FEDERAL JURISDICTION OVER LABOUR RELATIONS
– A NEW LOOK*
F. R. Scott**
Just thirty-five years ago the case of Toronto Electric Commissioners v.
Snider was before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. A dispute
had arisen between the Toronto Electric Commission –
a body operating the
light, heat and power system of Toronto –
and its employees, at whose request
a federal Conciliation Board was set up. The Commission took a writ of
injunction against the Board, contending that it had no authority to deal with
the dispute because the Parliament of Canada had exceeded its jurisdiction in
enacting the Industrial Disputes Investigation Act under which the Board was
established. In the result, their Lordships held that this Act (hereafter called
the IDI Act) was beyond the powers of the Federal Parliament. The decision
overruled previous decisions of the Court of Review of Quebec2 and the
Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of Ontario;3 in other words, the
five Law Lords (or a mere majority of them –
this cannot be known)
disagreed with the opinion of the Parliament of Canada, presumably acting
upon advice from the Department of Justice, and with two appellate courts
in Canada’s most industrialised provinces. The judgment, rendered by Lord
Haldane, marked the extreme point in that jurist’s career as a special inter-
preter of the Canadian Constitution, which is tantamount to saying it marked
a low point in the judicial definition of federal authority. On two points of
*This article is based upon an address delivered by Professor F. R. Scott to the
l1th Annual Conference of the Industrial Relations Centre of McGill University,
September 10th and 11th, 1959 and published in the proceedings of the Conference.
**Macdonald Professor of Law, McGill University.
1See  A.C. 396.
2Montreal St. Rly. v. Board of Conciliation and Investigation, (1913), 44 S.C.
(Que.) 350. Text is also in « Judicial Proceedings respecting Constitutional Validity
of the Industrial Disputes Investigation Act », Dept. of Labour, Ottawa, 1925, pp. 255 ff.
3Toronto Electric Commissioners v. Snider, 55 O.L.R. 454.
McGILL LAW JOURNAL
[ Vol. 6
the « emergency » doctrine –
constitutional law enunciated in that judgment –
one affecting the trade and
commerce clause, the other the criminal law –
Lord Haldane has already
been overruled by the Privy Council itself, 4 and on another of his leading
his views have been badly shaken.5
But his decision still stands on the central matter at issue, which was the
extent of federal authority over the subject of industrial disputes. In consequence,
the present Industrial Relations and Disputes Investigation Act which replaces
the old Act held ultra vires in the Snider case is so limited in application
that it covers only about 10%o of the Canadian labour force amenable to dispute
settlement procedures. Ten provinces now have the major responsibility for
legislation in a field which grows daily more important from the national
point of view, and in which the cenfralisation of the decision-making power
on both the management and labour sides has proceeded rapidly.
It is proposed in this paper to take a new and common-sense ‘look at this
situation in the light of the present realities of industrial and
development. The question is not the fairness or utility of any provisions in
the present laws dealing with industrial disputes, but rather the distribution
of legislative powers in this field, and the effects of that distribution upon
the processes of collective bargaining. It is the old problem of the relationship
a country to allow its constitutional
law to disregard or get out of line
with the facts. If the disparity grows too great, something must give, and usually
it will be the constitution. If the constitution holds, as it may for a time,
then social relations can be distorted and wise policies frustrated. Unless a
federal system of government adapts itself to changing, social conditions by
amendment or new judicial interpretation, it creates confusion, slows progress
and contributes to social tensions. The purpose of state intervention in labour
relations is to relieve tensions.
law and social fact. It is always dangerous
To place the problem in perspective, it is necessary to glance back at the
evolution of Canadian law concerning labour relations. The provinces were
the first to deal with industrial disputes, Ontario’s legislation of 1873 leading
the way. Since this Act was restricted to disputes not involving wages (these
were then thought to be outside the legitimate sphere of state action) it remained
a dead letter and was later repealed. Other Ontario statutes followed, of
which the Ontario Railway and Municipal Board Act of 1906 is perhaps the
40n Haldane’s special views on tradea bd commerce, see what was said by Lord
Atkin in Proprietary Articles Trade Association v. A. G. for Canada,  A.C. 310
at p. 326; and on his view of criminal law as confined to acts which by their very
nature belong to the domain of « criminal jurisprudence », see ibid. at p. 324.
tBy Lord Simon in Canada Temperance Federation case,  A.C. 193.
most important. Margaret Mackintosh6 says that from 1907 to March, 1923,
during which time the federal IDI Act was operative, there were 51 applications
to the Ontario Department of Labour for the appointment of Boards of concilia-
tion and investigation in connection with disputes between electric railw.ays in
Ontario and their employees. We have thus had experience in Canada of over-
lapping jurisdictions in labour disputes, the parties having
the option of
provincial or federal Boards. In Nova Scotia, British Columbia and Quebec
there were statutes providing for conciliation and arbitration before the federal
government assumed its wider jurisdiction
in 1907, but they were either
abortive, as in the case of British Columbia, or of minor importance.
