Canadian Labour and Business Centre
Canadian Labour and Business Centre Canadian Labour and Business Centre

The Canadian Labour and Business Centre: A Record of Achievements

“Our mission is to improve business and labour practices in Canada and to provide public policy advice on labour market and skills issues.”


Created in 1984, the Canadian Labour and Business Centre (CLBC) established a new relationship between labour and business. The foundations of this relationship are mutual respect, equal status, and shared commitment to dialogue and partnership approaches to some of the major challenges facing the country. The organization enjoyed the full participation of business and labour, the federal government, the provinces and territories, and post-secondary education organizations.

Over its twenty-three-year history, CLBC provided a neutral, national forum where the key actors in the economy could engage in constructive dialogue on issues of mutual concern. The organization forged significant agreement and partnership between the labour and business communities on how best to address these issues.

CLBC’s talented and highly skilled staff conducted extensive, rigorous research and stakeholder consultations, so that current perspectives, knowledge and data informed the Centre’s dialogue, recommendations and activities.

But the real achievement was CLBC’s role in forging partnership approaches involving disparate and sometimes adversarial stakeholders. It takes a long time to build these relationships. It also takes shared determination to preserve and enhance these partnerships through ever-changing challenges. We believe that CLBC’s visionary leadership was vital to both the development and the preservation of a culture of cooperation and partnership involving business, labour and government.

In September, 2006, after more than two decades of facilitating dialogue and research on labour market and skills issues, the federal government made a decision to terminate all funding for the Workplace Partners Panel, an initiative developed jointly by CLBC and the federal government, which constituted CLBC’s sustaining funding. The Board of Directors of the Canadian Labour and Business Centre had no choice but to close the organization.

Although the CLBC as a living organization has come to an end, we are proud of the achievements of the Canadian Labour and Business Centre from 1984 to 2007. Those achievements are a permanent record in the form of our reports, which will continue to be available on-line through this website for a number of years. They are also available at the National Archives of Canada.

To celebrate the legacy of the Canadian Labour and Business Centre, we are pleased to offer the following highlights of who we were and what we accomplished over the past two decades.

We also take this opportunity to offer sincere thanks to the thousands of people who participated in and contributed to the Centre’s activities and initiatives. Business and labour leaders; workers and managers in Canadian workplaces; academics and researchers; senior government officials; non-governmental stakeholder groups; and the media: People from all walks of life, from all regions of Canada and from all sectors of the economy, contributed directly to our important work.

It is our sincere hope that by preserving our legacy on-line for a period of time, the valuable insights and lessons learned over the past 22 years will continue to guide, inform and shape inter-sectoral cooperation in the future. The challenges of the 21st century demand no less.

The Origins

Labour and business together inspired the establishment of the Canadian Labour and Business Centre. The idea of a permanent business-labour organization stemmed from a series of intensive consultation exercises initiated by the federal government in the mid to late 1970s. Over the course of these consultations – Enterprise Canada Tier I and Tier II, and the Major Projects Task Force – the two constituencies began to work together through a process of dialogue and consensus-building. They, and government, began to understand the essentials of a consultative framework. They also recognized the need for a permanent organization that would foster the growth of their new relationship, to the benefit of both constituencies, to government, and to the economy at all levels.

In early 1984, after years of joint lobbying by business and labour, the federal government and senior leaders representing both constituencies signed a Memorandum of Understanding that formally launched the Canadian Labour Market and Productivity Centre. (The organization became the Canadian Labour and Business Centre, CLBC, in 1996). Thus began a new era in labour-business relations in Canada.

An Innovative Learning Organization

The new organization ensured the ongoing support of labour and business by creating a governance structure based on the principles of equality and mutual respect. An equal number of representatives from each constituency, appointed by the major national labour and business organizations, comprised the Board of Directors. Business and labour co-chaired the Board. The federal, provincial and territorial governments, and two representatives from the post-secondary education sector, also participated on the Board, in a non-voting capacity.

Over the past two decades, some of Canada’s most prominent business and labour leaders played an active role as members of the Board of Directors, Task Forces and Committees of the Centre. Governments also recognized the value of this new consensus-building forum: government representation on the Board was consistently at the Deputy Minister or Assistant Deputy Minister level.

