Controlling Government Monopolies

Worth A Look, Public Sector, Frontier Centre

Don’t like the service you get at one grocery store? Go buy your fruits and veggies at the competition. Don’t like the health care or auto-insurance services you get from public-sector monopolies? Tough luck. Your “choice” is to pay your taxes and premiums, get in line and stop complaining.

Yesterday’s news that ICBC was wildly profitable last year is to be expected. Give one company a monopoly on basic auto insurance and it would take a monkey to produce a loss. The solution for too-large profits is full competition, with ICBC being forced to compete fully against private auto insurers.

A little competition in the delivery of medical services would also be useful, even if one thinks government should insure and pay for most of it. And last week, a novel approach to holding those in the public-health monopoly to account arrived in the form of a summons to the Hospital Employees Union (HEU).

It came from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and five patients. They have started a class-action lawsuit against the scrappy public-sector union over last year’s four-day illegal strike.
Such lawsuits have routinely been used against corporations and on behalf of shareholders. But the CTF’s suit is the first I can think of where patients and taxpayers may finally get some justice over the actions of health-care unions in our Soviet-era medicare system.

Such unions invariably claim that what’s good for them is good for the public. But last year’s HEU walkout blew a cannonball-sized hole in that claim. The 43,000 striking HEU members caused the cancellation of about 6,000 surgeries and 19,000 diagnostic procedures. That’s hardly surprising. Interruptions in service are guaranteed when it’s controlled mostly by one group.

And that’s why it’s smart for governments to contract out such services — as now is happening. That way, public-sector unions can’t shut down virtually the entire system.

Food is a need more basic even than health care. And it’s delivered by the private sector. But citizens will always be able to buy groceries, because all stores will never be shut down by a strike at one and the same time.

That said, it may surprise the HEU and its members to know that I’m not thrilled with how they were treated by government. Government and private-company bosses that treat workers badly deserve a fight, and I’m glad unions exist in such cases.

However, we can have universal health care without one union monopolizing a key link in needed services. Such monopolies are bad enough in auto insurance, as they restrict choice. They’re positively dangerous when it comes to our health.

It’s high time the HEU was hauled in front of a judge to justify its actions.