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Labour Code reform might boost Liberal support

December, 2010

He’s at the halfway mark of his third consecutive mandate as premier, and the heat is on Jean Charest. Of course, it comes with the territory, since the buck stops at his desk, but opinion surveys, which are dismal for the (relatively young) 58-year-old politician.

An Angus Reid online poll of 6,000 Canadians, released Dec. 2, gives Charest an approval rating of 14, making him the lowest-rated premier in the country, down 11 in one year. Charest’s refusal to appoint a public inquiry into construction industry corruption and largely unproven suggestions of influence-peddling in the naming of judges have contributed to his low standing.

Normally, it would be a good time to give the opposition a chance, but a Parti Québécois government will inevitably plunge this province into yet another painful and costly existential crisis. A leadership change is also a possibility, but Charest has not decided he must go, and there is time before the next election, expected in two years, for him to turn around his standing.

Brothers Édouard and Jérémie Dussault were among several thousand who demonstrated outside Journal de Montréal offices Dec. 4. Their father, Jérôme Dussault, is a locked-out news editor.

A good way for the Liberals to boost their public support is through reform and policy renewal. And the Parti Québécois has provided the opportunity with its proposal to amend the Quebec Labour Code so such employers as le Journal de Montréal can’t use electronic means to get around the restriction, in a strike or lockout, against using replacement workers.

Granted, this is not a sexy topic. It won’t make headlines in the popular press. But such a move will do a lot to avoid the pain that 253 locked out newsroom and office workers at le Journal de Montréal, pushed out more than 22 months ago by an employer that wanted to gut its operations with one fell swoop. What the Journal, under the ruthless direction of Quebecor boss Pierre Karl Péladeau, did to get around the law was set up a news agency called QMI that feeds stories and photos to managers electronically, without having to cross picket lines.

The courts ruled the restriction applies only to replacement workers at the newpaper’s offices. The replacement workers file stories and photos on the Internet. This loophole points to an urgent need to update the Labour Code so it takes into account the revolution in media since the so-called anti-scab law was passed in 1977 after the bitter strike at United Aircraft in Longueuil.

The Parti Québecois has proposed to amend the Quebec Labour Code so employees like these locked-out Journal workers can’t be replaced by electronic means. Photos: The Senior Times

If the Journal had been constrained from publishing, it would not have made such draconian proposals at the bargaining table that led to a statement. These include getting rid of 80 per cent of its unionized work force, cherry-picking those in editorial it wanted, rather than basing that decision on seniority, demanding the locked-out journalists close down its excellent Rue Frontenac website (, and stopping those who lose their jobs from working for the competition for six months.

Meanwhile, Pierre Karl Péladeau and his brother Erik are listed together as 85th on Canadian Business magazine’s list of the 100 wealthiest Canadians. In Canada and the U.S., an increasingly large share of the national wealth is being concentrated in the hands of the richest one per cent, and the middle class, including the locked out Journal workers, are on the street, their future bleak. We urge the Charest Liberals to make a bold move to the left with an updated Labour Code that will even the playing field for unions and show it is prepared to defend Quebec workers.



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