From the beginning, the Centre was a “learning organization”. It continually adapted to the evolving relationship between its key stakeholders, their priorities, and the ever-changing economic and labour market environment. The Centre’s ability to evolve and adapt in sync with the changing environment ensured that it was valued by and relevant to its stakeholder constituencies throughout its history.

A detailed history of the Canadian Labour and Business Centre and its many accomplishments would be a valuable contribution to the art and science of labour-business relations, highlighting the value of working together to address major issues affecting the labour market and the economy. Such a history could include the initiatives encapsulated below.

Selected Accomplishments of the CLBC

The following is a chronological encapsulation of a number of CLBC projects and initiatives that illustrate the breadth and scope of the joint activities undertaken from 1984 to 2007. A list such as this cannot possibly capture the true value of the Centre’s work. For more information about these and many other initiatives, please consult the archives of our reports on this website.

1984: After years of lobbying by labour and business, the federal government announces the establishment of the Canadian Labour Market and Productivity Centre. This represents a major leap of faith on the part of the visionary leaders who worked to set up a bipartite organization, led jointly by business and by labour, dedicated to working together in a neutral, non-confrontational forum to find common ground on critical issues.

1984-1987: The new organization works with a number of sectoral organizations on labour market issues. Such organizations had enjoyed some success in joint business-labour approaches at the sectoral level. The new Centre builds on these successes and forges a broader, national-level consensus approach. For example, a new Construction Sector Committee is set up to create better functioning labour markets and increase productivity in this sector.

1987-1989: National Forum on the Economy/Trade Strategies for Canada/National Forum on Adjustment. In the midst of the contentious Canada/US Free Trade Negotiations, CLBC brings together labour, business and other key stakeholders to examine the potential impacts of a Free Trade Agreement on Canadian workers and organizations. This Forum leads to the establishment of a Task Force to examine adjustment policies and how they could be improved to help labour and management adjust to the changing environment.

1989-1990: Labour Force Development Consultations. At the invitation of the federal government, CLBC leads a national consultation on the Labour Force Development Strategy. Six of the seven CLBC Task Forces involved produce consensus reports and recommendations. The central recommendation of the final report was the establishment of an independent national institution to provide informed policy advice and direction on a range of training and related issues.

1990: The federal government announces the establishment of the Canadian Labour Force Development Board.

1991: National Training Survey. At the request of the federal government, CLBC undertakes the first independent, national survey of private sector organizations in Canada to determine the extent and nature of employee training provided by these firms.

1992-1993: Economic Restructuring Project. In the face of massive changes that were having significant impact on Canadian workers and workplaces, and on the national economy, the Board of Directors and new Chief Executive Officer Shirley Seward initiate a project to find common ground on some of the most pressing and divisive economic and social issues of the day. A joint pan-Canadian committee of senior business and labour leaders from across the country, and from different sectors of the economy, worked for over a year. The committee achieves consensus on twenty-seven recommendations for action by government, by labour, and by business to ensure that economic restructuring is both effective and equitable. This work shaped the focus of the CLBC for years to come. The Centre set up active Task Forces to develop and promote the recommendations of the Economic Restructuring Project. These Task Forces addressed issues such as the Role of Women in Economic Restructuring; Access to Capital for Small Business; effective Adjustment and Transition Programs; and joint approaches to Workplace Change.

1993: As another outcome of the Economic Restructuring Project, the Centre establishes a Task Force on the Role of Government in Building Bipartite Organizations and Approaches. Unlike earlier Task Forces, this one involves the active participation of Deputy Ministers from many provinces.

1993-1994: Working Together on Workplace Change. To promote the value of joint approaches to workplace change, the Centre launches a series of cross-country workshops on innovative approaches at the workplace level. At these workshops, workers and managers from local firms share their experiences and lessons learned in implementing change in their workplaces.

