Let Air Canada rot

Jonathan McLeod

March 9, 2012 | 1 Comment

So the federal government has decided to step into the current Air Canada labour disputes, stripping workers (read: citizens) of their leverage in their contract negotiations. The government will make claims of saving the national economy or helping ‘average’ Canadians, but it’s all rhetoric. This isn’t about economics, it’s about control and it’s about politics.

If the term “vital service” is to mean anything – and to be used to trample the rights of workers – by no means can Air Canada be classified as vital. No commercial passenger airline should get such a designation. Air Canada isn’t an emergency service, they’re not a component of the justice system nor of national defence. They’re an airline, no more, no less. It doesn’t matter how many holidays might be ruined or business trips postponed or conferences turned into teleconferences, there’s  no valid reason for the feds to step into a labour dispute (note: political gain is not a valid reason).

If the Conservatives cared anything about Canada’s economic fortunes, they wouldn’t steer us, more and more, to a command economy. Legislating people back to work (thus either compromising bargaining positions or – as with Canada Post - legislating wages) takes us that much further away from a liberal free market. Once again, the Tories are showing us that they are the party of business, not the free market.

If the Tories wanted to actually help the economy and air travelers, they would seek more freedom in industry, not less. They wouldn’t legislate workers back to work. They would bring in right-to-work legislation. They wouldn’t stick their nose into the business of airlines (apart from matters of safety, fraud and collusion). Air Canada has a government-backed prime spot in the market. It is difficult for airlines to break into the Canadian market. Canadian air travelers aren’t held hostage by Air Canada, and they’re not held hostage by its workers. They’re held hostage by a meddlesome, interventionist government.

Nonetheless, the Conservatives are dressing this up as measure to protect the national economy, no doubt, trying to demonstrate that they are the responsible stewards of our economy, saving us all from economic woe. That was their main election claim last May. It seems all the self-congratulations went to their collective head, as now they – a party that used to champion capitalism and the free market – have decided that the market shouldn’t be trusted to maintain economic growth, only Stephen Harper and his little cabal of economic planners should.

There will be further claims that they are just trying help air travelers from the turmoil of a labour interruption (an interruption that is being initiated by Air Canada – yet they won’t suffer from the government’s action). This alleged defense of the little guy is laughable. Sure, they care about the votes, but they don’t care about travelers. Their past actions have demonstrated that their sole intention when it comes to labour disputes is to protect themselves, protect large businesses and, if possible, damage unions.

Two years ago, the city of Ottawa had a transit strike. It didn’t cripple the city, but it came close. Bus drivers walked out during the cold winter months (though their contract expired the previous spring), leaving residents of the city to scramble to find a way to get to their jobs, buy groceries and, generally, go about their lives. The strike hit lower income people the hardest. Jobs were lost and people’s health and safety were put in danger (walking to work during -20 degree weather isn’t recommended).

The strike could not be ended by the provincial legislature. Because OC Transpo buses crossed provincial boundaries, by law, only the federal government could step in to force the drivers back to work. Despite Ottawa having one of the most powerful cabinet ministers, the Tories shrugged.

I am sure the Tories would make some argument about the need to stay out of local politics, or that the bus strike didn’t affect the national economy, but it’s pretty obvious why they chose not to intervene; there was no political benefit to it.

Which brings us back to Air Canada. The company, poised to go on strike during March Break, was going to inflict some inconvenience on the middle class – an important demographic for election purposes. There’s no other valid reason for a (non-corporatist) government to step in to make sure Air Canada keeps flying.

It is, of course, too much to expect the Tories – or any party – not to bow to electoral pressure (cowards, all of them), but do not be fooled; that is all this is. The government is not worried about the economy or the airline industry (if they were, they’d allow some real competition). They’re worried about votes. And to those of you cheering that your vacation plans won’t be interrupted, just remember that your peace of mind has been bought at the expense of others’ freedom.


One Response to “Let Air Canada rot”

  1. Right-to-Work Response — The 49th
    August 24th, 2012 @ 8:15 pm

    [...] he would guess that I am in the “pro-business” camp, but I am not. I have written in defense of unions multiple times. I have argued that capitalism will eat itself. And, as I wrote in our democracy [...]

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