some say on their demands. It’s obvious Dr. Stephenson looks forward to her new job. “I’m sufficiently Irish to enjoy a good battle from time to time.”

McMurtry, 43, is a college football teammate of Davis’ and probably his closest friend. For years, he has been a wellplaced cog in the Big Blue Machine, known for his ability to bring peace to warring factions of the party. He comes to a decidedly right-wing cabinet with the reputation of being a pink Tory because of his civil libertarian activities and ratepayer opposition to developers. McMurtry admits he would have liked some time to collect his thoughts before being named to the cabinet but adds: “I’ve already learned it’s in politics more than in law that you expect the unexpected.” CLAIRE HOY