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Senior Tory Senator Lambasts Conservatives for Politically Motivated Attacks on Unions

In his stirring and memorable speech in the Senate yesterday, Senior Conservative Senator Hugh Segal didn’t say anything that hasn’t already be said by newspaper columnists, academics, unions, the Canadian Bar Association, and many others.

However, the fact that it was a respected Conservative pointing out that recent attacks against unions by the Federal Conservatives are little more politically motivated, transparent attempts to silence dissent is very striking.

Read Senator Segal’s speech from Senate yesterday here. It makes for great reading, and probably will be quoted for years to come.

He was speaking about Bill C-377, which is the private member’s bill that singles out unions as the only organization in Canada that would be required to publicly disclose every single purchase made over $5000, as well as the precise amount of time spent on something called “political activities” by every union employee.  I’ve talked about the Bill before.

Here’s some quotes from Conservative Senator Segal:

On the waste of taxpayer money, and Canada Revenue Agency personnel:

Conservative Senator Hugh Segal Takes Tories to Task for Attacks on UnionsDispatching CRA to police how trade unions spend their money, in denominations of $5,000 or more, is to increase the role of CRA and of the state in ways that create a bigger, nosier and more expensive government. As a taxpayer and as a Conservative, I oppose that kind of increase in any government’s power or expenditures.

At the disclosure level that is now in the bill — $5,000 — a two- year supply of coffee, a used car, a new computer system or printer, or the replacement of plumbing or a boiler at a union headquarters would qualify for explicit disclosure. Is this all that CRA has to do?   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.

On the discrimination of singling out only one type of association, trade unions, who the Tories  want to silence from political debate:

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?

All of these groups express views on policy. All have the right, under election law, to volunteer in municipal, provincial or federal elections, and all come to Ottawa to lobby and press government on issues important to them. They do so along with representatives of the defence industry, our First Nations and various cultural groups. Are they all to be swept into the CRA bureaucratic remit? That is what this bill would lead to. If CRA is to become the political judge of what expenses are appropriate, what are the guiding criteria? The bill is silent on that….

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.

I imagine that, were it to pass, subsequent legislation from the other place from private members might be aimed at newspapers; networks, TV and otherwise; student groups; universities; junior baseball leagues; and even, God forbid, community soccer. Where we are headed with this bill is down a dark alley to a very dark place indeed.

If the unions should disclose, so should the auto dealers, the C.D. Howe Institute, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, all the local Legions and all of the various local organizations.

On the importance of unions having strong rights to participate in political debate free from state interference:

As a Tory, I believe that society prospers when different views about the public agenda, on the left and the right, are advanced by different groups, individuals and interests. Debate between opposing groups in this chamber, in the other place and in broader society is the essence of democracy. Limiting that debate as to scope and breadth is never in the long-term interest of a free and orderly society…

Honourable senators, the very growth of Canada, the successive waves of immigrants from the British Isles that built Canada in the early days, depended in some measure on protecting legitimate union rights. Honourable senators, they did so then and they do now.

On why the Conservative government’s plan to force unions to provide free services to non-members (right to work laws–see my discussion here) that the Tories are expected to move on next is un-Canadian:

The negative effect of this bill, either in deploying CRA on political missions or on limiting freedoms, is debilitating and offensive. The bill before us today, as well as right-to-work legislation that is being proposed in the other place as a private member’s bill, is not who we are as Canadians. It is time this chamber said so.

On why taxation law should not be used to regulate political speech, and why laws that do govern political activities should apply across the political perspective, and not just to a particular government’s political opponents:

Honourable senators, I know union leaders whom I dislike and do not trust. Some have been mean, narrow, divisive and unconstructive, but I defend their right to advance what they consider to be their members’ interests. I know corporate, political and not-for-profit leaders who suffer from the same faults. As for soft-sounding, labour-financed coalitions that campaign against Conservatives at various points in provincial elections, we have seen that. It is the election laws that should be changed to limit anybody’s right to do so on the right or the left without spending limits and full, timely disclosure, not the Income Tax Act of Canada. This is a matter of election law, not CRA inquisition.

In the interests of free, collective bargaining; strong, competitive environments; safe workplaces; and the fair treatment of working men and women, socially, economic and politically, this bill should be either readily revamped or set aside. If it has been quoted on other matters in this place that “the best social policy is a job,” then people who seek union support in the workplace — as is their right in a free society — should be protected, and the unions who serve them should not be singled- out unfairly

Senator Segal cuts to the chase here when he argues that this law is about punishing the Conservative Party’s political foe–unions, and little else.  He notes that once we allow governments to start misuing the law to try and silence their political opponents, democracy and freedom of expression dies.  That is an apolitical observation, and at the root of his dire and memorable warning:  “Where we are headed with this bill is down a dark alley to a very dark place indeed.”

