Keith Beardsley’s View From the Hill – Harper Government’s Intervention into Air Canada Negotiations Motivation – October 12, 2011

CFN – 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.

Keith Beardsley is a senior strategist for True North Public Affairs in Ottawa, as well as a blogger and political analyst. He can often be found running or cycling on his favorite bike trails.



  1. Right on, Keith. What is this government thinking? It preaches the economy above alI, proceeds to use the club of ideology to fracture it and cause all kinds of bad blood among Canadians. Well, you get what you vote for. Are Canadians masochists? I don’t think so. But if they want their country to avoid the mess in the US, they need to wake up in a hurry.

  2. People should have a fair wage and decent benefits. Who gets to decide on them though? The market, the Taxpayer or Unions? Go Conservatives!

  3. Go where, Eric?

  4. It’s looking like the Harper Reformatories are removing the right to strike, effectively gutting unions in Canada. Is this a surprise?

  5. Do we really need unions anymore? All they have done is to price us into bankruptcy. We have the highest paid workers in the world.

  6. We need to get rid of unions and in the case of Air Canada.. get rid of the union and make the workers part owners… so that the workers and the company have the same focus… which is to provide the best value for the consumer while increasing shareholder value

  7. Who are we, Stan? Workers who are not only exploited financially, but also made to work in unreasonable/unacceptable working conditions? Sounds as if there’s a touch of “I’m all right Jack” in your post.

  8. PJR, given the demands we make on our government to use more commercial airlines instead of the government jets then Air Canada becomes an “Essential Service” and cannot strike. We cannot have it both ways!

  9. Sorry, Stan, you are dodging your own question.

  10. In any case, Stan, “Essential Service” is a bogus pretext when there’s WestJet and other carriers more than ready to pick up the slack. And “Helicopter” McKay on standby….if you have the right passport.

  11. It’s interesting how people who have benefited from all the gains in labour laws ( forty hour weeks, safety regulations, etc.) by the unions are so intent on throwing them under the bus. Now that the heavy lifting has been done, I’m ok and don’t need you anymore.

  12. Stan, what the H*** is the Harper government doing these days that any reasonable person could classify as “essential?”

  13. Watcher, they are, or are about to build a bunch of big prisons, bust unions, bankrupt opposition parties, kill the long gun registry, kill the CBC, kill the Wheat Board, etc. And that’s just the start. They have four years of damn near absolute power to reshape Canada into whatever they want. And don’t forget that crazies like Charles McVety have influence in the governing party.

  14. Speaking of union busting, funny how our hypocritical representative in Ottawa used to be a Public Service Alliance of Canada shop steward, and now he’s about to bust the union he worked for, and which got him one of his gold-plated indexed-for-life pensions.

    Maybe the reason Air Canada is so essential is because our MP is planning on commuting between Ottawa and the new Lauzon International Airport in Summerstown.

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