By Aaron Wherry - Friday, November 16, 2012 - 0 Comments
The Harper government announces that it has eliminated 10,980 positions within the public sector in the last six months.
“We are shrinking the size of government while minimizing impacts to employees,” said Minister Clement. “We will continue to work hard to rein in spending and find efficiencies in government operations. Our Government understands that reducing costs helps keep taxes and our debt low, which are critical to spurring growth and ensuring our long-term prosperity.”
The biggest cuts (by total number) came in Public Safety, the Canada Revenue Agency and Human Resources and Skills Development.
By From the editors - Tuesday, March 27, 2012 at 12:03 PM - 0 Comments
Final offer arbitration may be the best option to deal with this year’s strife
As many as 200,000 college and university students in Quebec claim to be “on strike.” Rather than attending classes, writing papers or preparing labs, on select days the students have been cutting classes, blocking traffic and getting tear-gassed.
At issue is a provincial plan to raise university tuition from what is the lowest in Canada to a rate that will be . . . the second-lowest in the country (assuming other provinces maintain their current tuition fee policies). Quebec students currently pay an average of $2,400 per year according to Statistics Canada. The national average is more than double that—$5,400. Quebec’s plan will gradually raise tuition fees until they hit $3,800. Quebec student groups argue tuition should be free, and they’re prepared to walk to make their point.
Unlike strikes in the real world, however, university students lack the sort of leverage enjoyed by actual employees. Students pay for the privilege of going to school, not the other way around. So when they withhold their services, it’s not the provincial government that finds itself inconvenienced, it’s the students themselves. Keep in mind also that the vast bulk of benefits from post-secondary education go directly to students—an undergraduate degree provides an estimated 10 per cent annual return over a student’s entire lifetime. (Not all students have divorced themselves from looming adulthood. Most students at McGill, for example, voted against a strike.)
As absurd, overreaching and self-defeating as the Quebec student strike appears, it is simply the most outrageous example of what promises to be a year filled with overreaching and self-defeating labour strife.
Austerity has become the watchword at all levels of government. As municipalities, provinces and Ottawa struggle to cut deficits and contain costs, it seems increasingly likely public sector unions—used to healthy regular increases in wages and benefits—will find themselves mightily disappointed. Like their confreres at school in Quebec, we may thus expect public sector unions to take to the streets to express their displeasure.
Halifax bus drivers, Toronto librarians, teachers in British Columbia. Across the country, Canadians are already feeling the effects as public sector labour unions push back against the necessity of balanced budgets.
The current dispute in B.C. over teacher pay is instructive. The B.C. Teachers’ Federation’s initial contract demand, released last summer, called for B.C. educators to be the best paid in the land—which would have meant a 22 per cent wage increase for some teachers. They also wanted 10 days paid bereavement leave—activated upon the death of not just a close relative, but of a friend, too, plus another 26 weeks of compassionate care leave to allow a teacher to look after “any person,” on full pay, rather than teach. Further, there were to be eight paid discretionary days to be taken whenever and for whatever reason, and sizable increases in paid preparation (i.e., non-teaching) time. The only thing missing was free unicorn rides to school.
None of this would be reasonable in times of plenty. With the B.C. government committed to balancing its budget by 2014, such demands can only be described as off-the-charts wacky. (The teachers have since lowered their demands to a 15 per cent wage increase plus assorted benefit goodies.)
The province has offered the same net-zero wage it’s negotiated in 130 other public sector labour agreements. And Premier Christy Clark’s government recently passed legislation temporarily removing teachers’ right to strike. But there is still no contract, and the teachers are considering escalating job actions this week.
It is no longer possible to expect taxpayers to fund perpetual increases in wages and benefits for the public sector, particularly as private sector workers see their pensions disappear and salaries stagnate. There exists a massive gap between public sector union expectations and taxpayers’ ability to pay. How best to close this gap?
Strikes are a time-honoured way for two sides to hammer out their differences. Unfortunately, public sector strikes create widespread pain for the entire community. And because of this, governments often lose their nerve for toughing it out. When things get uncomfortable, politicians tend to opt for back-to-work legislation, followed by binding mediation. And mediators are famous for splitting deals down the middle, a process that encourages unions to make outrageous opening demands in the first place. In the B.C. teachers’ dispute, both government and union are playing these all too familiar roles.
An alternate solution, one proposed for B.C. in a 2004 provincial report, is final offer arbitration. Both sides present their best final offer and an impartial arbitrator picks between the two options, rather than splitting any differences. Such a system pushes each side to negotiate in good faith and present reasonable offers; it’s used successfully in professional sports. If there is a downside, it’s that arbitrators play the role that should properly be filled by taxpayers’ elected representatives.