Federal legislation affecting trade unions dates from the Trade Union
Act of 1872, but we may say that federal concern with the law of industrial
disputes begins with the appointment of the Royal Commission on the Relations
of Labor and Capital in Canada in 1886. This Commission’s report, submitted
in 1889, after reviewing some startling evidence on working conditions
Canada, recommended the establishment of local boards of conciliation in all
the large centres of trade, combined with a permanent central board. Under
certain conditions an appeal would lie from -the local to -the central board
whose decision would be final and binding. Thus as early as 1889 it was
assumed that the federal government had a role to play, though the Com-
missioners cautiously observed that they could not « venture to determine
where, in legislation affecting labour and capital, the authority of the Dominion
Parliament ends and that of the provincial legislatures begins. » No legislation
followed this Report until the federal ,Conciliation Act of 1900 which applied
to any industrial dispute, though it contained no compulsory features. The
Railway Labour Disputes Act of 1903 also applied to all railways, not only
to federal lines.
Then came the Industrial Disputes Investigation Act of 1907. This was
called « An Act to aid
in the Prevention and Settlement of Strikes and
Lockouts in Mines and Industries connected with Public Utilities »; the
distinction between industries affecting the public interest and convenience,
and other industry, was crucial in the Act. It covered all mines in the country
(it was passed after a strike among the coal miners of Alberta) and all
agencies of transportation and communication, as well as public service utilities.
This was a broad, but still limited, coverage; however, by section 63, it was
possible for the parties to any dispute whatever, in any business or trade,
to agree to refer the matter to a federal board, whereupon the provisions
of the Act applied. Thus all industries in Canada in which there was an
6″Government Intervention in Labour Disputes
in Canada », reprinted
in Dept. of
Labour, « Judicial Proceedings… etc. », supra note 2, at p. 291. A thorough survey of
in W. S. Martin, « A Study
of Legislation Designed to Foster Industrial Peace in the Common Law Jurisdictions
of Canada », unpublished doctoral thesis at Univ. of Toronto, 1954.
in labour disputes will be found
McGILL LAW JOURNAL
[ Vol. 6
element of wide public interest were compulsorily covered, and all the rest
voluntarily covered. Of the 619 applications for Boards received between March
1907 and March 1924, 120 were for disputes not falling clearly within the
direct scope of the Act.7 Canada had grown accustomed, till the Snider case
to the use of what we would now call national labour boards.
Even after the Snider decision, with the consent of the parties, federal boards
were quite often appointed.
It was unfortunate that the Snider case arose out of a dispute between
a municipal body and its employees, for even before the Privy Council decision
doubts had arisen about federal jurisdiction -in this particular area in view
of the provinces’ jurisdiction over municipalities. The IDI Act was often used
in municipal street railway disputes, but in its later years the federal Minister
of Labour adopted the practice of appointing federal boards only in the absence
of a protest by the municipality on the ground of jurisdiction.8 One wonders
whether the IDI Act might not have been upheld had the dispute which gave
rise to the litigation occurred in, say, the coal mining industry on which, at that
time, so many industries in so many provinces depended, and which had given
rise to the Act in the first place. Certainly the national aspect of labour
relations would have been more apparent, though it may be doubted whether
this would have been enough
the current of Lord Haldane’s
Few contrasts are more striking in our constitutional law than that between
the judicial reasoning about the IDI Act which prevailed in the Canadian
courts and that adopted in the Privy Council. When the question came before
the Quebec courts
issued a writ of
Prohibition against a federal Board appointed to investigate a dispute between
The Montreal Street Rly. Co. and its employees, though he expressed the
view that the claim of unconstitutionality was invalid. 9 Mr. Justice Lafontaine
delivered the Superior Court judgment upholding the Act. The following
passage indicates his approach to the problem :10
in 1912 Mr. Justice Charbonneau
Whereas, the Industrial Disputes Investigation Act, 1907, has for
and ostensible aim the prevention of strikes, which are one of the manifestations,
often troubling and irritating, and causing disorder from one end of the country
to the other, of a social and economic condition existing throughout the Dominion,
to wit: labour and capital; this condition, by its nature, effects and various and
multiform manifestations, considerably surpasses
the judicial nature and effects
of relations between employers and employees resulting from the contract for the
hire of labour; this economic and social condition extends beyond the limits of any
locality and province and extends indeed throughout the whole country, and is
consequently of a general character, and not of a purely local and private character
in the province. (Translation)
There we see surely a common-sense, realistic attitude, based on an appreciation
of the social facts which gave rise to the legislation being attacked. On this
7Ibid., at p. 281.
