An uprising of sorts by Tory and Liberal Senators today has delayed the passage of a ridiculous private member’s bill (Bill C-377) designed to bury unions in bureacratic red tape. I have discussed the Bill on several occassions, so I won’t go through it again.
Senators voted today in favour of amendments to the Bill introduced by outspoken critic of the Bill, Senator Hugh Segal. The amendments proposal succeeded only because Tory Senators either voted for the amendments or chose to abstain from voting. This is surely a victory for those who believe that the Senate could act as a sober second thought, at least when it comes to pointless Bills intended to achieve nothing more than harassment of a political foe at great expense to taxpayers.
The brainchild of Bill C-377 is a Tory MPP named Russ Hiebert. Today’s vote is a massive embarassment for this guy, since the Tories have a majority. Hiebert couldn’t even persuade his own people that the Bill was in the public interest, a Bill which has the support of Prime Minister Harper. The fact that fair minded Senators stood up against this Bill must be troubling to Harper, since the Tories have decided that Private Members Bills are the preferable method for passing their anti-labour agenda, since fewer irrating democratic checks can stand in the way when this process is used.
The Bill C-377 would require unions to compile and disclose reams of useless information to the public at a cost to taxpayers in the tens of millions of dollars. I’ve described it before as Big Government on Steroids. It would require disclosure of payments over a $5000 by unions, and an accounting of every minute a union employee spends on some vague concept called ‘political activities’. The information is not intended to educate union members–provincial laws already regulate information disclosure to union members–it is supposed to be about informing “taxpayers”, like me.
Do taxpayers want to divert tens of millions of their dollars from health care and education, and from collection of the hundreds of millions of dollars in unpaid corporate taxes, to collecting, inspecting, and publishing statistics on how much unions spend on office supplies and rent? Hiebert and Harper believe they do, or (more likely) they assumed no one was paying attention. Hiebert actually tried to claim at one point that there would be no cost to taxpayers associated with collecting, policing, and publishing the hundreds of thousands of records his Bill would produce. Hard to know whether he was being disingenious about this, or whether he is really not very thoughtful.
The Bill ignited passionate opposition from Liberal and Conservative Senators alike, who saw the Bill for what it is: a partisan lark designed to bury unions in government red tape at taxpayer expense.
Senator Segal’s amendments are fanstastic, because they harness the Conservative’s hypocracy on transparency. The Conservatives recently blocked a Bill introduced by one of their own that would have required public disclosure of government employees’ salaries over $188,000. Tory MPs amended the Bill to apply only to government employees earning greater than $440,000 per year, which is hardly anyone. They don’t want the light of transparency shown on their taxpayer funded offices. Segal’s amendments apply basically the same cuttoff for union officials, so that only union employees earning greater than $444,661 per year would be subject to having their salaries disclosed. How will Hiebert and his gang explain why private organizations should be subject to greater public transparency than the government elected by taxpayers, or corporations, which receive far more taxpayer benefits than unions?
Segal’s amendments would also draw the line at payments of $150,000 rather than $5000 as the cutoff for the requirement of unions to report payments, and limit the Bill to large unions and not small locals.
The effect of the Senate vote today is to send the Bill back to the House of Commons for further review and study. As the summer session begins, this should mean that this particular Tory attack on their political foe, the labour movement, has been put off for a while. But expect the Bill to resurface in the House of Commons, probably as a government Bill that will be rammed through by Harper and his whip. The only question then will be whether Conservative MP’s in the House will display the courage and good sense of Conservative Senators and resist a law that demonstrates the sort of big nanny state mentality and wasteful use of taxpayer money that Tories like to claim they are against. We will see.