Creating Discussion Forums and A New Dynamic

Richard Goyette —

On a political level, day-to-day experience shows us that the division of power between the executive, legislative and judicial branches no longer exists in the same way. Today, the legislative branch, be it the National Assembly of Quebec or the House of Commons in Ottawa, has lost its power.

It is erroneous to think that we are governed by elected members. Everything goes through the executive, whose main representative is the premier or the prime minister, who we have not chosen. It is the party in power which « crowns » him, just as it was during the time when the families of the nobility appointed the « prince. » And just like at that time, the prince appointed « his privy council » known today as the « cabinet. » The proof of this is that he can dismiss them, displace them or appoint others as he sees fit, without any consultation with the people.

No substantive debate takes place in the National Assembly. The executive decides everything. The minister responsible presents a bill before the legislature or parliament and the elected members representing the majority then vote on its adoption along party lines. Subsequently, without any real debate or transparency and behind closed doors, the cabinet then adopts the regulations for its implementation. For example, the Act respecting industrial accidents and occupational diseases contains 39 regulations and the Act respecting labour relations, vocational training and workforce management in the construction industry contains 31.

Political parties are so fond of their popularity and maintaining their image as representatives of the status quo that they do not want to associate with any group that asks questions or makes demands, even if they are justified. The process is becoming more and more flawed and this is happening on a larger and larger scale.

In fact, there is no government. There are two big poles in control: money, and an entire apparatus in place that keeps money flowing and ordinary people dispossessed.

Take, for example, the parliamentary committee on Bill 152 on construction, An Act to amend various labour-related legislative provisions mainly to give effect to certain Charbonneau Commission recommendations. That bill, which has now been passed, further intensifies the criminalization of construction workers fighting for their rights. During committee proceedings, we found ourselves dealing with a labour minister tabling amendments having to ask her ministry’s lawyer about the meaning of her bill. It was the government employee who responded.

The need is to organize workers’ and public forums where participants can bring forward their knowledge of various subjects. Forums that permit a real follow-up of things and that are not mired in petty politics. We need to create networks through which we can learn about the problems experienced by others, create lines of communication, exchange between groups, fight in defence of one another — rail workers, steelworkers, health care workers, students and others. Then we can see how to move to the stage of mobilization, what we can do together, first the groups directly involved, then expand that mobilization.

We must seek to create a dynamic other than the current one of state repression and social division. Popular and social education must be carried out, as well as about the unions. We must know our history — that nothing has been given to us, that everything has been acquired by fighting. We must find a sense of community and forums for discussion where people present their opinions and exchange with others.

Richard Goyette is a social and labour law lawyer and former Director General of FTQ-Construction.