BReport of Deputy Minister of Labour, 1919, quoted
op. cit., supra note 6, at pp. 300-1.
9Ibid., at p. 255.
10(1913), 44 S.C. 350, at pp. 351-2.
in Margaret Mackintosh,
point Mr. Justice Lafontaine was upheld by the Court of Review consisting of
Justices Tellier, De Lorimier and Greenshields.
A similar realism pervades the judgments of Mowat J. in the Supreme
Court of Ontario, and of Ferguson J.A. in the Appellate Division of that
Court. Mowat J. said, for exampie:n
legislation such as
to me that « labour »
the Industrial Disputes
is important that a close touch
Investigation Act is one of national concern. It
should be kept of the movements and variations of industrial strife and that this
can best be done, as such strife existed in 1907 and until the present time by the
Federal Government. A general strike in Winnipeg in 1919 was only brought to an
end through the voluntary efforts of the non-industrial citizens to break it, and to
prevent the misery and underfeeding of children which seemed likely to ensue.
All important labour unions in Canada were sympathetically affected by it from
ocean to ocean, and if it had spread, as at one time feared, ruinous conditions
would have ensued to trade and stable industry. In such a case provincial lines are
obliterated and the provinces, not having the means of free and instant communica-
tion with each other, or for concert, could ill avert dominion-wide trouble. The
simple local strikes, which alone could have been in contemplation of the Fathers
in 1864 and 1867, have given place to those of brotherhoods composed
in their operations and
instances of hundreds of thousands, and dominion-wide
probably beyond the resources of each province to deal with.
Ferguson J. A., with whom Mulock C. J. and Magee and Smith JJ. concurred,
approached the question in this way :12
Industrial disputes are not now regarded as matters concerning only a disputing
employer and his employees. It
is common knowledge that such disputes are
matters of public interest and concern, and frequently of national and international
importance. This is so, not because the disputes may result in many plants being
shut down, or tens, hundreds and even thousands of employees drawing strike
pay instead of wages, but because experience has taught that such disputes not
infrequently develop into quarrels wherein or by reason whereof public wrongs
are done and crimes are committed, and the safety of the public and the public
peace are endangered and broken, and the national trade and commerce is disturbed
and hindered by strikes and lockouts extending, not only throughout the Dominion,
but frequently to the United States, where most of our trade unions have their
is not one to control or regulate
headquarters. Being of opinion that the Act
to authorize an inquiry into conditions or
contractual or civil rights, but one
disputes, and that the prevention of crimes, the protection of public safety, peace
and order and the protection of trade and commerce are of the « pith and substance
and paramount purposes » of the Industrial Disputes Investigation Act and of
the enquiry authorized and directed thereby, I think the legislation may and
should be supported on the powers conferred upon the Dominion Parliament by
section 91, British North America Act, to make laws « in relation to » « the regulation
of trade and commerce, » and to make laws « in relation to » « the criminal law »
« in its widest sense, » even though it does not enact a criminal law or a law
defining how or in what manner trade and commerce shall be carried on.
How similar is this Canadian approach to that of Chief Justice Hughes when
upholding the Wagner Act in 1937. He said :13
We are asked to shut our eyes to the plainest facts of our national life and
to deal with the question of direct and indirect effects in an intellectual vacuum…
When industries organize themselves on a national scale, making their relation
to interstate commerce the dominant factor
in their activities, how can it be
lISupra, note 3, at p. 467.
12Ibid., at p. 476.
lSNational Labor Relations Board v. Jones & Langhlin Steel Co., (1937), 301 U.S.
1, at pp. 38, 41-2.
McGILL LAW .JOUR.V.L
[ Vol. 6
maintained that their industrial labor relations contitute a forbidden
which Congress may not enter when it is necebsary to protect interstate commerce
from the paralyzing consequences of industrial war? We have often said that inter-
state commerce itself is a practical conception. It is equally true that interferences
with that commerce must be appraised by a judgment that does not ignore actual
Two Ontario judges, Orde J. and Hodgins J.A., upheld
point of view (both with expressed reluctance), chiefly on the ground that
municipal institutions were involved and that property and civil rights were
improperly trenched upon by the federal law. Thus out of 12 Canadian judges
who considered the question, 10 were in favour and 2 against the validity
of the Act.
