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A Case for National Consultation

March 1, 1985 -

In National Consultation: Problems and Prospects (1984), a study published by the C.D. Howe Institute, Professor John Crispo of the University of Toronto observes that Canada's poor economic situation has been aggravated by the fact that "Canada is renowned for its adversarial and confrontational relations." Crispo elaborates, "The shortsightedness that characterizes a good deal of col1ective bargaining in Canada also afflicts many other intergroup relations in this highly pluralistic society. Whether it is in labor-management relations, in their respective relations with government, in federal-provincial relations, or in any other kind of relations, all manner of groups in Canada tend to behave unrealistically."

In order to achieve a more realistic perspective, Crispo writes, we need a forum "where the major interest groups can come together with the objective of trying to improve Canada's economic performance." According to Crispo, the recently formed Canadian Labour Market and Productivity Centre may be able to provide such a forum. He admits that the Canadian experience with consultation over the past decade has not been impressive, but believes that now is the time to make a fresh attempt at establishing a cooperative attitude among labour, business and government. Crispo warns the Centre to avoid overly optimistic expectations, and recommends that its initial focus be on specific problems rather than on large objectives.

Labour's biggest challenge in such a national consultative effort is "to bend its essentially adversarial role in the collective bargaining and political systems enouqh to work with management and government in those areas where there is some hope of a common approach." Similarly, Crispo believes that management must show more of a willingness to accept labour as a legitimate partner, also at the firm and industry 1eve1s.

The key objective for this labour-management consultative forum, writes Crispo, should be "to cope more effectively with industrial adjustment in order to meet challenges from international competitors." And at the very least, the forum can provide an opportunity for the major interest groups "to develop a common understanding of the dimensions of Canada's economic problems and prospects. Perhaps then they could begin to share some perceptions about what Canada's priorities should be. Eventually . . . these groups might even be able to come to grips with some of the interrelated issues of inflation, incomes policies, and income distribution."