Are contractual rights sacred?

I believe in the freedom to contract. But, as with all freedoms, this freedom is not absolute. There must be limits—reasonable limits.

Normally it is of course the right that preaches the sanctity of contract.  Contractual rights are of course a form of property right.  Many property rights are in fact no more than contractual rights these days.  For example what is a guaranteed investment certificate, but a contractual right to have the bank pay the holder a certain amount of money on a certain date. Any expropriation of contractual rights should therefore naturally meet with the loud opposition of our right-wingers.  Ordinarily, they are certainly vocal in opposition to any encroachments onto contractual rights without compensation, at least when the expropriated parties are people of wealth.

It was therefore interesting to see the reaction of the political right to proposals by the City of Winnipeg council a few years ago that the council obtain a tax freeze by tearing up its collective bargaining agreement negotiated freely with one of its main unions the year before. Interestingly there was little or no opposition heard from the right of the political spectrum. The conservative government under Premier Pallister did the same with its government employees during its first term in office.   I guess contractual rights are not important when they belong to the workers, rather than the investors.  There was absolutely no talk at all of the sanctity of contractual rights.  When it comes down to the poor and vulnerable labourers they are fair game.  In this neo-conservative age the rights of the poor, the vulnerable, and the mere workers are under siege.

Are contractual rights sacred? That depends on who is asking.


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