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8 reasons the Conservatives’ anti-union bill shouldn’t be brought back from the dead

It was battered, bloodied and bruised.  It even had most of its limbs hacked off by the Senate. But now the Conservatives’ anti-union bill C-377 is back from the dead.   The controversial piece of legislation, fronted by Conservative backbencher Russ Hiebert, would give the government unprecedented powers to force unions to hand over basic financial […]

September 23, 2014

It was battered, bloodied and bruised. 

It even had most of its limbs hacked off by the Senate.

But now the Conservatives’ anti-union bill C-377 is back from the dead.

 

The controversial piece of legislation, fronted by Conservative backbencher Russ Hiebert, would give the government unprecedented powers to force unions to hand over basic financial information to the Minister of Labour (including all expenses over $5,000).

First introduced in 2011, the bill was torpedoed last year when 16 Conservative senators broke rank by effectively gutting it.

Now, C-377 is back — with a vengeance. According to Canadian Press, Conservative senators are attempting to cut short debate on private members business just as upper chamber revives the controversial anti-union bill.

“The timing of the two moves has sparked suspicions that the Harper government wants to whisk bill C-377 through the Senate, avoiding the scrutiny that prompted senators, including 16 Conservatives, to gut the bill the first time it came before the upper house.”

And it’s not just unions that are alarmed by what’s in the bill.

Here are eight big problems that (now retired) Conservative Senator Hugh Segal exposed about C-377 during last year’s Senate debate:

The bill in its drafting, if not in its intent, had serious and, in the view of the vast majority of witnesses, fatal flaws as to the constitutional violation of sections 92 and 91 of the British North America Act, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, freedom of speech, expression and association as protected by that very Charter of Rights and Freedoms. – See more at: http://www.broadbentinstitute.ca/en/blog/his-own-words-hugh-segal-bill-c…

1. It’s unconstitutional:

The bill in its drafting, if not in its intent, had serious and, in the view of the vast majority of witnesses, fatal flaws as to the constitutional violation of sections 92 and 91 of the British North America Act, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, freedom of speech, expression and association as protected by that very Charter of Rights and Freedoms….

 

The bill before us is using the Income Tax Act to try to avoid a constitutional challenge before the courts, and that is not going to fly. One of the most important roles of the upper chamber in a confederation is to amend and even prevent legislation that would directly interfere in our constitutional provisions in Canada.

2. It treats unions like they’re under federal jurisdiction. They’re not. They fall under provincial jurisdiction:

The bill in its drafting, if not in its intent, had serious and, in the view of the vast majority of witnesses, fatal flaws as to the constitutional violation of sections 92 and 91 of the British North America Act, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, freedom of speech, expression and association as protected by that very Charter of Rights and Freedoms. – See more at: http://www.broadbentinstitute.ca/en/blog/his-own-words-hugh-segal-bill-c…
The bill in its drafting, if not in its intent, had serious and, in the view of the vast majority of witnesses, fatal flaws as to the constitutional violation of sections 92 and 91 of the British North America Act, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, freedom of speech, expression and association as protected by that very Charter of Rights and Freedoms. – See more at: http://www.broadbentinstitute.ca/en/blog/his-own-words-hugh-segal-bill-c…1. It treats unions like they’re under federal jurisdiction. They’re not. They fall under provincial jurisdiction:

“As a Conservative, I am first a “decentralist” who respects provincial autonomy within Confederation. Bill C-377 would subject unions to federal authority, when their activities clearly fall under provincial jurisdiction.”

3. It would violate the privacy of millions of Canadians:

“The key flaws of the bill are its invasion of privacy of up to 12 million Canadian mutual fund owners who will be swept into the disclosure and labour trust provisions of the bill which, whatever the intent, were badly crafted, along with pension recipients and joint union-employer pension or health insurance arrangements that exist broadly. Why should these innocent bystanders, who have paid into plans which may pay out more than $5,000 in any one year, be victimized by having their privacy invaded? What justice does this serve?”

4. It would tilt the advantage towards employers during negotiations:

“The bill before us also violates solicitor-client privilege and forces upon unions in Canada disclosure levels far lower than the corporations, whether public or private or government employers with whom they might negotiate. This will actually worsen labour relations in Canada, slow economic development, and upend the balance between free collective bargaining, capital investment and return, which are vital to a strong and free mixed-market economy. As a Conservative, I oppose the upending of this balance.

 

The spirit of the amendment I shall propose is straightforward. Freedom to invest, to grow, to build, to expand market share and to innovate are central to a strong entrepreneurial economy based on risk and productivity, sound human resource management and open regulation as sparse and minimalist as possible. That freedom cannot be exclusive or exist in a vacuum. It must coexist with the rights and freedom of association, freedom of speech, free collective bargaining, the right to organize, and the rights of both the employer side and the employee side to maximize its opportunities and aspirations through free and open negotiation.

 

Honourable senators, this bill violates that balance.”

5. It’s a declaration of war on workers: 

“Conservatism in the Canadian Tory context is not about the protection of class or the oppression of labour by capital or capital by labour; it is about a freedom tied to mutual respect, whatever legitimate disagreements, between all the participants in the mixed free-market system. This bill before us, whatever may have been its laudable transparency goals, is really — through drafting sins of omission and commission — an expression of statutory contempt for the working men and women in our trade unions and for the trade unions themselves and their right under federal and provincial law to organize.

 

It is divisive and unproductive.”

6. It begs the question: who’s next?

“If this is to apply to trade unions, why would it not apply to rotary clubs, the Fraser Institute, Christian, Muslim and Jewish congregations across Canada, the Council of Chief Executives, local car dealers or the many farming groups, like the cattlemen’s associations or the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, all of whom do great work? How about local constituency associations, food banks, soup kitchens, or anglers and hunters clubs?”

7. It’s singles out unions for scrutiny:

“Proposed subparagraph 149.01(3)(b)(ix) lists the need to declare what is spent on labour relations activities, with no concurrent disclosure imposed on the management side. 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.

 

How about the Montreal Canadiens having to tell the Boston Bruins whether their coach spent more than $5,000 on dinner for their team and where they ate in Boston before the game?

 

Honourable senators, this bill is about a nanny state; it has an anti-labour bias running rampant; and it diminishes the imperative of free speech, freedom of assembly and free collective bargaining.”

8. It makes you wonder if haggling labour unions is the best use of the Canada Revenue Agency’s time?

“My colleague from Prince Edward Island, Senator Downe, has spoken eloquently about the need to work harder on tax evasion. Do we want to take people who might be working on tax evasion and have them assess which union local bought a new boiler for its headquarters? That is what this bill would produce …

 

Have we decided that CRA has lots of employees with little to do? When did that meeting happen? Who came to that conclusion? To manage the new nosey mission, CRA would need new employees and up to $2.5 million in operating funds, plus an extra $800,000 a year. That is CRA’s own estimate. The Parliamentary Budget Officer says the number will be much higher.”

(Segal made points 1 through 5 during the Senate debate on June 17, 2013; points 6 through 8 were made during the Senate debate on February 14, 2013).

Photos: dhollister and prayitnophotographyUsed under Creative Commons BY-2.0 licences. 

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