sThe Harper government is appropriately targeting public-sector wages and benefits to bring them in line with those earned in the private sector. At one time, a government job paid less than market rates but offered richer benefits. That is no longer the case; taxpayers are paying to support public-service overall compensation higher than they themselves earn.
But the federal government's intent to intervene in collective-bargaining negotiations at Crown corporations is a bad idea. It muddles the "arm's-length" relationship with autonomous agencies that is necessary to keep government out of routine Crown-corporation business.
The government's budget-implementation omnibus bill would allow the cabinet, via Treasury Board, to set the compensation mandate and sit at the bargaining table. It has singled out Via Rail, the CBC and Canada Post, three entities struggling financially, two of which are under obvious pressure in a new age of communication.
The government's misstep is evident in the case of the CBC, a public watchdog heavily financed by taxpayers. The government should have no hand in writing journalists' paycheques.
The CBC and Canada Post need dramatic reform to remain relevant in the Internet age. But neither they nor the 40-plus other Crowns need the government directly setting wages and benefits.
The Harper government can, in setting budgets for Crown agencies, signal to their bosses that compensation needs to better match private-sector rates. Then it must step back.