CCA’s distinctive 1967 Canadian centennial project

Canada’s 150th anniversary in 2017 was marked by many special events but its 100th anniversary was a much bigger celebration. Many of the special commemorative projects were construction projects, e.g. Expo 67 in Montreal and the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, but the Canadian Construction Association (CCA) chose a distinctively different project.

The CCA Labour Relations Committee proposed to the CCA Management Committee that the association address the industry’s prime problem: labour relations. All too often construction projects were subjected to a series of work stoppages as trade after trade engaged in contract negotiations. Whipsawing was also practiced across the country. There had to be a better arrangement!

They proposed that a comprehensive Construction Labour Relations Inquiry conducted by the best advisers available. The involvement of organized labour was deemed essential. A substantial budget was indicated. After hearing a detailed presentation, the management committee gave its approval and the CCA’s Canadian Centennial Project was launched.

H. Carl Goldenberg, OBE, QC, LL.D, a widely-acknowledged industrial relations authority, agreed to head up the inquiry. Next, Dr. John Crispo, Director, Centre of Industrial Relations at the University of Toronto, was appointed as its director. In due course, consultants were engaged to conduct a total of 13 studies. These ranged from manpower and training requirements to the structure and performance of collective bargaining systems; from legislated and negotiated benefits to jurisdictional disputes; and from the impact of technological changes to labour relations and labour standards legislation.

The acceptance rate of the consultants was typically immediate. In addition to their fee, they were promised a free hand in their work, the translation of their report in Canada’s other official language, and publication in two hard-cover books. Guidance would be given by a steering committee comprised of not only senior management representatives from across Canada, but also the heads of all construction trades unions.

The project was completed at a total cost of $129,000. According to the Bank of Canada’s Inflation Calculator, $129,000 in 1967 dollars is the equivalent of approximately $956,000 today. The English version of the report ran to 670 pages. Both books were widely distributed. Perhaps the most important recommendation from the inquiry was that construction employer groups be “accredited” for collective bargaining – analogous to the certification of labour unions for this purpose. This led to a better balance in negotiations and to industry-wide collective agreements in most provinces. As a consequence, the impact of a strike or lockout had much greater implications than a work stoppage affecting just one trade in one centre and was conducive to more responsible negotiations.

Today the impact of the inquiry may be seen in the existence of the National Construction Labour Relations Alliance and the operations of its member provincial Construction Labour Relations Associations across Canada. Historically, prior to the non-union movement in the early to mid-1990s, the CCA played a leading role with respect to representations on the Federal Labour Code and Unemployment Insurance legislation; monitoring the Federal Fair Wages and Hours of Labour schedules; gathering information of benefit to labour negotiating committees; participating in national joint committees formed by the federal Department of Labour; providing management representatives on the Canadian delegations to International Labour Organization conferences; and hosting Annual Construction Labour Relations Conferences. The CCA Construction Labour Relations Inquiry, however, constituted an outstanding unique and valuable initiative with long-term benefits.