But where governments are unwilling or unable to see public sector strikes through to a successful conclusion, final offer arbitration may be the best option for all taxpayers—particularly in a year that promises plenty of labour unrest.
By Colby Cosh - Tuesday, January 17, 2012 at 9:30 AM - 0 Comments
With contracts for half a million public sector workers to be negotiated this year, things could get very ugly
The Occupy movement, globally ubiquitous and proudly obtrusive, is remembered as one of the top news stories of 2011. In reality, the effort by various species of crank to take over public parks probably wasn’t even the most important “people occupying stuff” news item of the year, at least in North America. That honour rightly belongs to the February swarming of the Wisconsin legislature by up to 100,000 protesters dedicated to stopping Gov. Scott Walker’s “budget repair bill.” The new Republican governor, hoping to balance the state budget without reversing tax cuts of the past decade, struck at the collective bargaining rights of public sector workers, taking away their right to negotiate benefits and capping pay increases at the inﬂation rate.
The result was a ferocious multi-theatre battle over the value of public sector unions. It raged all year from the steps of the Capitol building in Madison to the state Supreme Court, the schools and universities, and even Wisconsin’s prisons, where guards threatened a wildcat strike and Walker countered by contemplating the use of the National Guard for replacement manpower. In August the state set a record for the largest number of recall elections held simultaneously in the U.S., as six Republicans and three Democrats in the state Senate were caught in the crossfire. (All but two Republicans survived.)
One wonders why this sort of massive fundamental confrontation over public sector unions—a type of confrontation that is all but perpetual in the United Kingdom—has been absent from Canada. It is not as though Canadian governments have failed to present pretexts for warfare. For 30 years the federal government has intervened in labour disputes only occasionally, but in 2011 Labour Minister Lisa Raitt went on a tear, threatening Air Canada customer-service staff with back-to-work legislation in June, pushing a Canada Post lockout of CUPW workers to binding arbitration by statute, and pre-empting Air Canada-CUPE negotiations in October.
By Leah Mclaren - Tuesday, March 15, 2011 at 10:52 AM - 10 Comments
PM David Cameron wants to remake Britain. Critics say his plan will end up destroying the United Kingdom.
It’s been a difficult few weeks for David Cameron’s much vaunted Big Society.
The concept behind the British prime minister’s plan to rejuvenate the economy is either the great hope for modern Britain or a puff of political hot air, depending which side of the debate you fall on. As the initial round of deep public spending cuts approaches later this spring—the first of a planned $130 billion through 2015—some former champions are backing away from the notion of what Cameron calls the “plan to dismantle Big Government and build the Big Society in its place.”
So what exactly is the “big society” anyway? In the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition agreement, it is described as a plan to “take power away from politicians to give it to people.” Labour MP Ed Balls, on the other hand, has dubbed it “the big con.” Three points are certain: it seems to involve less government, more civic engagement, and the PM is very, very excited about it.
Others less so. Lord Wei, a consultant tasked by Cameron with pushing the Big Society agenda, revealed last month he would be scaling down the amount of time he devotes to the project (the irony of having a key volunteer abandon the volunteering bandwagon has been giddily noted in the country’s left-wing press). And in the same week, Liverpool city council, which was a test case council for one of four pilot volunteer schemes, announced it was pulling out and no longer supports the Big Society, as a direct result of the Tory-led government’s funding decisions.
By John Parisella - Friday, February 25, 2011 at 7:04 PM - 63 Comments
The battle lines over public sector wages and benefits are being drawn in the…
The battle lines over public sector wages and benefits are being drawn in the state of Wisconsin and there is every indication the outcome will be messy. At issue is how government employees affect public finances. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker not only wishes to tackle this issue, but has gone a step further in wanting to permanently change how the state will conduct collective bargaining in the future.
Unions see this as a full frontal attack on the labour movement. The fact 36 per cent of union members work in the public sector, while only 7 per cent work in the private sector has made this an easy Republican versus Democratic battle about the role and size of government.
By macleans.ca - Monday, February 7, 2011 at 11:09 AM - 18 Comments
Are these Big Government Conservatives?
