|Montreal, February 16, 2002 / No 98|
by Harry Valentine
Events which occured in Quebec during 2001 give rise to speculation as to the type of political and economic strategies that may be expected in Quebec during the summer of 2002. Last year, the provincial government re-affirmed its allegiance to the PQ's traditional ally, the labour union movement. All independent owner-operators of large trucks in Quebec are now required by law to join a union if they wish to continue serving the intermodal freight terminals in Montreal. No longer can an independent trucker haul freight in Quebec without having a union card. In trades related to the construction industry, a similar scenario prevails.
The labour shortage in the truck industry in other provinces could see
many independent owner-operators from Quebec being hired by outside companies.
A section of the Quebec workforce would be thankful that Quebec is still
part of Canada, because they could still get jobs elsewhere in Canada.
In enacting compulsory union membership, the PQ has given a segment of
the Quebec workforce little choice but to obtain employment outside of
Quebec, such as in Ontario. However, in the eyes of the Quebec labour movement,
their ally in government can now be seen as protecting the unions by weeding
out anti-union and entrepreneurial competitors.
Events occurring outside and in Quebec have the potential to stir up Quebec's labour movement and provide the Quebec government with an opportunity to revitalize support for sovereignty. The recent PQ cabinet shuffle indicates a prelude by the PQ to initiate such strategy, by using their traditional allies in the Quebec labour movement. The strategy, which could have been borrowed from the book Crisis and Leviathan by Robert Higgs (in which a government takes advantage of a real or perceived crisis to increase its power and influence – see also
Fewer jobs at the port
Developments in international shipping could reduce the amount of intermodal freight that will be processed through Montreal's newly unionized intermodal terminals, reducing the need for unionized labour. One of the main reasons for this would be the development of intermodal super-ships and their introduction to the north trans-Atlantic services. A ship having a depth of 30-feet (9-metres) between the water line and the keel bottom is the maximum depth of ship that can sail up the St. Lawrence River to Montreal. The super-container ships are 1200-feet long by 120-feet wide and have a depth of 45-feet (14-metres) below the water line. They are too big to sail up the St. Lawrence and cannot access Montreal. These ships will have to transfer their cargo at the Halifax deep water port.
Since federal jurisdiction prevails over the waterway, Ottawa could be blamed for causing a loss of unionized Quebec jobs and appearing to favour the transfer of similar jobs at the Port of Halifax. The waterway was never updated to accomodate larger modern ships. PQ strategists could take advantage of this in order to build new pro-sovereignty support within the ranks of the labour movement.
Information about the impending introduction of these super-container ships to North Atlantic service did circulate in the news media long before Quebec required compulsory union membership for independent truck owner-operators servicing the Port of Montreal's intermodal terminal. The 2001 strike at the intermodal terminals in Montreal adversely affected many industries outside Quebec, since many operate on the JIT (Just In Time) method of inventory control. More intermodal freight could by-pass Montreal altogether and be transferred at terminals elsewhere, allowing businesses in English Canada to be blamed for being anti-Quebec. This situation would add more credibility to the traditional nationalist thesis – recently restated again in Normand Lester's book Le livre noir du Canada anglais, or The Black Book of English Canada – that Quebec is a constant victim of the rest of the country, and help increase pro-sovereignty support from labour.
Less water in the river
A second reason as to why less intermodal freight will pass through the Port of Montreal and why Hydro-Québec will be affected, is the weather patterns. The water levels in the Great Lakes have been dropping over the past two years. Last year, Lake Superior's water level was 3-feet (1-metre) below its normal level, while Lake Ontario was down by 2-feet. The hot dry summer of 2001 increased the rate of evaporation from the Great Lakes, affecting both shipping along the St. Lawrence River as well as electric power production at the hydroelectric dams at Niagara Falls, Moses-Saunders dam at Cornwall, the Cedar Rapids dam at Beauharnois in Quebec, as well as other hydroelectric dams in the province. The snow cover across most of Central Canada is at all time low, meaning less water run-off in the rivers during the spring of 2002.
The present long-term weather forecasts are indicating another drier than usual summer for 2002. The water levels in the Great Lakes and in the St. Lawrence River during the summer of 2002 may be lower than the levels for the summer of 2001. A long dry summer in 2002 could spark a new round of confrontation between Quebec City and Ottawa.
The St. Lawrence River and the Seaway system is under federal jurisdiction and many Quebec communities located along that river depend on it as a source for their municipal water supply. Millions of litres of fresh water per day flowed down the St. Lawrence River into the Atlantic during the summer drought of 2001, to maintain certain water levels and flow rates in the River east of Montreal. This allows for shipping and prevents salty ocean water from backing up into the St. Lawrence. If salty ocean water backs up stream into the St Lawrence during the coming summer, communities which depend on the river for their water supply may find themselves in a water crisis situation and Ottawa would then be blamed. The control dams on the Ontario side of the border could be used to reduce the loss of fresh water downstream; however this would also cause an immediate water crisis for many Quebec communities located along the St. Lawrence. This is a situation the PQ strategists could take advantage of by blaming English Canada for causing hardship in Quebec.
The loss of fresh water into the ocean can also be reduced by installing temporary barriers across the St. Lawrence River, between Montreal and the ocean. This is possible between Quebec City and Levis, a distance of 1-kilometre. Cities located west of Quebec City and along the river would still have a secure supply of fresh water that would otherwise be lost.
If Ottawa does act to reduce the loss of fresh water into the Atlantic, however, shipping in the
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