People will recall the battle over anti-union Bill C-377, another one of those "Private Members' Bills" that gets full approval and support from the Harper government's front office. This one was so grossly discriminatory and unconstitutional that the Conservative-dominated Senate, in a rare move, amended it to the point of shredding it and sent it back to the House of Commons. To what I imagine was Harper's dismay, 15 Conservatives joined with Conservative Senator (and mover of the amendments) Hugh Segal, and six more of them abstained from the vote. That's how bad the thing was.
The amended bill should have gone back to the House of Commons, but Parliament was prorogued before that could happen, so under the rules, the Bill ended up back in the Senate, unamended. Not a scratch on it. Bad as new.
It sat around for a year or so, but is now under Senate consideration. And by no coincidence at all, Harper Conservatives in the Senate are moving quickly to change the rules in their favour. Private Members' Bills are presently open to free debate in the Senate. But the Conservatives want to impose time allocation on those debates so they can whisk the legislation through.
For those who have forgotten what C-377 contains, here's a refresher:
- C-377 is discriminatory, targeting labour organizations specifically. No other association, corporation or non-profit organization in Canada is required to submit to this level of intrusion, even organizations like the Fraser Institute which actively lobby the government against unions.
- C-377 is not about "transparency." Unions are already required by law to provide regular, detailed financial reports of assets, liabilities, income and expenditures to their memberships. C-377 not only requires labour organizations to file an additional twenty-one reports that would chew up enormous union resources to produce, but to pass on all of that information to the Minister of Revenue for public posting.
- Privacy rights are ignored in C-377. Highly detailed personal information would be forcibly publicized, such as medical benefits covered for individual employees, who would be publicly identified.
- Union strategy would be forcibly publicized to employers. But there would be no such requirement for those employers to disclose back. As Senator Hugh Segal said last year, "How about a law that forced my political party to disclose its campaign, travel, research and advertising budgets to the Liberal Party of Canada or to the NDP two weeks before the election was called? Perhaps Coca-Cola should be forced to disclose to Pepsi its marketing plan and expenditures over $5,000."
- C-377 covers all labour organizations, big or small. Union Locals, usually run by part-time volunteers, would also have to research, produce and file all this paperwork. The same would go for labour councils, federations, union committees and other labour bodies. Failure to comply would mean heavy fines.
Segal rightly described Bill C-377 as "immature, ill-conceived and small-minded." Nothing has changed, except that he has since retired: his strong pro-union voice in the Senate will not be heard during the current debates. But you can make sure yours is. Let's put a stake through C-377's heart once and for all, before it begins to feed.