Two Conservative Senators who voted to kill union bill C-377 say the measure remains flawed, and ripe for constitutional challenge. The two were the only members of the government caucus to support a motion to strike the Conservative bill before Second Reading.
“It’s not constitutional,” said Senator Diane Bellemare of Alma, Que. “I think it will affect privacy and it’s not really well-balanced.”
Bill C-377 An Act To Amend The Income Tax Act compels unions to disclose senior officers’ salaries and benefits over $100,000 on a Canada Revenue website; as well as publish lists of assets and liabilities; contracts; loans receivable; time and money spent on organizing activities; and payments to members for pensions and health benefits over $5,000.
A motion to strike the bill as based on “erroneous principle” was defeated by the Senate’s Conservative majority on a 42 to 28 vote on Tuesday evening. In an interview, Bellemare yesterday said the bill sets a far-reaching precedent in government intrusion.
“If we were to investigate or oblige every organization that gets money from contributions that are tax deductible, then we would have a mass of institutions that would have the same obligations – including political parties,” Bellemare said.
Senator Nancy Ruth of Toronto, the other Conservative caucus dissenter, described C-377 as offensive to Canadians. “Unions play a very important role in Canada and in any labour market in the Western world,” she said. “I find this approach to perhaps modernize unions to not be the most effective way to go. I find it offensive, to tell the truth.”
‘Why Are Union Bosses So Afraid?’
The bill is now referred to hearings of the legal affairs committee chaired by Conservative Senator Bob Runciman of Thousand Islands, Ont., a former provincial solicitor general. Runciman in earlier debate complained of the influence of “big labour” and “union bosses” in election campaigns.
“Unions have channelled their resources – their members’ dues – into electing Liberal governments in Ontario,” he said; “It was no surprise that Ontario’s labour minister opposed Bill C-377 when it first came to the Senate, given that government’s quid pro quo arrangements with big labour.”
“I have no doubt that we will hear from the critics that union finances are already disclosed to members,” Runciman said. “But if their finances are already open and transparent, then why are union bosses so afraid of Bill C-377? They are against it because their claims of openness are bogus”; “The union bosses are against it because they don’t want people, including their own members, to know how they spend their money. If they don’t want to be accountable, they should give up their tax deduction.”
Runciman’s office yesterday said there was no chance the legal affairs committee would open hearings on the bill before Christmas. Parliament is scheduled to break for the holiday recess on December 12, and return in the last week of January.
Senate rules do not permit a private bill like C-377 to be fast-tracked through committee.
By Dale Smith