Tuesday, July 24, 2007

"Freedom of Association" Stinks?

Vancouver and the District of North Vancouver face the first summer municipal worker strike since the SCC decided public sector collective bargaining is constitutionally protected. No garbage pickup for who-knows-how-long. So far, fortunately, the weather in Vancouver in July has been more Vancouver than July.

The principal reason for the strike is that CUPE wants a chance to hold up the Olympics.

The Supreme Court preferred to dwell on the social reality of the nineteenth century as described by labour studies profs than the realities of contemporary public sector unionization. The difficulty is that all the reasons for placing some service in the public sector are reasons why they can't be left to a free Wagner Act-style collective bargaining process. If the strike lasts a long time, it will threaten an epidemic. Naturally, the people most at risk are the poor, the sick, the drug addicted. For this reason, since the Canadian public service was unionized at the end of the sixties and beginning of the seventies, every kind of government -- not just right-wing bastards like Harris and Klein, but the labour-dependent NDP and PQ -- have had to step in and legislative alter what free collective bargaining would result in.

Not that this has solved the fundamental problems. It may be hard for those of us born since 1950 to believe, but Canada historically had a first-rate public service -- certainly federally and in many provinces. I suppose to some extent this was a bad thing: America never had a good bureaucracy, but was a more dynamic country in part because men of talent and energy went into business instead.

We no longer have the problem that our best and brightest go into government service. Everywhere, public sector work is synonymous with shoddy work. Public sector unions have made it nearly impossible to fire even disastrous employees, let alone merely substandard ones. Obviously, there are still some talented, motivated people, but everything about the system tends to wear them down.

The solution has been increasing reliance on contracting out. This is imperfect, but that doesn't change the fact that it is the only solution.

I find it hard to imagine that the Red Nine -- living in Ottawa -- aren't at least somewhat aware of this. I know that the sentimentalizing lefty academics are. I guess we just have to be buried in garbage before we do anything about it.

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