Questions for Discussion

Why do you think that a Senior Conservative party member would chose to make such a public and thoughtful condemndation of his own party’s legislative actions?

Do these arguments against Bill C-377 and “right to work” laws seem more convincing when made by a Conservative Senator than when made by unions and academics?

Do you think Senator Segal’s shot across the bow to his own party will slow Harper and Tim Hudak’s big plans to silence and undermine unions?

Do you agree with his arguments?


15 Responses to Senior Tory Senator Lambasts Conservatives for Politically Motivated Attacks on Unions

  1. Glenn Cpstello

    February 15, 2013 at 8:07 pm

    I believe the comments made by this Senator reflect what many level headed Canadians also think and believe.
    This is, to me, a targeted attack on a singular group of citizens.
    It reeks of partisanship.
    The Conservatives always talk about reducing spending and creating LESS government, yet they continuously spend more and more each time they gain power.
    Look back on our previous Con governments, and tally up what was accomplished through their reign of power. You will find historic amounts of spending, and added costs to our people through LARGER government, not less, as they always project.
    i.e. added Senators, T.S.S.A., etc.
    This a targeted attack on a small group. It used to be called discrimination, and we created laws to prevent it.
    How can they now break these very laws?

  2. slantendicular

    February 15, 2013 at 8:18 pm

    Hugh Segal has always been a maverick. He advocates for a Guaranteed Annual Income. Supports capital punishment. Has called for electoral reform. The government has already pushed him out of one committee in the Senate, angling for a more conservative face. Hugh will be Hugh.

  3. Garrell Clark

    February 16, 2013 at 9:19 pm

    Hugh Segal is absolutely right and it is about time somebody from the right spoke up. This nothing less than an attack on unions and just one more example of Harpers method of eliminating voices of opposition. Democracy in Canada is under threat and decent people on the right and left must stand up to this bully.

  4. Michael

    February 17, 2013 at 8:31 am

    Hugh is a Progressive Conservative type … unfortunately his type is rare in the ‘new’ Conservative Party.

  5. Ian Cordner

    February 17, 2013 at 8:59 am

    While I sit as a supporter of the political left, I would not hesitate to vote for the Honorable Senator (were we able to vote for Senators). He represents the pragmatic approach that I feel is a trait more Canadians need to possess, lest we become ideologues like our cousins south of the border. What an amazing breath of fresh air!

  6. Josh Kelly

    February 17, 2013 at 11:32 am

    Finally, from the shadows, a Conservative who can think as a representative of the people, and not just a mouthpiece for his party line. This bill is devoid of value to Canadians other than those who seek the power to control everything

  7. Nadine Lumley

    February 17, 2013 at 3:13 pm

    As Nobel-prize-winning economist Paul Krugman has said, unions – as imperfect as they may be – are the only counterbalance we have to unbridled corporate power.

    They also provide one of the only mechanisms we have for ensuring the more equitable distribution of income necessary for the creation of a vibrant middle class.


    repost from Chris Hedges (Pulitzer Prize winner and former war correspondent for the New York Times) on Canada’s right-wing neocon Prime Minister Stephen Harper:

    Harper is a poster child for corporate malfeasance and corporate power, just sort of dismantling everything that’s good about Canada. So he’s the kind of species that rises to political power and is utterly subservient to corporate interests at the expense of the citizenry.

    Yeah, he’s a pretty venal figure.


  8. Reese Morash

    February 18, 2013 at 2:31 pm

    Although I am not a true conservative I have always enjoyed reading/listening to Senator Hugh Segal’s calculated viewpoint. I commend him for speaking out on this issue and only wish more Senators would be more relevent and have the kahunas to speak out on issues. The PM will go to any length to silence his critics and adversaries to his views or policies.

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  10. Stephen

    February 20, 2013 at 1:48 pm

    I’ve never understood why a Red Tory like Segal keeps company with the heirs of the Reform Party. Their anti-worker tendencies are of a piece with the rest of their retrograde ideology. As a one-time assistant to Robert Stanfield, Segal knows this very well.

  11. Shirley P

    February 28, 2013 at 1:23 am

    It is refreshing to know that there is at least one Tory Senator who is not afraid to speak up rather than toe the Party line. He is doing what the Fathers of Confederation expected of Senators – giving “sober second thought” in the best interest of Canadians.

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  13. Earl Belcourt

    May 7, 2013 at 2:07 pm

    It’s about time we have some level headed politicians coming out of the Conservative party.

  14. Dave Warren

    May 18, 2013 at 1:02 am

    Awesome! Hugh Segal is not afraid of the Harper Government. There is hope yet for a Conservative Party.

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