The public discussion has continued about the statement “Ethical Reflections on the Economic Crisis” released on January 1 by the Commission for Social Affairs of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. In some communities people have followed up on the suggestion by the bishops to form local reflection and action groups. The Canadian Labour Congress and the New Democratic Party have enthusiastically welcomed the bishops’ statement as a confirmation of the correctness of their own course of action.
During the first week in March the Canadian Labour Congress sponsored a conference billed as “The People’s Response to the Planned Depression.” Some of the 800 delegates were representatives from various church groups, including Bishop Adolphe Proulx, a co-author of “Ethical Reflections.” In an address that received a lengthy standing ovation, Bishop Proulx denounced the Quebec wage legislation and other restraint programs as repressive legislation which could represent the first small step towards the type of repression exercised in Poland. He also predicted that social unrest will increase as a result of mass unemployment, which in turn would likely lead to further restrictions on civil and political liberties and to more repressive labour laws.
A Conspiracy Theory
The Canadian Labour Congress is waging a virulent campaign against all forms of wage restaints, which it perceives as a direct attack on trade union rights. Restraints are denounced as part of a deliberate plan to bring on recession. Said CLC President Dennis McDermott, in a recent Toronto speech: “Never before have we been faced with the incredible spectacle of a government in power establishing, as a public policy, economic programs designed to destabilize the economy, to create unemployment, to force small and medium size enterprise into bankruptcies, to undermine the farming community, to put home ownership beyond the reach of ordinary citizens.” (Canadian Labour, Nov/Dec, 1982, p. 3.)
One of the most strident voices in the union campaign against wage controls comes from the Canadian Union of Public Employees. It has issued a series of statements and advertisements that present an extremely one-sided and self-serving view of our economic difficulties and possible solutions. In February, 1983, CUPE released a special issue of their monthly publication, The Facts, which deals with the causes of the depression and their proposed cure. CUPE claims that the strategy of the provincial and federal governments is to bolster business confidence and stimulate private investment, a solution that when carried to its logical extreme would “abolish unions entirely.”
The Canadian Labour Congress and its affiliated unions, now with the support of the Canadian Bishops’ Commission for Social Affairs, are advocating a continuation of a bankrupt and shortsighted set of policies based on the “us-versus-them” attitude. But what Canada needs now is the very opposite. Required is a radical change in attitudes and then in institutions in order to achieve a more equitable distribution of the nation’s economic fruits—on the basis of a national consensus. Christians must strive to bring about this change while seeking the guidance and wisdom of the Scriptures.
The recent book by A.D. Hutcheon, Rescue: Saving the Canadian Economy (Victoria/Toronto, Press Porcepic, 1982) presents a thought-provoking description of what has gone wrong, especially with regard to how the contest between wages and profits has contributed to our present economic difficulties. More importantly, Hutcheon’s plea for a social consensus and his suggestions as to how a more eguitable division of the economic pie might be institutionalized are promising and provide an extremely valuable basis for public discussion. Although full agreement on every detail is unlikely, this book deserves the most careful attention of all who are looking for fresh ideas and genuine alternatives.