I already know it. Sarcastic or ironic columns regularly miss their mark — add the smallest little drop of irony, and you’re almost guaranteed to have web commentors and others take the irony for fact and point out that it’s hard to believe how stupid you are.
So, with that caveat, hooray for federal Labour Minister Lisa Raitt.
Because she’s pointed out how useless and wasteful collective bargaining actually is.
All these people holding the Canadian economy for ransom, sitting around negotiating and nattering in their paid hotel rooms, using company time, fighting and ratcheting up costs?
We can’t afford that: the companies can’t afford that. The economy can’t afford that. Canada can’t afford that.
Air Canada can’t afford the increased labour costs of striking a deal with its workers, nor can it afford to weather a strike. No problemo. Superhero Raitt is there, ready to bring Air Canada’s costs in line by essentially legislating those nasty union rights out of existence.
Think she won’t do it? Think again. When postal workers were locked out, Raitt legislated them right back into their jobs, giving them a wage increase lower than the latest offer that Canada Post had made, essentially trotting out wage controls to ostensibly settle the economy back on an even keel. (As much as it can be on an even keel, with unfettered corporate shenanigans always on the edge of toppling one European or North American state or another.)
Now, Raitt has carefully not strolled into the uncomfortable world of price controls to match her demi-Trudeau-esque wage controls, and that has to create a problem or two.
Why? From my point of view, because I’m an integral part of this Canadian economy, too. Apparently, when I have the ability to open my wallet and spend, a tiny consumer confidence bubble or two bubbles up from the bottom of the economic malaise swamp. Bucks in my wallet help to carbonate the apparently necessary fizz of consumer optimism that makes us all believe we should be out there buying.
Here’s the thing: I don’t work for the public sector, and I’m actually not in a union. But some time over the next five years or so, I’m told, my electric bills (Muskrat Falls or no Muskrat Falls) will go up by some 40 per cent.
Along with that — in virtual lock-step, in fact — a whole bunch of other costs will rise, as everyone from municipalities seeking to keep streetlights on right down through grocery stores with their electric bills pass on the costs.
But I can’t afford that: in fact, looking back over my wage increase in the last decade and a half, I’ve pretty well been losing ground.
Presumably, Lisa Raitt is waiting right there in the wings to help me out with the coming electrical storm.
Because what exactly is the difference between Air Canada not being able to afford one of the costs being foisted upon it, and me not being able to afford the costs foisted on me?
Under Canadian law, a corporation is a person. I’m not sure why the obverse can’t be true: as a person, certainly I should be able to have the same rights as a corporation — and one of those rights seems to be that the government will step in if a corporation can’t handle its costs. (Protecting the economy, see?)
The way I see it, Lisa Raitt has a choice: order my employers to pay me more, or pass a law declaring that, to protect my economy (and all those little economies around me), electrical prices — and any other costs of mine that might suddenly jump intemperately — will not be allowed to rise. I’m not asking to make a huge profit out of this; my corporation would be happy to break even at its current level and benefits.
You could look at it this way: from each corporation according to its abilities, to each, according to its needs.
Wait a second.
Isn’t that communism?
It is, but sadly, only halfway. Lisa Raitt will help Air Canada. She won’t help me.
Maybe we could just call it corporate communism, and leave it at that. All hail the economy. Maybe by the next election, companies will get to vote, too.
Bet their votes count for more.
Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s
editorial page editor. Email: email@example.com.