In the Privy Council Lord Haldane found « dear » and « obvious »
propositions which the Canadian courts had rejected. « It is clear that this
enactment was one which was competent to the Legislature of a province under
s. 92.’1 4 « It
is obvious that these provisions dealt with civil rights, ardd it
was not within the power of the Dominion Parliament to make this otherwise
by imposing merely ancillary penalties. »‘ 5 He kept his mind on the private
law aspects of the matter being dealt with, and did not see the larger realities,
the avoidance of public danger and the maintenance of industrial peace, which
the Canadian courts had stressed as being the prime purposes of the legislation.
He saw no evidence of any emergency « putting the national life of Canada in
unanticipated peril » » without which, in his view, the « peace, order and good
government clause » of the Constitution could not operate if property and civil
rights were affected. As stated above, on this point as on his own peculiar
limitations upon the exercise of federal jurisdiction over trade and commerce
and criminal law, more recent Privy Council decisions have either dissented or
have reinterpreted the law.’ 7 It is in this judgment »‘ that there occurs Lord
Haldane’s famous passage about the evil of intemperance in Canada amounting
to so great a menace to our national life in 1878 as .to compel the Federal
Parliament to intervene with the Canada Temperance Act to save the nation
from disaster. Perhaps the simplest way of commenting upon this extraordinary
judicial performance is to say that it was wrong, at least
generalisations. With that wrong we are still wrestling.
What happened after the Snider judgment came out shows how strong
was the feeling in Canada in favour of federal responsibility for industrial
disputes. Mr. Lapointe, then -Minister of Justice, said he was petitioned by
both employers and employees to revive the IDI Act. 9 The Parliament of
Canada immediately revised the Act so that instead of applying to the former
14Supra, note 1, at .p 404.
15Ibid., at p. 408.
Mlbid., at p. 415.
‘?Supra, notes 4 and 5.
18At p. 412.
19Hansard, 1925, p. 3153.
No. 3 ]
industries affected with a public interest, it now applied to a specific list of
federal undertakings about which there could be
little or no question of
authority. The basic idea of the old IDI Act was public interest and con-
venience; it made no attempt to cover all employment even within federal
jurisdiction. The basic idea of the revised Act of 1925 was that all federal
industries and undertakings should be covered, regardless of the degree
of public interest involved. The law had to be tailored to fit the rules of
interpretation of the BNA Act rather than the size and shape of the problem
being dealt with. But over and above the enumerated federal undertakings
there was a provision that the Act would apply to « any dispute which is
within the exclusive legislative jurisdiction of any province and which by the
legislation of the province is made subject to the provisions of this Act ».20
The provinces were invited to legislate away the Snider judgment.
This invitation to co-operate was promptly accepted. By 1928 six provinces
had responded; even Quebec and Ontario adopted the federal law in 1932.
Only Prince Edward Island remained out. The divisive results of the Snider
case seemed effectively to have been overcome, and once again the Canadian
intention to have uniform legislation was clearly seen. Professor H.A. Logan 1
states that the powers granted -to the Federal Parliament by this permissive
legislation were regularly invoked to deal with disputes involving coal mines
and street railways which, apart from the enabling legislation, would have been
beyond the scope of the Act. He also says that there was considerable opposition,
at least on the part of employers, to the provincial adoption of the federal Act.
The depression of the 1930’s, among its many social consequences, produced
a great development in trade unionism and hence in labour law. The Wagner
Act in the United States became a kind of beacon light shining over the
industrial waters, and to its concepts of certification, collective
bargaining and unfair labour practices, Canadian opinion was gradually drawn.
Federal legislation was still restricted by the Snider judgment, and the ILO
Conventions case in 1937 still further narrowed the area of potential federal
intervention. In consequence the provinces started to come back into the field,
each in its own way. A new era of provincial labour legislation began, and we
are in the midst of it now. World War II restored federal authority for the
duration, giving us in P.C. 1003 the first taste of uniformity on Wagner Act
principles, but the coming of peace deprived Ottawa of its emergency powers
and restored the status quo. By 1947 the wartime federal labour relations had
Two important Conferences of Labour Ministers met during
period, one in November 1943 when the Dominion was seeking agreement on
its proposed wartime legislation –
and the other in
to peacetime relationships
October 1946 in preparation for
later P.C. 1003 –
20R.S.C 1927 c. 112 s. 3(d).
21State Intervention and Assistance in Collective Bargaining, (1956), p. 6.
McGILL LAW JOURNAL
between the governments in labour matters. Even at the 1943 Conference
certain provinces, such as Quebec and British Columbia, were anxious to limit
federal authority to war industries, and wished to keep the administration
of the law in their own hands. 22 At the 1946 Conference 23 some lip-service was
paid to the desire for uniformity, and apparently some of the smaller provinces
were in favour of federal jurisdiction. But the larger provinces were opposed,
and the federal government itself made no proposal for any amendment to
the BNA Act or any form of National Labour Code which Labour was
ardently ‘demanding. The only concession was provided
in Sections 62-63
of the new federal law of 1948, by which a joint administration of federal
and provincial laws could be arranged wherever they were substantially similar.
