Sooner or later unions turn against their benefactors, they always do. Ontario politicians should know this from the many object lessons we have close to home: most recently, former Toronto mayor David Miller and more famously Bob Rae, former NDP premier of Ontario.
Both men were sympathetic towards unions, and, in Rae’s case, initiated legislation that strengthened unions’ position in the province. Yet, both politicians came a cropper when they tried to manage their governments’ finances to the benefit of all residents, and not just to the benefit of those few who belonged to unions.
Premier Dalton McGuinty seems next in line to learn that lesson. So far, in the contest between government and public sector unions, the score must be something like 10-nil in favour of the unions.
Public sector union contracts with increases above inflation have become commonplace in Ontario—with some deals even made in secret. Remember last year when we learned McGuinty had authorized a new contract with OPSEU in 2008, providing 2 per cent wage increases for four years, and then signed a separate, secret, agreement with the union, granting an extra percentage point in 2012.
McGuinty did receive a big “thank-you” in the form of support in the 2011 election from Ontario teachers’ unions whose members have received billions of dollars in additional wages and benefits during his last two terms in office.
However, since rating agencies started taking a hard look at Ontario’s Aa1 rating—the second-highest grade available—McGuinty is beginning to understand his government’s generosity towards unions is not sustainable, and he’s looking for public sector unions to receive his message of restraint with an open mind. Good luck with that.
More likely he’ll get the sort of reception David Miller received: a particularly antagonistic garbage strike. Or the push-back Bob Rae’s Social Contract received in the early 1990s. The unions turned on their former fair-haired boy and his New Democratic Party, vowing to defeat the government in the next election.
The Bible advises, put not your trust in princes. I’d advise Dalton McGuinty to put not his faith in unions.