1994: Unemployment Insurance Program Review. For many years, labour and business had urged government to involve their constituencies more directly in the public policy and decision-making process affecting the unemployment insurance program. At the request of the Minister of Human Resources Development, the CLBC Board of Directors agrees to become a special Task Force to review the UI system, as an input to the federal government’s review of the overall social security system. A joint business-labour submission is presented to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, and to the Minister in March 1994.

1995: The Centre applies many of the lessons it learned during its own work on workplace change, and undergoes a major restructuring and rebuilding effort with the goal of ensuring the sustainability of the organization for at least ten more years. The two founding constituencies, labour and business, are determined to preserve their bipartite forum. The renewed organization becomes the Canadian Labour and Business Centre (CLBC). Over the next few years, CLBC reinforces its substantive reputation as a centre of expertise on labour market and skills issues.

1996: Viewpoints. CLBC launches a national survey of business, labour, and public sector leaders to explore their views on major economic issues and potential solutions, and the current state of labour/management relations in Canada. CLBC’s Viewpoints Survey became a biennial initiative that captured evolving attitudes and perceptions on key issues. Over the years, Viewpoints served as a catalyst for a dialogue between the constituencies, and provided valuable information for policy and decision-making at all levels. The fifth and final Viewpoints survey was conducted in 2005 under the aegis of the CLBC-led Workplace Partners Panel, and focused on skills, skill shortages and related issues, a growing area of focus for CLBC.

1997: Changing Your Workplace Guide and Working Tools. Based on the lessons learned from the Workplace Change seminars, and developed jointly by labour and management for use in Canadian workplaces, these tools represent a practical approach designed to help workers and managers work jointly to address the challenges of workplace change.

1998-1999: Research projects examine the link between investing in a new economy, access to capital, employment and economic growth. These projects stem from the Economic Restructuring work related to Access to Capital. Major research includes studies of Labour-sponsored Investment Funds; investment of pension funds in the economy; and strategies for capital investments to stimulate local economic development.

2000: Labour market and skills issues will dominate the CLBC’s agenda for its remaining years. Between 2001 and 2006, the Centre conducted timely and valuable research in areas such as the aging workforce; human resource needs in key sectors like nursing, natural resources industries, manufacturing, and transportation; integration of foreign-trained workers into the Canadian labour force; the challenges facing the Aboriginal workforce; apprenticeship and the skilled trades; and other issues of direct relevance.

2001: At the request of Human Resources Development Canada, the Canadian Labour and Business Centre undertakes consultations involving a broad sampling of the labour and business communities concerning policy directions and approaches that could help meet Canada's current and future needs for skilled workers.

2002: CLBC makes a submission to the Innovation Engagement Strategy, a government consultation process. The Centre’s recommendations focus on the issue of “Developing Skills for the New Economy”. One of CLBC’s recommendations was the establishment of a national skills and learning institute.

This begins the final and perhaps most creative phase of CLBC’s work, associated with the Canadian Council on Learning (CCL) and the Workplace Partners Initiative, the latter including an ambitious regional approach across the country.

2003: The Prime Minister and the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada appoint Shirley Seward, Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Labour and Business Centre and Dr. Benjamin Levin of the University of Manitoba, to undertake wide-ranging national consultations regarding the broad parameters of a proposed Canadian Learning Institute, including knowledge and information needs, mandate and organizational structure. Their recommendations were instrumental in the establishment of the Canadian Council on Learning by the federal government in 2004. CLBC’s Board of Directors was very engaged in this process. Business and labour were determined that the new institution should have an important focus on the area of work and learning, which is central to a productive and competitive economy. For more information about the Canadian Council on Learning, see

2005: CLBC is selected to lead the Canadian Council on Learning’s new Work and Learning Knowledge Centre. The Work and Learning Knowledge Centre was created to help ensure that Canadians continue to learn for work and from work, and that companies increase their training efforts. Its purpose is to identify and capture existing knowledge on workplace learning, package it and use it to influence the learning decisions of stakeholders groups and the private sector.

