From the moment that it intervened last summer to end a strike by customer service agents, the Tories have repeatedly taken steps that have frustrated and angered airline workers.
Its stated goal was to protect the fragile economy from the disruption of service by the country's largest airline.
But the unintended consequence has been to prevent the airline from quickly resolving its labour disputes, said George Smith, a labour expert at Queen's University and a former Air Canada (TSX:AC.B) employee relations director.
"The irony is that by trying to legislate certainty into the collective bargaining process they actually had the opposite effect," said Smith, who negotiated multiple union contracts while an executive at the airline.
"This just proves that you can't legislate certainty, you can't legislate relationships."
Smith said the government has helped to breach the trust between the two parties, causing workers to be "mad as hell."
"Until that social contract is restored and until the government butts out in a certain sense I think this uncertainty will continue."
Smith said the government should have allowed last year's three-day strike by Canadian Auto Workers Union members to run its course.
Air Canada might have been able to establish a negotiating pattern that could have prevented other strikes. Instead, it was forced to accept an arbitrator's decision imposing a hybrid pension system for new employees that it saw as expensive.
The airline along with its flight attendants, pilots, mechanics and other workers were subsequently free not to compromise knowing that their dispute would be decided by arbitrators, Smith said.
Months of simmering anger by airline workers boiled over into wildcat strikes that caused flight cancellations on Friday. Those followed disruptions last weekend when some pilots called in sick.
David Doorey, associate professor of labour and employment law at York University, said the government made the situation worse by forcing pilots and mechanics into winner-take-all arbitration.
He said worker resentment may have been more muted if the matter was instead referred to an independent and neutral arbitration process.
Why Labour Minister Lisa Raitt thought this was a good strategy is anybody's guess, Doorey said.
"But the fact that employees are now resisting an unfair system should surprise no one," he said in an email
Federal bureaucrats had urged the minister to move cautiously in its interventions over Air Canada.
The Department of Human Resources and Skills Development advised the Conservatives in a secret report to use back-to-work legislation only for emergencies. The bureaucrats were not convinced the walkout by customer-service agents constituted anything more than a nuisance to air travellers.
A spokeswoman for the minister said Raitt will continue to act in the best interests of Canadians, which is why the government passed legislation to ensure continued air travel at Air Canada in order to protect the economy.
"We encourage the parties to resolve this internal dispute, return to work and restore the confidence to the travelling public," Ashley Kelahear said.
But Smith said he believes the government was blinded by its political ideology and hoped it has learned to sit on its hands when the next dispute arrives.
But Carleton University professor Ian Lee said the government's back-to-work legislation for Air Canada and Canada Post workers merely follows 60 years of similar action taken by governments of all political stripe.
Parliament has legislated ends to strikes in the transportation and communications sectors 32 times since 1950.
"From the very beginning of our history governments have understood that transportation and communications is absolutely core and essential to this country," said the professor in the Sprott School of Business.
He believes the constitutional challenge launched last week by Air Canada pilots and planned by mechanics has no chance of winning.
Lee also believes Air Canada workers are playing with fire because the disruptions may help sway the government to end protectionism for airlines as recommended by a 2008 report.
Lee said Air Canada is already in a fight for its life. As a legacy carrier, it has higher operating costs than WestJet Airlines (TSX:WJA).
"The legacy model is dying before our eyes. Air Canada understands that but the problem is when you go from a legacy airline the cultural transformation is important."
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