This is a far cry from the enabling legislation made possible in the revised
IDI Act of 1925.
One canfiot escape the conclusion that the small concern for uniformity, and
the preference for provincial jurisdiction reflected the prevailing employers’
viewpoint. The Canadian Manufacturer’s Association brief to the House of
Commons Committee on Industrial Relations on Bill 338, later to become the
present federal Act (which I shhll call the IRDI Act) contained no recom-
mendation for a wider federal coverage, whereas this was the main burden
of the briefs from- the two labour Congresses. 24 Professor Logan criticises
the federal government for its failure to rise to its responsibilities on this
occasion; he wonders whether a stronger and more resourceful Minister of
Labour might not have gone further toward securing an enlarged jurisdiction.
But we know that the Liberal government at this time was entering upon its
blissful period of easeful death, carrying out Mackenzie King’s policy of
« orderly decontrol », and it is perhaps not surprising that it gave no strong
leadership for a national labour policy. Political pressure from the left by
this time had greatly eased.
This historical story may be resumed in a few words. Industrial disputes
in industries affected with a public ,interest were appropriated by the Federal
Parliament in 1907, with widespread approval from all sections of Canada,
whether French or English speaking; when the startling news was received
from abroad that the IDI Act was unconstitutional, the country reacted to
offset the decision by a revised federal Act followed by provincial enabling
legislation in every province except P.E.I.; the rise of trade unionism in the
1930’s accentuated the conflict between capital and labour and compelled new
legislation which (apart from the war period) caie mostly from the provinces
with labour almost alorie in calling for uniformity. Class consciousness had
apparently increased, and the question of jurisdiction became involved in the
power struggle which is surely as evident today as at any time in our history.
‘2 21bid., at p. 21.
23Ibid., at pp. 38-43.
24Ibjd., at pp. 43-5.
No. 3 ]
The extremely large degree of provincial jurisdiction over industrial disputes
even in industries almost wholly engaged in inter-provincial and international
trade, and organised by a single national or international union, leaves us,
therefore, exposed to the sudden gwings of opinion which occur more frequently
and more violently on the provincial than on the federal level – witness
the anti-labour legislation of Prince Edward Island in 1947,25 in British
Columbia and Newfoundland in 1959 –
so that anything that might be called
a national labour policy seems farther off than ever before. The gap between
law and fact, the « dicalage », increases instead of decreasing. It is submitted
that this is not a healthy situation from any rational point of view.
It may be postulated that Canadians are desirous of seeing sound democratic
principles emerging in our federalism. But it must be obvious that in federal
and this applies to bi-cultural countries as much as to homogeneous
the alternative to federal authority is not always or necessarily pro-
vincial autonomy; it may well turn out to be anarchy. If the subject-matter
of legislation is too vast for a province to control (for instance, an attempt at
provincial control of commodity prices set by a national or international
then an interpretation of the constitution which leaves it to the
provinces simply means that no government control of any kind is possible.
Private interest, whether of capital or labour, or even of both in collusion,
dominates the society, and the public interest -tends to get lost in the power
struggle. We see this in the international sphere, where the nation state
plays the role of the province in a federation, and where excessive national
autonomy wrecks so many needed forms of international regulation. As a
single human race, we have not grown up to the oneness of our living, and, in
a smaller context, as a Canadian nation we have not grown up to the enlarged
scale of relationships now existing between capital and labour. Sooner or later
we shall have to bring our law into line with the realities that confront us,
and if we believe that good laws can reduce tensions, the sooner we prepare
for a change the more likely we are to avoid further conflicts.
Two practical illustrations may be given of the difficulties and dangers that
can arise through the inadequacy of our present law dealing with industrial
disputes. The first is the story of the strike in the packing industry in 1947.
In that instance, there was a single union, the United Packinghouse Workers
of America, acting as the bargaining agent for all important plants in eight
out of the then nine Canadian provinces. There were three dominant firms
negotiating the new contract – Canada Packers, Bums, and Swift Canadian,
the last being a. wholly owned American subsidiary. One union, three firms,
all negotiating in Toronto, where national bargaining had begun in 1944.