When the CBC’s Peter Mansbridge, in a recent interview, asked Stephen Harper about the apparent growth in the size of government during his five years in office, the prime minister was defensive. Harper pointed to his expansion of the military and RCMP, along with priorities like food inspection. Beyond those narrow areas, he claimed, “if you look at the trend size of government with the recovery, it’s not growing in this country.” Now comes this straightforward story on the size of government. Leaving aside the military and the Mounties, the public service “swelled by 33,023 people, slightly more than 13 per cent, over five years.” How does that compare with the overall growth in the Canadian population? Under the Harper government, public service expansion has outstripped it by 7.8 per cent.
By Colby Cosh - Sunday, March 21, 2010 at 7:23 AM - 200 Comments
An anonymous correspondent at American culture weblog 2 Blowhards broadcasts monstrous untruths about Canada’s federal public service, which I’m sure some of the readers employed therein will wish to go rebut. (On their own time.)
By Mark Steyn - Thursday, March 18, 2010 at 8:40 AM - 76 Comments
Still foolish enough to be in the private sector paying for the benefits of the public sector?
I can’t remember exactly when I first encountered a pop-culture jetpack. Was it James Bond’s, courtesy of Q, in Thunderball? Or was it some comic book? At any rate, I no longer have to wait for mine. Martin Aircraft of Christchurch, New Zealand, have put one into production, for the cost of a top-of-the-line automobile—or about $100,000. It’s not clear to me where you’d be able to fly it, since government air-traffic agencies don’t seem eager to contemplate a world of individual human flight patterns. But still: the Bond jetpack is belatedly here.
Other than that, the future seems unlikely to be quite as futuristic as expected. The problem facing the developed world isn’t so very difficult to figure out. We’re living beyond not just our means but everybody’s means. You can strap on your jetpack, but where would you go? In the United States, Andrew Biggs of the American Enterprise Institute calculates that if the federal government were to increase every single tax by 30 per cent it would be enough to balance the books—in 25 years. Except that it wouldn’t. Because if you raised taxes by 30 per cent, government would spend even more than it already does, on the grounds that the citizenry needed more social programs and entitlements to compensate for their sudden reduction in disposable income.
In Canada, the average household’s debt-to-income ratio reached an all-time high in 2009. Credit-card holders at least three months behind with their payments increased by 40 per cent.
By Rachel Mendleson - Wednesday, October 14, 2009 at 8:15 AM - 28 Comments
The public sector is all the rage these days. How can the private sector compete?
Jacob Gamache never thought he’d end up in the public sector. “There is a stereotype that the government of Canada is very slow,” he says. Seeking a faster-paced, more competitive environment, Gamache used his master’s degree in sports administration to land a job in 2005 with a private, non-proﬁt organization in Ottawa. Though ofﬁcially the manager of communications and events, Gamache, now 28, says he was somewhat of a “jack of all trades,” creating pamphlets, updating the website, and offering tech support to his co-workers. “I got an opportunity to learn a lot,” he says of the job, which required plenty of overtime. “You come in in the morning at 7:30 or eight, and you’re not too sure when you’ll go home at night. When you do, the laptop comes with you. And the cellphone.”
By the fall of 2007, Gamache was ready for “something a bit more stable.” On a friend’s suggestion, he applied to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), a federal funding agency—and one of Canada’s Top 100 Employers this year. He took a job with the agency in May 2008 and hasn’t looked back. On top of solid beneﬁts, an enviable pension and a higher salary, he says there’s plenty of opportunity to advance. (Despite his misgivings about the limits of bureaucracy, he’s already been promoted to project ofﬁcer in a little more than a year.) What’s more: while the recent economic downturn has seen hundreds of thousands of Canadians lose their jobs, he’s had “no worries” about holding on to his. When asked whether he would consider returning to the private sector, Gamache says, “It would be a very tough sell.” Continue…
By Jason Kirby - Wednesday, July 15, 2009 at 11:40 PM - 90 Comments
Public workers have it better already. By asking for more, they’ve sparked anger and envy.
The three-week-old strike by municipal workers in Toronto has spawned mountains of stinking garbage, left public swimming pools empty and wreaked havoc for working parents who rely on city-run daycares. But the strike has also brought with it something else: the sudden realization that not all jobs in Canada are created equal.
In what many would call the real world, an economic earthquake has shattered lives, erased nearly 400,000 jobs, and obliterated a lifetime of retirement savings, hopes and dreams. Yet despite that, public sector workers with iron-clad pensions and rock-solid job security have opted to wage a battle for pay hikes and the type of arcane perks that were almost unheard of in the private sector, even when times were good. “Everyone who works within a large apparatus like the government believes the whole world works that way, when in fact it doesn’t,” says Ted Mallett, chief economist with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB). “There’s a distinct lack of appreciation for what’s changed outside in the real world.” Continue…