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Canada Gives An Object Lesson On Importance Of Negative Rights
The concept of “negative” and “positive” rights is fairly simple and straightforward: Negative rights are prohibitions from government intruding on an individual’s personal liberty, whereas positive rights are promises of restraint from government intruding on an individual’s personal liberty. Alternatively, negative rights proceed from an authority other than government, and positive rights proceed exclusively from the authority of government.
Ontario, Canada, gives us a very good object lesson in the distinction between positive and negative rights with their recent proposed legislation ordering school workers to accept a mandated four-year contract, with punitive fines to be imposed should those workers attempt to strike or otherwise renegotiate the agreement.
The government warned Sunday it would table the back-to-work legislation plus a contract to avoid more turmoil in schools after an unscheduled bargaining session with the Canadian Union of Public Employees’ school boards bargaining unit, which represents 55,000 custodians, early childhood educators, educational assistants and clerical staff in many of the province’s school boards.
Without commenting on the particular merits and demerits of the school union’s contractual demands and expectations, the blunt reality of the situation is that the government is using its authority to rescind the right of individuals to withhold their labor in pursuit of better wages and working conditions. Because the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms preconditions all rights on the benificence of the law—which is to say the government—Ontario has decided that its benificence in the matter of school worker pay is to deny school workers a right to strike, which is tantamount to denying them a right to negotiate the contract for their services.
This is the natural outcome for all positive rights: whenever such rights inconvenience the governing authority, the governing authority is likely to rescind those rights using any pretext available.
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