The Harper government has decided to intervene in the negotiations between Air Canada and its flight attendants and the government has indicated that it will move to quash a legal strike mandate. One has to question the motives behind this and the government's insistence that they are moving now to prevent a strike at Air Canada from seriously damaging the national economy.
Air Canada is insisting that they will maintain partial service, VIA Rail and WestJet have already indicated that they will add aircraft and I expect numerous other transportation companies will step up to try to snag some extra business and hopefully new long term customers at Air Canada's expense (something that Air Canada will be justifiably worried about). All of these moves by Air Canada's rivals will cushion the economic impact of the strike and be an economic boom to these other private sector companies at Air Canada's expense and at the long term expense of the union members. With some estimates putting the cost to Air Canada at $1.8 million a day, any strike will be relatively short-lived as Air Canada would need an agreement or risk going under and the union membership needs Air Canada afloat to maintain their jobs, reason enough for both sides to negotiate in good faith.
Labour Minister Lisa Raitt seemed shocked that union members would vote down a tentative agreement reached by their negotiating team. Why? This has happened before in labour negotiations and will in the future. It says more about the union executive being out of touch with its membership than it does about a failed negotiation process.
In a previous occupation, I had to be part of a union and as it turned out it was one of the most militant ones. We went on strike like clockwork every two to three years at great financial loss to the members. Most of the time we were legislated back to work. Did the heavy hand of government help the process? Not at all, both employer and employees could anticipate how long a strike would last and negotiated accordingly. By intervening and imposing a settlement, the ill feelings that existed between the workers and the employer were never satisfactorily resolved and festered for years. By intervening in the short term, the government actually prolonged the bad blood that existed, virtually guaranteeing more strikes in the future. And as mentioned above, our membership on occasion voted to reject a tentative agreement that our negotiating team had reached.
While many will cheer the government's move, there are other potential long term implications for the economy. Unions will only sit back and take so much before they retaliate and they have the means at their disposal, means that can seriously hurt our recovering economy. These can range from short one day illegal strikes, to "days of protest" where various unions join forces for a show of strength in targeted cities, to general strikes. A war against unions will feed some red meat to the party base, but at what cost both short and long term to our economy and is it worth the risk at this stage of our economic recovery?
If the government was so concerned about a strike this Thursday, if it really was such a serious threat to our economy, why didn't they bring the MPs back from their Thanksgiving break this week? If they had, Canadians would have been more inclined to believe the government position. The government could have introduced the required legislation which will probably be stalled by the NDP and have it ready to go once the strike commenced. Instead they are stalling waiting until MPs return next week, the priority this week being to unveil their War of 1812 initiatives. The government's insistence that they must act to impose a settlement rings hollow.