The government of Canada, and in particular Labour Minister Lisa Raitt, has done the right thing in the case of both the major labour disputes it faces. Bringing in back-to-work legislation, now not necessary in the case of Air Canada but potentially applicable to the Candace Post lockout, has sent a strong message to unions and employers that the government - on behalf of a large majority of Canadians - has little time for games that jeopardize our collective national economy when it remains vulnerable.
Sure, collective bargaining rights are important. But in an environment where half the country is without employment-based, defined-benefit pension plans it is hard to imagine great public outcry for those who do have them and are seeking ironclad protection. Those of us who are our own pension plans have little sympathy and lots of jealousy towards the cushy annuities of our friends.
It has actually been fascinating to watch smart union leaders try to come up with narratives that resonate with a public that feels their organizations are antiquated entities with disconnected agendas. In neither the case of Air Canada nor Canada Post did the labour leadership make the debate about what was important to customers or users; instead it seemed to be about their own self-interest. Under such a frame the government met no real resistance in bringing down the hammer.
Capable and articulate union bosses like the Canadian Auto Workers chief Ken Lewenza are going to be challenged in the days, months and years ahead to make their arguments, which were relevant in the industrial age, pertinent in the information era. If they can't move public opinion they will be lucky if the only thing that causes them pain is back-to-work legislation.