Parliamentary work resumed on Monday in the House of Commons and bills important to our collective future will return to the agenda.
Among these, Bill C-27 suggests modifying the obligations of companies in relation to the protection of privacy and proposes a new Artificial Intelligence and Data Act (LIAD) aimed at regulating the artificial intelligence (AI) systems in order to limit potential harm to the population.
Among other things, it provides common requirements across Canada for the design, development and use of AI systems; it prohibits the use of illegally obtained personal information in such a product and it punishes making an AI system available with the intent to commit fraud or damage.
CUPE-Québec is happy to see that the federal government has decided to take the bull by the horns in this area. Businesses have indeed been encouraged to take the AI route for years, some have started to do so, and utilities are no exception.
However, the legal basis of Bill C-27 revolves around federal jurisdiction over interprovincial and international trade, which will greatly limit its scope. Thus, any AI system developed within a Quebec company or sold to it by another company, university or other organization in Quebec, will escape the provisions of the future LIAD since these activities are under provincial jurisdiction.
This raises the question of what the Government of Quebec will do to regulate AI in the private sector, as well as the other technologies that risk disrupting the labor market and our society in the more or less short term – one can think between others to automation, 5G, autonomous vehicle driving, telemedicine and other Internet of Things applications, etc.
Two of the parties campaigning in Quebec have already promised to use some of these disruptive technologies to counter the job shortage. This is the case of the PLQ, which wants to use “…the digitization and automation of businesses,” and the PCQ, which “…proposes to promote the automation and robotization of businesses…” to this end.
The CAQ, for its part, promises “…a cellular connection everywhere by 2026, to convert the network largely to 5G technology by 2030 and to offer fiber optic access to all. According to François Legault, these measures are necessary for Quebec to remain competitive.
Although motivated by legitimate economic objectives, these electoral promises are however silent on the framework to be put in place and on the social dialogue to be established to move forward with such projects of technological transformations at the scale of society. .
However, Quebecers will be directly affected by these initiatives, whether because they will transform their work, make changes to their coverage or their insurance premiums or lead to a reconfiguration of the services offered by governments.
CUPE-Québec thinks that political parties should go further and commit now that any use of disruptive technologies will only be made following consultation with society’s stakeholders.
Citizens are entitled to be informed of the ins and outs of the technological transformations envisaged before their implementation or their authorization by the government and must have the possibility of positioning themselves on these changes.
If there’s one lesson to be learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that technology can be a real ally. It is thanks in particular to telecommunications networks and videoconferencing platforms that we have been able to keep in touch with our families and friends, keep our jobs and keep the economy running during the confinements.
However, the periods of isolation of 2020 and 2021 have also shown the inability of machines to replace human relationships, as well as the ability of technologies to sometimes negatively disrupt the organization of work and society. To date, many questions remain to be resolved in labor law and workers, like supply chains, are still in post-pandemic rehabilitation.
CUPE-Québec challenges Quebec political parties to make a commitment, between now and the election on October 3, to hold a major social dialogue on disruptive technologies such as AI. We must determine together how they will be integrated into our lives and legally framed before their implementation to ensure that they contribute not only to the economy, but more generally to the common good.
Patrick Gloutney, President of SCFP-Québec and
Tulsa Valin-Landry, President of the Provincial Council of the Communications Sector (CPSC) of CUPE-Québec.