In the fall of 1985, a committee of representatives from peace, church, and labor organizations convened the first Economic Conversion Conference in Canada. Its goals were to bring together activists from those organizations to discuss the need and mechanisms for converting production for military use to production for social use. Participation of the labor movement was a key element in the conference for it allowed dialogue with those whose jobs and unions would be directly affected by military conversion. It was clear that for any conversion program to be effective, participation of workers and their unions would be essential.
Now, for the first time in Canada, conversion legislation has been introduced to provide such a mechanism.
In February, Ontario New Democrat MPP Richard Johnston (Scarborough West) introduced two bills that would (1) provide for the conversion of existing nuclear-weapons-related facilities to production for social use, and (2) prevent firms from entering into nuclear-weapons-related production.
An important aspect of the conversion legislation is that it mandates any company with a nuclear-weapons contract to establish a conversion committee whose responsibility would be to develop a plan for alternative uses of the technologies in the nuclear contract. That committee would comprise management, workers, and community representatives. A percentage of the profits from the contract would be set aside to pay for any necessary retraining of workers, and to provide supplemental income in the event of layoff.
A goal of the legislation is to reduce the economic dependency of a company on nuclear weapons contracts by planning socially useful production, while at the same time ensuring the continued employment of the workers.
Since the awarding of many nuclear weapons-related contracts involve the federal government, there are several jurisdictional questions of a province's right to intervene to prevent those contracts. In general, there are real limitations on a provincial government's authority to prevent a company from accepting work.
Johnston's other bill addresses this problem. Almost all municipalities have official plans which regulate corporate operations in their areas. There is also a provincial planning act that establishes province-wide standards and provides general regulations. Johnston has introduced amendments to the provincial planning act that would require municipal plans to include a prohibition of the establishment of new facilities (or the conversion of existing plants) intended for the production of nuclear-weapons-related material.
Taken together, these two bills provide a way out of existing contracts and the prohibition of new ones. if these bills were law, for example, the General Motors Diesel Division in London, Ontario, would not have been able to accept the contract it has been awarded to manufacture the chassis for the U.S. Midgetman missile. (See newsworthy story, p.38).
There are several examples of successful conversion projects in Europe, but few in North America. This legislation provides the first real opportunity to discuss the implementation of conversion in Canada.