Unions and government – follow the money

As the Alberta recession deepens, and our province’s financial situation looks worse and worse, many pundits are bewildered at NDP policy decisions which are unquestionably going to delay the recovery. And then there are the unions who have vocally and militantly declared that, recession be damned, they are going to demand their pay raises.

On the face of it these actions seem utterly bizarre, unless one considers how much the NDP and the unions stand to gain, in terms of money and power, from these actions.


First let’s consider the provinces actions. Let’s start with the minimum wage increase. Despite widespread opposition to the minimum wage hikes – stemming from the virtually guaranteed inability of such policies to produce the effects they are allegedly supposed to produce – the NDP is charging forward with their plan.

And why wouldn’t they? If all the minimum wage earners get extra income in their pockets there is an inevitable upside for the government; more taxes! The more that people earn the more they pay in taxes, even after their basic personal exemption. So of course the NDP is attracted to the idea of ensuring that everybody, not just minimum wage earners, is earning more money (thanks to the trickle-up effect) because that means everybody gets to fork over more money to the government.

NDP wins!

And the carbon tax… well that’s obviously going to take more money from Albertans and direct it to government. But in this case they aren’t even creatively hiding it behind something like a minimum wage hike; they are just going to tax us outright.

And consider the expansion of the public services. This is another example where the NDP is clearly going to win by having more employees on the public payroll. If the NDP is the party of guaranteed job security (come Hell or high water) and generous wages, then which party do you think is more likely to get more of the votes from those in the electorate who are on the government payroll? It probably isn’t going to be the party who wants to trim back government spending, is it? Would you vote for a CEO that promises to reduce operating expenses, such as staffing? Self-preservation will rule the day, so it is in the NDP’s best interest (as the party that believes “small government” is a contradiction in terms) to get as many voting Albertans on the public payroll as they possibly can before the next election. This paper presents some research into the voting habits of those in the public sector and it confirms that, for the most part, public sector employees tend toward the political left.

Furthermore, the worse off they can make the economy, the more dramatic and stark the policy shift will have to be in order to fix it. So the desired electoral dependency is further entrenched by fear of “big change.” It is in the NDP’s best interest to widen the gap between themselves and their competition, and the best way to do that is to do so much damage to the economy that the only way to fix it is through policies that are increasingly distant from (and therefore scary compared to) the status quo. Then when the next election comes around they can pull out the standard right-wing fear mongering (i.e. massive firings of teachers and nurses, elimination of front line services, the dreaded “austerity,” etc) and coast back into power on a wave of widespread public paranoia.

In short, not only does the NDP not have any real motivation to “fix” the economy, it is in their best interest to thrust the province into such financial dire straights that the only way to fix their mess is through fiscal policies that will seem ever more frightening the longer the NDP remain in power. All they need in order to survive the next election is to work hard for four years to generate as many political junkies as they can who keep coming back to the NDP for their perpetual fix. Junkies who can easily be persuaded to avoid the unpleasantness of withdrawal. And having the monopoly on the supply gives the NDP significant power.

Money and power; a potent mix.


A similar line of reasoning applies to unions as well. When I heard that the AUPE was going to stand their ground and demand their raises in the face of the worst economic crisis to hit this province in a generation, I assumed they were just heartless and selfish. Upon reflection, however, it seems more likely that “follow the money” is what we need to do in this case too.

According to their website, member dues are a percentage of wages; every dollar per hour increase simultaneously increases the union dues. So if the AUPE is able to persuade the NDP government to hike the income of AUPE employees, then guess who else benefits? Not only the NDP through higher taxes, but also the union through higher dues.

And, of course, the AUPE can’t be upset at the minimum wage hike either! Is it any wonder unions and NDP are such friends; they both stand to benefit from the same fiscal changes.

And if unionized employees get job stability and high wages even during one of our provinces worst economic crisis in history, then who wouldn’t be tempted to get themselves into a union job? Not only can the AUPE squeeze a few more dollars out of every union employee, even during a recession, but they are also more likely to attract additional employees into their unions because so many Albertans are out of work. More employees, earning more money = more unions dues. Talk about a double whammy of benefits!

And because the union takes care of contract negotiations, defends the employees if there is a conflict, and much more, union employees will naturally rely on the unions for many functions that a non-union employee would have to take care of themselves. Call it the path of least resistance. This creates an environment of dependency among union employees, which makes it less likely that they would choose to leave their union job and enter a world where they would suddenly have to deal with those things themselves. This dependency on the part of employees bestows on the unions significant power because tens of thousands of union workers are relying on them.

And the unions enjoy increased power in another sense. The more people that are under the union banner (a number that may very well increase during this recession) the more persuasive power the unions have in various areas of public life. What the union advises, the general public would be wise to take seriously. This is why the president of the AUPE can utter words such as,

It’s not just a matter of pissing off the front-line workers. It’s about pissing off AUPE which I don’t think is very wise for any government to do.

More money and more power. Sound familiar?

While the rest of the sober-minded Albertans look on these actions of the government and the unions with bewilderment and confusion, if one considers the money and power that both the government and the unions stand to gain by proactively capitalizing on this economic crisis, their actions make complete sense. They will have an increased number of dependent Albertans in their pockets, and more money squeezed from those very Albertans, by the time the next election comes around. And the typical left-wing hysteria of “massive cuts” and “austerity” will sound all the more convincing.

Good luck to any party that promises to trim back the NDP policies; they’ll have to persuade a plethora of government addicts to put away the needles. Not an easy task. Once the hooks are in, removing progressives from power becomes increasingly difficult. Just ask Manitoba.

This all sounds a little like conspiracy theory type stuff, doesn’t it? I’d like to think (and I hope this is the case) that the NDP and the unions are sincerely interested in, and are dedicating themselves to, the best interest of Albertans. Their literature presents them in this light, and I’d like to believe they are being honest. In short, I’d like to think that their misguided and extremely damaging policies are not rooted in self-interest, but in a fumbled pursuit of the public interest.

But it becomes harder and harder to believe that when I consider just how much they stand to gain on the backs of Albertans who are suffering under the worst economic crisis to hit our province in at least a generation. When we all lose, and they are set to benefit, then it is quite natural to ask whose best interest, really, are they looking out for?

I hope I am wrong. I’d much prefer to chalk this up to thoroughgoing ineptitude and/or failed public policy, instead of systemic corruption and greed.