A federal Controller had been appointed in 1945, and federal conciliation had
kept the peace till 1947. But in May of that year federal emergency powers
25See Forsey, E.A., The Prince Edward Island Trade Union Act, 1948, in (1948),
26 Can. Bar Rev. 1159.
McGILL LAW JOURNAL
[ Vol. 6
jurisdiction ceased. Theoretically, before a
ended and with
nation-wide strike could be called separate provincial negotiations should
have been started in each province where there was a plant affected, with
separate conciliation boards consisting of different people all
the same problem and making separate reports to separate Departments of
Labour. What a legal absurdity! So absurd was it that little attention was paid
to the law; on the passing of the strike-deadline work stopped in all plants.
It is a personal opinion, after some investigation of this situation, that had
federal authority existed there would have been no strike, since the employers
would have realised that the union could easily legalise the strike action which
was thought to be impossible in face of the provincial barriers.
This strike gave a revealing example 6f the anarchy that results from big
issues being left to small jurisdictions. Because Ottawa could not act, the
provinces thought they would try to combine forces and bring about a settle-
ment. At Premier Drew’s suggestion representatives of seven provincial
governments met in Toronto on Sept. 26th, 1947, to work out a common
plan. There were six Ministers of Labour, one Deputy Minister, one « observer »
(P.E.I.) and one message of sympathy (B.C.). 2 6 Rumour has it that one
Minister said the strike was illegal in each province and should be smashed, to
which Saskatchewan replied that it was not illegal in Saskatchewan. Nothing
came of the meeting except a good lesson in federalism; even the appointment
of a common conciliator could not be agreed upon. The delegates went sorrow-
fully home nursing their provincial autonomies. The strike was settled without
benefit of law, but it might not have occurred, and it will be less likely to
occur in the future in this or other big industries, if jurisdiction keeps pace with
or is brought into line with the facts.
the cumbersome procedures and dubious
expediences which are promoted by the present division of jurisdiction. The
in Quebec and in the city of
Provincial Transport Company runs buses
Kingston, Ontario; it also owns the -Colonial Coach Lines which operate
from Quebec into Ontario and thus have extra-provincial connections. At one
time the P.T.C. buses crossed the provincial boundary at Hull and the U.S.
boundary at certain points, thus bringing the Company within the ambit of
the federal IRDI Act for all its operations except the Kingston buses. Employees
on all three branches are organised by the Canadian Brotherhood of Railway,
Transport and General Workers. A short while ago the Company stopped its
P.T.C. Quebec buses from crossing the boundary at any point, thus taking these
services out from under the Canada Labour Relations Board and bringing
them under the Quebec Public Service Employees Act which prohibits strikes
and provides for compulsory arbitration. So here is a single Company dealing
26See report in Labour Gazette, 1947, p. 1791; also Montreal Gazette for Sept. 26th
and 29th 1947, p. 1.
with a single Union with respect to a single operation of bus driving in
central Canada, which now (a) comes under Quebec law for the Quebec
operations, (b) under Ontario law for the Kingston operations, and (c) under
federal law for its Colonial Coach Lines operations. This state of affairs cannot
promote industrial peace or efficient service. Nor does the present law seem
to benefit the Company, since the Quebec drivers, though deprived of the
right to strike, have to be paid the same rates as Colonial Coach Lines which
operate out of the same terminus in Montreal and who have the right to strike.
The original IDI Act would have covered all the operations, and the revised
Act of 1925 would also have applied because Quebec and Ontario had both
passed enabling legislation. Constitutionally we have moved backwards.
Our present labour relations Acts are based on the principles of certification,
compulsory collective bargaining, compulsory conciliation procedures, and then,
as a last resort but always in the background, the strike or lockout. The
freedom to strike is still essential to the whole concept. This freedom is
curtailed if the law surrounds it with such complicated procedures that it cannot
effectively be exercised within the law, which is precisely the situation which
the existing division of powers produces in industries which are national
in certain industries with the choice of
in scope. Hence
disregarding the law or foregoing its undoubted rights and bargaining under
less favourable conditions than the law allows in other industries. This is
unfair and inconsistent; the result of judicial accident and not of deliberate
national policy. Strong unions faced with a choice either of accepting poor
agreements or striking regardless of the confused law will from time to time
choose the latter course; if their leaders do not, wild-cat strikes are likely
to break out. Hence the present state of the law tends to lawlessness.
labour is faced
Does all this mean that there must be a complete abandonment by the
provinces of their jurisdiction over disputes? Remember we are not discussing
labour legislation in general, but only those aspects of it which relate to
collective bargaining and conciliation procedures. The answer to this question
would surely be in the negative. It would not be wise, and politically it would
be next to impossible, to provide an exclusive federal jurisdiction. The point
is rather that the public interest and the protection of the country against
too large for provincial intervention demand an enlargement of
federal authority. Some division of jurisliction will remain, but should be more
closely related to economic realities. Nation-wide collective bargaining has
already begun and is likely to increase. It should ‘,ot be compelled by the law,
but it should not be inhibited by the law as it is at present. If we enlarged
the area of efficient collective bargaining by enlarging the coverage of the
IRDI Act, management and unions would be free to work out their own
levels of agreement, but under a uniform law.
