Catherine Swift, Special to Financial Post | August 28, 2014 5:05 PM ET
Government employees make up most of the top 10% of income earners
The last few years have truly been high times for public sector unions while the vast majority of Canadians have been harmed by the unions’ excessive influence. On the west coast, a fractious teachers’ strike is underway, yet again. Teachers’ contracts in Ontario are also soon coming up for renewal. Canadian teachers are some of the best paid in the world, earning generous salaries for working nine months a year and retiring early with a generous pension indexed to inflation. Most Canadians would be ecstatic at such good fortune but union culture always demands more no matter what.
A few years ago in Alberta, Alison Redford was elected Leader of the Progressive Conservative party thanks to an influx of party members from the ranks of provincial teachers, when she promised them added funding. The first thing she did as Premier was to throw $107-million of taxpayers’ money to the province’s teachers. In Quebec, firefighters and police rioted when asked to pick up 50% of their generous pensions. In Ontario, the Ontario Provincial Police’s sharply escalating pay scales are imposing property tax hikes of up to 75% on some of the lowest-income people in the province — the current salary of a 1st Class Constable is $94,000. Also in Ontario, tens of millions in union spending recently elected a majority union-friendly government as government workers voted in droves.
“The rest of us pay more and more to this fortunate group while we struggle to provide for our families and save for our retirement”
Several years ago, the much-vaunted “Atlantic Accord” between then Prime Minister Paul Martin and then Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams transferred $2-billion from the rest of Canada to Newfoundland coffers. What most Canadians don’t know is that every penny of that $2-billion went to finance an unfunded liability in the Newfoundland teachers’ pension fund, and not a cent to average Newfoundlanders. Today that same pension plan is only 60% funded and is another $2-billion short.
Unions love to whine about the so-called 1%, those folks who data show are mostly doctors, dentists, veterinarians and other professionals who typically work longer hours and harder than others and end up being rewarded for it with higher income. Yet government employees make up most of the top 10% of income earners, an elite that make a much higher salary on average than they would if they did the same job in the private sector. The rest of us pay more and more to this fortunate group while we struggle to provide for our families and save for our retirement. The tail is wagging the dog.
Canadian unions are the most privileged in the world. They alone are able to force employees to pay dues in a unionized workplace, then spend those dues in whatever way they choose. Total union dues in Canada come to about $2.5-billion, an immense war chest that is typically used against the interests of their fellow Canadians. These dues have been used to fund such absurd causes as flotillas to Gaza, lavish travel for the union elite, G20 and “Occupy” riots, student riots in Montreal and advertising to subvert elections, among other things. In every other country in the world, unions dues are either voluntary or only permitted to be spent for collective bargaining purposes. Other countries also require transparency of union finances, whereas in Canada no transparency whatsoever is required despite the immense and unique privileges enjoyed by Canadian unions.
Government unions have also diverted most of the monies spent on services like health care and education into wages and benefits, as opposed to those funds being spent to reduce waiting times, purchase new technology and otherwise improve the quality of these services for all Canadians. The sorry state of our infrastructure is also an outcome of excessive amounts of government revenues flowing into wages and benefits for government employees.
In the private sector, unions have priced themselves out of the market as unionized companies continue to leave Canada for more competitive jurisdictions. The last bastion of union strength is the public sector, which now represents 60% of the total of unionized workers in Canada. We have seen the endgame of excessive government union influence in other jurisdictions such as Greece, Detroit, many California municipalities and elsewhere. This Labour Day, we should think long and hard about our future and begin to implement changes in the interest of the majority of Canadians and not just a privileged few.
Catherine Swift is spokesperson for Working Canadians, a not-for-profit organization. www.workingcanadians.ca@WorkingCdns