The web of lies and deceit by Prime Minister Harper’s inner circle continues to creep out in Senate-gate. Yesterday, we learned, many months after the fact, that the Conservative Party cut a cheque for $13,500 to Senator Duffy to help him with some personal expenses, hoping that would then keep him quiet.
From CBC News:
“Later on Monday, the communications director for the Conservative
Party confirmed it had paid Duffy’s legal fees. In an email to CBC News, Hann wrote, “At the time these legal expenses were incurred and paid, Mike Duffy was a member of the Conservative caucus. The Conservative Party sometimes assists members of caucus with legal expenses.”
This information came out not because the Tories thought the public or even Conservative supporters who give it money ought to know when the Party is cutting cheques to Conservative Senators who rip off the public purse, but because one of the those Senators decided to go public.
Bill C-377: Why is the Conservative Party Held to Lower Standard of Transparency Than Unions?
Now consider this. A very controversial private member’s bill is before Parliament now called Bill C377, which is a partisan gift to antiunion lobbyists and employers. This is the Bill that was shot down earlier this year by Conservative and Liberal Senators as a partisan, spiteful, and highly wasteful misuse of millions of taxpayer dollars for little or no public benefit. Completely ignoring the Senate’s concerns, the Tory MPP (Russ Hiebert) who is carrying the torch for the Conservatives on this attack on unions has re-introduced the same Bill.
Read my Post on Liberal Senator Cowan’s dissection of Bill C-377 here. And don’t miss Senator Hugh Segal’s classic smack down of the Bill here.
Bill C377 is intended to bog down unions in layers of bureaucratic red tape by requiring them to complete reams of forms and to disclose huge amounts of detailed information about what they spend money on, and even how union
employees spend their days. It is legislation that regulates internal union affairs (a provincial matter) disguised as tax law (a federal matter), and for this reason will almost certainly be challenged as unconstitutional once passed.
Bill C-377 would require unions to disclose any payment over $5000, along with the name of the payee. Therefore, if a union cut a $14,000 cheque for someone (a member, an executive, a family member of an executive, etc.) to help that person cover a personal expense, the union would be required to disclose both the amount of the payment and the name of the person who received the money. That information would then be published on a government website.
The Conservative Party cut a cheque to Senator Duffy for over $5000. Yet the Conservative Party of Canada has no legal obligation to tell anyone about this. In fact, the leaders of the Party tried VERY hard to keep this payment a secret from both the public and the Party members. Indeed, they even claim that they kept the payment a secret from the Prime Minister himself!
Conservative backers of Bill C-377 argue that the Bill is not designed to punish or single out unions, and after all, who could object to a little transparency, right? Only an organization that has something to hide, they chide, would object to a law requiring public disclosure of almost every move they make. Curiously, though, the same logic does not apply to the Conservative Party, or even the Prime Minister of Canada and his inner circle.
Can anyone come up with a single valid, principled reason why a public transparency law should require greater public disclosure of expenditures by a private workers’ organization than by political parties or elected government officials?
Or, how about corporations, lobbyist ‘think-tanks’, religious organizations, employer associations, professional associations, and so on? None of these organizations would be required to publicly disclose a payment such as the one made by the Conservatives to Senator Duffy. Nor would a charity. Supporters of Bill C-377 have tried to defend the Bill has simply applying the disclosure requirements applied to charities to unions. That’s just an outright lie, as I explained in this exchange with the Bill’s Senate supporter, Senator Nicole Eaton. Charities aren’t subjected to anywhere near the level of disclosure required by Bill C-377. Why not? No one has been able to give me an answer to that question.
If Bill C-377 passes, only one organization in Canada would be subject to a requirement to disclose the sort of payment made to Senator Duffy–trade unions.
Should Bill C-377 Be Extended to All Associations and Organizations That Receive Taxpayer Support in Any Form?
One of Senator Segal’s and Cohen’s main points was that if you are going to have rules for disclosure of information from organizations, the rules should apply equally to all organizations. Governments shouldn’t just cherry pick the organizations they don’t like for special adverse treatment. To do so discredits politicians, the political system, and the law. He’s right of course.
One option, the most sensible one, is to just drop Bill C-377 and leave the provinces to regulate internal union affairs. The other option is to extend the reporting requirements in Bill C-377 to political parties, corporations, charities, religious organizations, employer associations, ‘think tanks’–to all organizations and associations that receive any form of public assistance, including tax deductions or privileges or government funding or subsidies or aid of any form.
These other organizations, including corporations and the Conservative Party itself, would no doubt go ballistic if a government extended the requirements applied to unions in Bill C-377 to them. They would argue that such a law is the work of a socialist nanny state, would impose costly ‘job-killling’ red tape, and would be an outright invasion of privacy.
Would they be right?