McGILL LAW JOURNAL
THE ENLARGEMENT OF FEDERAL JURISDICTION –
SOME ALTERNATIVE PROCEDURES.
What could we do about the present situation, assuming there was or
there might develop a desire to achieve greater uniformity of law? It seems
to be taken for granted in Canada that we are incapable of amending our
constitution. Yet as recently as 1951 we did so, with the consent of all the
provinces, by making old age pensions a concurrent power. At any rate, any
discussion of jurisdiction over labour relations that does not contemplate the
possibility of constitutional amendment is incomplete. There is a choice
types of amendment: the federal power may be placed in the list of exclusive
federal matters in section 91 of the BNA Act, as was done with unemployment
insurance, or may be added to ,the concurrent powers along with agriculture
and immigration. An exclusive power is one which the Parliament of Canada
alone may exercise; federal law covers the country to the extent chosen by
Parliament, and any part of the field not occupied by federal law remains empty
and cannot be occupied by provincial law. This rule operates today with respect
to labour relations in federal undertakings. A concurrent power, such as our
constitution now contains for immigration and agriculture, is one which both
Parliament and the provinces may exercise, with the federal law prevailing
over provincial law in case of conflict. Provinces can only legislate outside
the area selected by Parliament.
Sound argument can be made for each’ of these alternatives. The pros
and cons of exclusive and concurrent powers are carefully analysed by Professor
Cox in a paper read to the National Academy of Arbitrators in Washington
in 1954;27 and while he was dealing with the American situation similar
considerations apply in Canada for preferring an exclusive jurisdiction in the
central government. But he would not exclude the States from legislating with
respect to industries not brought under the authority of Congress; he would
merely make sure that State governments did not pile additional laws upon
those industries that are taken over nationally. Thus federal authority would
be exclusive, but would not cover all industries. This seems to be a sensible
approach; it is in fact the existing situation in Canada, our difficulty being that
federal authority is too restricted whereas he inclines to the view that in the
United States it is already too extensive. Translating this idea into Canadian
constitutional terms, it would mean adding some such words as these to
section 91: « Labour Relations in such industries and services as are declared
by the Parliament of Canada to be of national interest and importance ».
Such a concept is not altogether foreign to our fundamental
Parliament of Canada can already declare « works »
advantage of Canada or of two or more of the provinces, whereupon
to be for the general
27Reprinted in « The Profcssion of Labor Arbitration », ed. by Jcan T. McKelvey,
1957. p. 76.
come under federal jurisdiction. Their labour relations today are under the
IRDI Act. There would be no constitutional barrier, for
declaration by Parliament that all the packing houses in Canada, presently
existing or to be built, are for the general advantage; whereupon a national
law would underpin the nation-wide bargaining that in fact takes place. In
this could be extended to the plants of all large-scale industry in
Canada, as it has to all grain elevators, for instance, for the purpose of
enforcing the federal wheat-marketing policy. The trouble with this solution
is that by the declaration Parliament takes over much more than the labour
relations of the industry, and this it may well not wish to do.
Short of amending
there are still other roads open.
Section 94 of the BNA Act permits the legislatures of the common
provinces to assign to Parliament any matter belonging to the field of pro-
perty and civil rights, where labour relations belong. Hence these provinces
could help to build up a nation-wide law, much as they did after 1925 by their
enabling legislation. Some of the smaller provinces have shown a willingness
to abandon the field, or part of it, to the Dominion, but not so the larger
provinces, and Quebec lacks the constitutional power to make a delegation
under Section 94. It should be pointed out, however, that Quebec law on
labour relations is not so different in kind from that of other provinces as to
suggest that any enlargement of federal jurisdiction would threaten to obliterate
cultural institutions that are part of her heritage; there was no substantial law
on this subject in Quebec till 1944, and then it was modelled on the Wagner
Act. The Professional Syndicates Act, under which the Catholic unions are
incorporated, would be unaffected. The Catholic syndicates were founded and
developed under the aegis of federal legislation, first in the original IDI Act
and then under the 1925 Act which Quebec adopted.
