Aside: a no-compete treat for the labour market?

I don’t understand why the Government of Manitoba thinks it shouldn’t have to compete in the labour market for its public sector workers. Because that’s all the Public Services Sustainability Act is – a no-compete treat.

the “certainty” of not having to pay market rates

Why did the Government need the PSSA? According to a document prepared for the Public Sector Compensation Committee:

A significant portion of government expenditures relates to public sector compensation, therefore any plan to return to fiscal balance requires certainty and sustainability in negotiated increases.

Or, as Stevenson admitted, another way of putting it is:

If we leave it to collective bargaining, we may not get the certainty that we get if we impose it by legislation.

But, in truth, it’s not really “certainty” that they are after. Rather, it is keeping public sector salaries fixed, and fixed at a lower rate than what they probably would be if the Government had to negotiate for them.

What that really means is that the Government is taking away the unions’ right to bargain freely on benefits and wages. This in turn means the Government does not have to compete in its own labour market, or, as a result, pay market value for the labour of public employees, all other things being equal.

I’m not particularly a fan of ideological economic contentions from either side of the political spectrum. But it does make me wonder when, the laissez-faire believers are so always thoroughly against all market intervention  in private business, yet when it comes to the public sector, well, intervene as you please.

Why can’t we get “certainty” in other places too?

In supply and demand terms, if the PSSA is justified, then it would seem that it is acceptable to interfere in markets if the Government needs money. Ok, then, so let’s follow this through. Are there other markets where the Government of Manitoba might be able to save itself some cash if it legislated how much those goods or services would cost them? I can think of a few.

I actually got the idea when Richard Groen mentioned that one of the ways the Government can save money is by having a preferred supplied agreement on cellular service. The Government reduces its costs by buying in bulk. But, if we can go around interfering all we like, why don’t we just say – hey you big wireless company, we hereby make it law that you shall provide every public employee in Manitoba with a free cellphone, and a plan of unlimited calling for $5.00 a month. Think of the savings.

What? Taking away the right of a wireless company to freely negotiate the terms of its services? Well, we’re the government, and we need to control our expenditures.

You could have lots of fun with this concept, and the possibilities are endless. Anyone supplying paper, pens, and staplers to the Government of Manitoba must do so at cost (hey, we’re being nice, at least it’s not at a loss). All employees of any company working on a capital project for the Government of Manitoba shall have their wages capped at 70% of their regular entitlement. We are the government; we make it so.

Why don’t we just go get big pots of money?

If governments can go ahead and legislate any economic result that they want whenever they want to, then why just stop at market interference? Let’s get into some old-fashioned appropriation. And if you are looking for big pots of money, I know where we might find some lucrative ends of some fiscal rainbows.

The Big Five Banks collectively make profits of around $30-40 billion a year. And, they still owe us for the 2008 Financial Crisis, which, incidentally, is why the debt of so many Canadian governments ballooned and mushroomed over the past decade. So why don’t we get together and pass legislation that sets out a mechanism for them to pay us back?

Let’s say for the next ten years, the Big Five Banks have to pick a Province and pay off it’s debt on a pro-rated basis. Since Manitoba’s debt is only $21 billion, for provinces like us, they’d still have lots left. You’d probably have to split it over a couple of years for Ontario and Quebec, but that’s Ok, because PEI can be wrapped in with the next smallest debt, and Alberta doesn’t need it.

Well, wouldn’t that be wonderful? I’m sure the Premier would be happy to get up and say – we are moving Manitoba forward with the help, and we thank them, of the Big Five Banks.

And every Premier whose province’s turn it was would be delighted to write to each bank president and their senior executives – we recognize that you are in this year giving up your entitlement to your millions of dollars in bonuses, and so on behalf of the people of [this province], we take this opportunity to express our appreciation.

Yeah, yeah, I know, I can hear the economists groan at the economic impact of such money-playing measures – business won’t have billions to borrow, you’ll wreck the economy. But that doesn’t seem to matter when it comes to the labour market. No one seems to have bothered to calculate the impact on Manitoba’s economy of restricting the buying power of 20% of the workforce. Besides, that’s not the point.

The point is, when it comes to the government dealing the private sector, the dominant and prominent assumption is that the government shall grow up and compete like any other entity, and not legislate for itself a sweet, savings deal.

So then, my friends, why is it Ok for them to do it here?

And you know, there is one other thing about all these other no-compete treats, should the right level of government choose to engage in them. Unlike substantially interfering with the collective bargaining of public sector unions, none of these things would be unconstitutional, and therefore illegal.

The Trial Begins

Setting the scene in Courtroom #210 as the trial of MFL v. Manitoba begins. We get some background and meet the players.

Opening Statements

The proceedings begin with opening statements. Here, the lawyers for each side give us an outline of the course they are going to take (and why it is going to take 13 days to get there).

The Testimony of Kevin Rebeck

The President of the Manitoba Federation of Labour testifies about consultations between the government and some Labour leaders prior to the PSSA being passed. They weren’t very fruitful, and there seems to have been some question as to whether the government was being truthful.

Passed but Not Proclaimed?

Why is the government waiting to proclaim the PSSA? I thought there was a financial emergency, and dire warnings of our precarious fiscal position. But it has been 2 1/2 years. Don’t they need it yet?

