Why pay $143 to screw in a pencil sharpener?

By MPP Toby Barrett
In a tale of two realities, the private sector has lost 300,000 manufacturing jobs and wage growth has become virtually stagnant, while 300,000 bureaucratic government jobs have been added to a bloated public sector payroll.
While Ontario’s unionized and non-unionized private sector workers have taken it on the chin, their public sector counterparts have ‘dined out’ for nine years under the present government.
Private sector employees have made tough concessions to keep their employers in business and their own jobs intact – if they’ve been lucky. At the same time, public sector unions under Dalton McGuinty have enjoyed a nine-year hiring binge and wage freeze deals that don’t actually freeze wages – like the recent agreement with English Catholic teachers.
The total paid to public sector workers increased 46 per cent, from $40 billion to over $58 billion, since the present government was first elected in 2003. No wonder the Canadian Federation of Independent Business found that public sector workers make up to 27 per cent more than their private sector counterparts when benefits are factored in.
Some of my musings over the summer generated a fiery response from a constituent concerned about this – plus the Ornge, E-health and gas plant debacles:

“Is it the public sector unions you’re talking about? You know, the sector where McGuinty gives the unions all they want. It seems to me that the public sector is a huge problem and none of these fools running it are accountable and I gotta pay for it. The public sector is whats going to bankrupt this province not my little union. We generate good tax dollars and then the public sector sucks them up like an out of control vacuum cleaner and creates massive financial fiascos.”

Indeed, the case can be made to reduce size and cost of government and improve service delivery through competition. For starters, our public sector tendering rules should be changed to allow open competition. This will ensure more roads get built and new buildings are opened on time and on budget – while driving costs down and creating jobs. It would also put a stop to outrageously-inflated closed-shop bills for things like that notorious $143 job to screw a pencil sharpener onto a classroom shelf.

Giving workers the individual choice whether or not to join a union doesn’t decrease wages. Unemployment does that. One of the most common myths is that workers choice reforms will create a ‘race-to-the-bottom’ in wages. Ontario is unfortunately winning the ‘race-to-the-bottom’. We’ve trailed Canada in job creation for 68 straight months. Wage growth is dead last among all provinces. A prolonged period of high unemployment increases the supply of labour, and means people will unfortunately be willing to work for less. A stronger economy with more Ontarians at work means employers will need to pay individual workers more in order to keep them from leaving and finding employment opportunities with their competitors.

Ontario’s decline continues despite a well-educated and experienced workforce with easy proximity to international markets. This province has great competitive advantages, but our failure to adapt to the realities of a 21st century economy – and modern labour laws – is holding us back. Taxpayers can no longer pay $143 to screw in a pencil sharpener – they never could.