What about judicial interpretation? Might not the Supreme Court of Canada
take a broader view of federal jurisdiction than that suggested in the Snider
case? That case is still law, but strictly speaking all it decided was that the
IDI Act could not apply to municipal institutions. The wider language used
by Lord Haldane was beside the point at issue. The Supreme Court upheld
the present IRDI Act in 1955 on a reference,2 8 and an Ontario Judge,
in the Pronto Uranium Mines case, 29 has upheld its application to workers
in uranium mines and concentrating plants. In the IRDI Act reference Judge
Rand, as usual seeing clearly the social realities of contemporary society, said
« Labour agreements, embodying new conceptions of contractual arrangements
are now generally of nation-wide application, and as we know, strike action
may become immediately effective throughout the systems ».30 While he was
speaking of railways, the argument holds for many other industries. But we
28 S.C.R. 529.
29 5 D.L.R. (2nd) 342.
3oSupra, note 28.
McGILL LAW JOURNAL
the jurisdiction of some provincial board
i6 either (i) new federal
cannot expect a new interpretation until
legislation, (ii) a constitutional reference iranied to elicit opinions about federal
authority over labour relations in inter-provincial indubtries. or (iii) a daring
in a dispute
arising in some major industry. We should remember also that the revised
IDI Act of 1925 was made applicable to federally incorporated companies and
to disputes declared to be subject to the Act by reason of a national emergency,
provisions not repeated in the present federal law, and the validity of which
has not been tested. The possibility of some judicial rethinking in the future
should not be excluded, particularly with respect to the trade and commerce
and the peace, order and good government clauses of the Constitution
the Murphy case in 1959, upholding the Canada Grain Act,31 and the Pronto
Mines case,32 gave some new leads –
but the obstacles to be overcome are
There is one last provision for uniformity that needs to be mentioned.
This is the method of federal-provincial arrangements for federal administration
of provincial labour legislation when it is substantially uniform with that of
the Dominion. The IRDI Act, as already indicated, provides for such arrange-
ments in sections 62-63. It is interesting to note that seven provinces have
adopted somewhat similar provisions in their labour laws, though the wording.
as usual, varies considerably, and the two biggest provinces, Quebec and
Ontario, with P.E.I., have remained aloof.-3 Alberta and British Columbia
confine their possible arrangement with Ottawa to the meat-packing and coal-
mining industries. Saskatchewan makes provision for the application to the
province of the whole IRDI Act, which shows a willingness to go back to
pre-Snider days. Most provinces confine their offer to federal administration
of provincial law. This is different from, and, it is submitted, not so useful as,
the enabling legislation invited in 1925 by which provinces made the entire
federal Act applicable to -themselves. Here the provincial law remains within
provincial jurisdiction; only administration is simplified. If there was a general
will for uniformity, no doubt the provinces could improve somewhat the presefnt
situation by modelling their legislation exactly on the federal Act and then
entering into an arrangement under section 62. but if there were this degree
of desire for uniformity then we might look for new enabling legislation nr
even for an amendment to the BNA Act covering major industries. At any
rate, no such arrangements as the IRDI Act and
the provincial statutes
contemplate have yet been made.
3111958] S.C.R. 626.
3 2Svpra, note 29.
in question are
the following Revised Statutes:
Newfoundland, 1952, c. 258 s. 63; Nova Scotia, 1954, c. 295 s. 70; New Brunswick,
1952, c 124 ss. 57-8; Manitoba, 1954, c. 132 ss. 60-1; Saskatchewan, 1953, e. 259 s. 30;
Alberta, 1955, c. 167 s. 108; British Columbia, 1948, c. 155 s. 79.
This review of the law poses a question. Why was the desire for uniform
labour relations legislation stronger in Canada in the first third of this century
than it is today? Are we more disunited? Certainly the disputes to be regulated
are larger and more threatening than ever before. When introducing the IDI
Act in 1907 the Hon. Rodolphe Lemieux, Minister of Labour, said, « a-
country grows, as the area covered by these strikes increases, the danger
becomes greater and greater every day.' » 4 History has borne out the accuracy
of this prediction. Once already in the past the ill effects of the Snider jud-
ment were overcome, and they could be again if
the desire existed, without
having to amend the B.N.A. Act. Labour’s position is clear. At its 1958
Convention the Canadian Labour Congress adopted the following resolution. 5
« BE IT RESOLVED that the Congress urge the Government to declare inter-
provincial industries, of nation-wide scope and importance, works for the general
advantage of Canada, and so bring
Parliament, and within
the purview of the Industrial Relations and Disputes
Investigation Act. »
But no voice of equal weight has been raised on the employer’s side. Can the
answer to the question be that some employers like divided jurisdiction and
confusing laws? If so they stand in the way of much needed progress. It is
preferable to believe that political inertia and the well-known Canadian capacity
for accepting what seems to be but is not inevitable are deeper reasons.
Let us hope we do not have to have the rude shock of further national strikes
to shake us out of this inertia.
34Hansard, 1906-7, p. 3013.
3 t Proceedings, p. 11.