The Testimony of Elizabeth Carlyle

Elizabeth Carlyle gets cross-examined about what happened in a negotiation between CUPE and the Winnipeg School Division. It wasn’t a lot, and it doesn’t sound as though it was very good.

The Testimony of Dr. Mark Hudson

Remember when the faculty at the University of Manitoba when on strike in November of 2016? Dr. Mark Hudson is here to tell us why it happened. And he fills us in on what was happening between the University and the Province behind the scenes.

The Testimony of Tom Paci

Tom Paci appears on behalf of the Manitoba Teachers Society. His story? A quest for justice for Manitoba’s 15,000 teachers and an appeal to the gods of justice – how can we be bound by the PSSA when it is not law?

Indirect Taxing & Discriminatory Taxation

If a tax by any other name would be as taxing, could wage freezes be indirect taxation? And if members of public sector unions are paying more in taxes to support public services, would this qualify as discriminatory taxation?

The Testimony of Michelle Gawronsky

The leader of the Manitoba Government and General Employees Union recounts her experiences since the advent of the PSSA. Everything she says about her automatic approach to understanding concerns and finding ways to solve problems makes me think ” leader, leader, this is a great leader.”

The Super Six Speak

Six experienced union negotiators come to tell us about what has been happening in their collective bargaining worlds. We learn more about what the PSSA means for public sector unions and their collective agreements.

Labour’s Collective Bargaining Expert

Dr. Robert Hebdon testifies about the impact of the PSSA on collective bargaining in Manitoba’s public sector. It isn’t good.

The Testimony of Sheila Gordon

We end the union tales of collective bargaining under the PSSA in passed-but-not-proclaimed limbo with MGEU’s GEMA. Sheila Gordon, MGEU’s senior negotiator was there. And she is here to tell us how those negotiations did not go anywhere.

Labour’s Read-ins and One Last Reveal

You never know what read-ins from discovery might reveal.

The Testimony of Richard Groen

Richard Groen, an Assistant Deputy Minister from the Ministry of Finance, testifies about the Province’s budgets and such.

I was expecting him to demonstrate what all the financial fuss in 2017 was about, you know, why our financial ship was sinking so much that we needed all hands on deck. But …

A No-Compete Treat for the Labour Market?

I don’t understand why the government doesn’t think it should have to compete in its own labour market. It does everywhere else.

The Testimony of Garry Steski

Is it wrong to admit that before this I didn’t really know what a bond market was? Well, I do now, and we learn a little about how Manitoba’s bonds were affected by the fiscal challenges in 2016. Or not.

Bean Counters, Businessmen & Business of Government

If businessmen go into government to bring the principles of good business to government, then shouldn’t they act like good businessmen when they get there?

The Government’s Collective Bargaining Expert

It is best to talk about what happened here as little as possible. So we’ll talk a bit about the importance of turkey instead.

The Testimony of Aurel Tess

How a short day of seemingly tedious technical testimony on Manitoba’s Summary Financial Statements turned into a most unpleasant surprise.

Politicizing the Provincial Comptroller

Ok, Manitoba. Politicizing the Office of the Provincial Comptroller?

That takes the poop-cake.

The Government’s Economics Expert

The government’s economics expert, Dr. Livio Di Matteo, has a motto he lives by: Agimus Meliora – Let us do better.

It makes me wonder, Manitoba, can’t we do better than the PSSA?

Labour’s Economics Expert

Dr. Eugene “the Earnest” Beaulieu testifies that the PSSA is not only not necessary, it is a harsh measure that puts an unfair burden on public employees.

Bye Bye, Dumbo

Let’s take one last look at the Elephant in the Room, and then say goodbye.

The Mandamus Application

A day of argument about whether a statute that says “the Minister SHALL FORTHWITH” means that the Minister can decide not to do something and make up his own reasons for why he shouldn’t.

Decision on the Mandamus Application

Justice Keyser, the judge on the Mandamus Application, has spoken. Here’s a hint – MGEU wins.

Bill 9: We’re Gaming Again …

Before we begin all the good stuff, Garth Smorang has some objections to yet another litigation game the Government of Manitoba is playing.

Labour’s Final Argument

Labour’s last stand. Shannon-the-Hammer and Smorang-the-Smasher pull it all together and wrap it all up.

There is an awful lot of it, so Labour’s final arguments have been separated into four separate posts, which start here …

Butt-First Buffoonery

How did the Government of Manitoba get to such an embarrassing PSSA place? They backed into it.

The Government’s Final Argument

Forget the Elephant-in-the-Room.The Government of Manitoba has got many other ways to try to move the goalposts, as they try to change the game.

Kind of seems like they know they are losing.

Labour Replies

The Finale of the Finale. Labour replies.

(This means we are finally done. At least with the evidence and arguments.)

The Onion of Outrage

Why am I here? Why spend so much watching lawyers and judges and reading endless cases? It’s a pretty simple answer.

I was mad.

The Decision is In!!!

The Honourable Justice Joan McKelvey has ruled. Labour won. The PSSA is unconstitutional.

This is what she decided and why.

What Have We Learned?

There’s lots to discover from considering Justice McKelvey’s decision, and not just for labour lawyers. Let’s take a look at what we have learned.