The CLBC was selected to lead this exciting new initiative because of its joint labour and business partnership approach, its track record in stakeholder consultations and consensus-building, and its reputation as a centre of knowledge and expertise on skills-related issues. When CLBC was forced to close, the Canadian Council on Learning, after a competitive and transparent process, announced that this important Work and Learning Knowledge Centre would be co-led by the Canadian Labour Congress and by Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, thereby ensuring a continuing business and labour orientation. For more information about the Work and Learning Knowledge Centre, visit the CCL website

2005: In its 2005 budget, the federal government announces the establishment of the Workplace Partners Panel (WPP) as a key element in the government’s Workplace Skills Strategy. The WPP, an independent initiative, was jointly conceived by CLBC and the federal government, and was governed and managed by the Canadian Labour and Business Centre. In its brief year of existence before the new federal government eliminated funding for the WPP, the Workplace Partners Panel involved 19 Task Force members, 38 National WPP members, over 225 deliberative dialogue participants and almost 200 WPP Forum participants. It was active in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

We are proud of the amount of work we accomplished under the banner of the Workplace Partners Panel in one short year. Although the new federal government eliminated all funding to the Workplace Partners Panel, we believe that the deliberative dialogue process we initiated at the regional level was already making a difference in meeting the urgent skills challenges facing the country’s economy. “The absence of the Workplace Partners Panel – and CLBC – means that the government will address Canada’s skilled-worker shortages without the concerted engagement and advice of the workplace partners – business and labour – who are best placed to contribute to this issue. This is not the time to be silencing that advice,” states outgoing CLBC Chief Executive Officer Shirley Seward.

To ensure that policy and decision-makers, as well as labour, business, and other key sectors, will continue to benefit from the early results of the Workplace Partners Panel, the important information about the WPP will remain accessible on this website for several years.

September 2006: With the elimination of WPP and CLBC’s sustaining funding, the Board of Directors of the Canadian Labour and Business Centre had no choice but to bring an end to the organization. The Canadian Labour and Business Centre formally closed its doors on March 31, 2007.

In Closing

“Business faces extraordinary competitive challenges today and dramatic changes are taking place in our workforce. There is no other forum where such diverse groups work so closely together on key issues. In addition to providing a place where business and labour could work productively with each other on skills or workplace issues, the CLBC was known for its excellent research, like the work it conducted on the barriers to immigrants entering the workforce in Canada. It is sad to lose the CLBC. -- Perrin Beatty, President and CEO, Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters; outgoing Business Co-chair of the Canadian Labour and Business Centre

“As outgoing Labour Co-Chair of the Canadian Labour and Business Centre, it is with regret that I mark the final closure of this important organization. The Canadian Labour Congress helped initiate the Centre back in 1984, and has been an active participant in its work for the past two decades. Both labour and business have benefited from the valuable research, seminars, workshops and other initiatives of the CLBC, and governments have benefited from the joint perspectives and advice of both constituencies. I would like to thank the Centre, its leadership and staff and the many people who participated as members of the CLBC Board of Directors and Task forces over the years, for their leadership and vision.” -- Ken Georgetti, President, Canadian Labour Congress

“It has been my great pleasure to serve on the Board of the Canadian Labour and Business Council for the past 5 years. CLBC has been very useful to our efforts related to the skills action plan and the Skills Nova Scotia Framework. The information gathered in the consultations held by CLBC, as well as the material generated by its Research and Policy Division, have been useful to Nova Scotia as we move to change public policy. The staff and leadership of the CLBC has always been dedicated and professional in providing a unique opportunity for Business, Labour and Government to work together.” -- Dennis Cochrane, Deputy Minister, Nova Scotia Department of Education; Provincial Government CLBC Board Representative

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce has been directly involved with and supportive of the Canadian Labour and Business Centre since its inception in 1984. For more than twenty years, we have valued the opportunity to meet on a regular basis with senior leaders from the Labour community and discuss issues of shared concern in a non-confrontational forum. Most recently, the Centre's focus on skills shortages, especially its innovative Workplace Partners Panel, brought together the two workplace partners in a concerted effort to find practical and viable solutions to a major challenge that is and will continue to affect this country for many years. We can only hope that the spirit of collaboration that took so long to build and nurture through the CLBC will survive the closing of the Centre. -- Nancy Hughes Anthony, President & CEO, The Canadian Chamber of Commerce