Union Bill Survives First Test

A contentious Conservative labour bill C-377 last evening survived its first test in the Senate on word the government aims to pass it within sixty days. Senators voted 42 to 28 to reject a motion to defeat the bill. Two Conservatives supported the motion declaring it “erroneous” and unconstitutional: Nancy Ruth of Toronto and Diane Bellemare of Alma, Que.

“It needs to be stopped,” said Senator Elaine McCoy, Independent Progressive Conservative of Calgary who sponsored the motion; “It’s a question of who is going to be the champion in the Conservative caucus. I don’t know who’s willing, but you saw two people stand up – and I did no lobbying.”

“I don’t know the appetite yet for a flat-out mutiny,” added McCoy, a former Alberta labour minister. In an interview, McCoy said she was advised by Conservatives that C-377 must pass this winter: “I was told by their House leader they want to get this through by February.”

Senator Yonah Martin of Vancouver, Conservative deputy leader in the Upper House, did not comment.

Bill C-377 An Act To Amend The Income Tax Act compels unions to disclose senior officers’ salaries and benefits over $100,000; as well as all lists of assets and liabilities; loans receivable; time and money spent on organizing activities; and payments to members for pensions and health benefits over $5,000. The records would be published on a Canada Revenue Agency website.

The bill passed the Commons in 2012 but was thwarted in the Senate six months later when a majority of legislators, including Conservative dissenters, allowed amendments that stripped the bill of its provisions. “It was the one time I’ve seen any kind of backbone in the Conservative caucus,” McCoy said.

The bill was revived October 29 in the Senate, where Conservatives hold a 23-vote majority.

Called A Bid To Intimidate Unions

McCoy said the bill sets a precedent in mandating disclosure of personal information for any Canadian who receives a tax deduction. “It pulls down one of the bulwarks of our privacy protection,” the Senator said; “If a union claims tax deductions, taxpayers are then entitled to detailed personal information. If that is the case, why wouldn’t taxpayers then be entitled to know the same details about their neighbours or local businesses?”

McCoy’s motion proposed the bill be dismissed “because it is based on an erroneous principle, namely that a tax deduction mandates public disclosure of private information; and it is ultra vires the authority of Parliament.”

“I still think it’s a thinly-disguised way of intimidating another voice that is anticipated to be out of sympathy with the Conservative message,” McCoy said.

The bill now proceeds to a repeat of 2013 Senate hearings that saw the measure criticized as unconstitutional by five provinces – Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Québec, Ontario and Manitoba. The Canadian Bar Association also expressed “serious reservations” on C-377, calling it a bid to “directly target activities protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms”.

Insurers, pension fund and mutual fund managers also objected to the measure, citing onerous requirements to track benefits paid to millions of enrollees based on their union affiliation.

By Staff

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