Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Hudak impresses as he presents plan to reform labour laws

The leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative party, Tim Hudak, made an appearance last Wednesday on TVO’s The Agenda TV show hosted by Steve Paikin. Mr. Hudak was on the show to present his party’s plan for healthcare reform and to discuss the merits of the PC labour reform plan.

Adding moral support to Mr. Hudak’s positions was Federal/Ontario Director, The Canadian Taxpayers Federation, Gregory Thomas. And taking an opposing view on virtually everything the PC leader had to say were two academics: Charlotte Yates, Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, McMaster University and Anil Verma, Professor, Industrial Relations and Human Resource Management, Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto.

Mr. Hudak, I must say, made good use of the exposure on the province’s educational TV channel. He was calm, articulate and premier-like while he presented his points intelligently. All round, he performed excellently and was impressive.

And so too were his points and arguments. These I’ll not discuss much here as they are outlined and well explained on the PC party’s website here and here.

Gregory Thomas was an enthusiastic critic of some of the current government’s policies and approaches and showed real passion at times. He seemed to support the main thrust of both PC initiatives.

The two academics, though, saw little or no merit in anything offered in either initiative. Apparently, the status quo is just fine, especially as regards labour reform. They saw, as an example, little wrong or undemocratic about requiring a worker to become a member of a union and/or pay union dues as a condition of employment.

Steve Paikin, the host of The Agenda, was his usual effective self, allowing each guest to have his or her say and gave ample opportunities for them to defend their positions. He’s a real pro at this.

I’ve been watching Mr. Paikin’s on air at TVO since the early 1990s—especially on TVO's Studio 2 and Diplomatic Immunity—and I appreciate his fairness and enjoy his work. I do believe, though, he’s more sceptical and more probing when he has conservatives on his show than he seems with progressives.

When, for example, Charlotte Yates criticized the PC’s “right-to-work” proposal and pointed out that, in the U.S., 11 of 15 states with such laws had the highest poverty rates, Ms. Yates offered no evidence—other than her own sense of the issue—to connect “right-to-work” legislation to the poverty rate. Yet, Mr. Paikin seemed quite satisfied to let this go unchallenged.

When, however, Mr. Hudak offered the fact that “right-to-work” states have higher Average Yearly Economic Growth (4.4%) than states with mandatory unionism (3.6%) in the 2002-2011 period, Mr. Paikin wanted Mr. Hudak to make the direct connection between “right-to-work” laws and the improved economic results. By the way, I thought Mr. Hudak handled this well and supported his claims.

Mr. Paikin did always seem to require more substantiation from the conservative side, while taking statements from the progressive, pro-labour side at face value.

Many Toronto-based journalists seem to live in an intellectual cocoon where progressive = good and conservative = bad—or, at least, suspect. They also seem to see themselves as intellectually and culturally superior to Americans and especially Americans living below the Mason-Dixon line.

I remember once seeing Mr. Paikin interviewing a politician from Texas. Quite an intelligent, seemingly cultured one at that. Mr. Paikin came of as the rube as he spoke patronizingly to the man and expressed surprise when the fellow alleged, in effect, that not all Texans were bronco-busting, Stetson-wearing rednecks.

Not surprisingly, therefore, the host seemed hesitant to take at face value evidence of “right-to-work” laws working to the advantage of society at large and the economic welfare of residents when such evidence came from the southern states in the U.S.

Moreover, I chuckled when Ms. Yates defended forced union membership by saying, in effect, because unions are required to be democratic institutions, forced membership is acceptable when those forced to join can participate and make their views known from within the union.

It seemed to elude the professor that many people consider it undemocratic to force a worker to join a union in the first place, and the fact—unproven fact—that unions themselves might be democratic was immaterial.

Anil Verma did not add anything substantive to the discussion other than to display his own pro-labour union bias. The man is a professor of industrial relations and human resource management. Does he not understand that the priority—though not sole purpose—of industrial relations and human resource management is management of human capital, not the care, comfort and preservation of labour unions? I was surprised to see such a lack of critical/analytical thinking in a Rotman School of Management professor.

Mr. Paikin’s personal bias showing from time to time and Professor Yates unyielding pro-labour bias notwithstanding, I thoroughly enjoyed the exchanges. And this is the best I’ve seen from Mr. Hudak, giving room for optimism in Ontario’s next general election.

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