There has appropriately been a lot a criticism about Bill C-377 at House of Commons committees and the Senate. Hugh Segal has been particularly eloquent as have the many submissions. Graham Cox has a good selection of them on his Citizens’ Press website.
Here’s a short summary with a dozen reasons why it’s so bad:
Twelve Reasons why C-377 is the Worst Bill Passed by the House of Commons – and about to become Law
Liberal Senators say Bill C-377 is “one of the worst bills we’ve ever seen” and have pledged to sit through the summer to try and defeat or delay it.
Conservative Senator Hugh Segal has called the private member’s bill targeting unions “immature, ill-conceived and small-minded”. And yet Harper’s Conservatives gave the bill its full support, forcing it through the House of Commons and threatening Senators who don’t vote for it.
So why is Bill C-377 such an atrocious piece of legislation? Twelve Conservative Senators need to vote against the bill to defeat it—here are twelve reasons why they should:
- It’s unnecessary. Labour unions are already transparent and are required by federal, provincial and territorial legislation and their own constitutions to be democratically accountable and to provide regular financial reports to their membership. Financial statements are prepared regularly and disclosed at Local meetings and Convention. Salaries of elected officials and staff are also disclosed to union membership at least annually. .
- It’s highly discriminatory. Bill C-377 specifically targets labour organizations for highly detailed reporting and disclosure on a public website. No other organization in Canada—public, private or crown corporations, non-profit organizations, charities, political parties, even fully-publicly funded government departments, ministers, members of parliament or senators—are required to report and publically disclose details of their internal finances and affairs to anywhere the same degree unions will have to under Bill C-377.
- It imposes onerous and absurdly detailed reporting. The Bill imposes absurdly detailed reporting and disclosure requirements on all labour organizations, including those with as few as one member, forcing them to submit at least 24 different detailed statements, including any cumulative transactions above $5,000, separately identifying the payer, payee, and the purpose and description of the transaction, including any legal services or health benefits paid for employees.
- 4. It’s profoundly hypocritical. All labour organizations will be forced report and disclose at least 24 different detailed financial and activity statements under Bill C-377 for use of their own independent funds. Members of Parliament disclose using only one financial statement (with only 14 items) while Senators only report five items in a single statement for their use of public funds. The Harper Government has even refused to disclose the amount of public funds spent for political staff and top officials, including Harper’s former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, citing “privacy”.
- It’s extraordinarily intrusive. Nothing in peace time comes close to the degree of intrusion into the affairs of independent organizations that this bill would legislate.
- It would invade the privacy of millions of Canadians. By requiring labour organizations and associated organizations to report the details of every cumulative transaction of over $5,000. It would invade the privacy of an estimated 12 million Canadians, including any business that provides service to a labour organization.
- It would set a dangerous precedent. Conservative Senator Hugh Segal says, “I imagine that, were it to pass, subsequent legislation … 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.”
- It’s unconstitutional. Numerous constitutional experts have testified that the Bill interferes with provincial jurisdiction over labour relations, and five provinces have already objected to the Bill.
- It undermines fundamental legal rights and freedoms in Canada guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and other statutes. The Canadian Bar Association and legal experts have testified that the Bill undermines fundamental rights in a free and democratic society, including freedom of association, freedom of expression, as well as political rights, rights to personal and commercial privacy and confidentiality, and solicitor-client privilege.
- It’s unfair and anti-democratic. Bill C-377 was conceived and strongly promoted by Labour Watch and Merit Canada, organizations representing anti-union employers with strong ties to the Prime Ministers Office. The extraordinarily detailed disclosure provisions will give them an unfair advantage in business, enabling them to undermine unions, unionized employers and unionized workers at every step. Independent Progressive Conservative Senator Elaine McCoy says Bill C-377 should “…not be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force”… “for a thousand years…we have been slowly evolving until we have a society that is fair to one and all. … This bill violates all of those principles. It violates a 1,000-year-old tradition. It violates the Canadian code of fairness. I think this bill should be forcefully, forcefully rejected, and I trust we will do that when the time comes.”
- It creates costly, burdensome and unnecessary paperwork and regulations for labour organizations and the Canada Revenue Agency. Bill C-377 seems designed to tie labour organizations in red tape and then to fine them punitively if they don’t comply. Set up and compliance will cost both labour organizations and the federal government tens of millions. Every penny spent will reduce the capacity of labour unions to work for better conditions for their members and other Canadians—and federal government spending on this will take away from other public services.
- It imposes excessive and punitive fines and penalties on unions. Any labour organization that fails to comply with its onerous requirements will be fined $1,000 a day and up to $25,000 a year for non-compliance. The Canada Revenue Agency itself estimates it will levy annual fines of $72 million as a result of this bill, but total fines could amount to over $600 million a year—for not filing unnecessary paperwork. In comparison, the federal government only collected $2.4 million in fines over 20 years under the environmental protection act from corporations—for the very real damages.
Bill C-377 is now at the final stage—third reading in the Senate—before it can receive royal assent and become law. After this, it could become even worse, with additional regulations directly imposed by Harper’s Cabinet. Liberal Senators and a few principled independent Conservative Senators have pledged to fight it and/or to significantly amend it. They need your support and the support of at least a dozen other Conservative Senators.
The problems with the bill are so fundamental and severe that no number of amendments can make it a “good bill”, just one that is slightly “less bad”. At a time when the Senate has come under unprecedented criticism, this Bill provides Senators with a chance to demonstrate some principle and their worth—and for Conservative Senators in particular to show that they are not just pawns of the Prime Minister’s Office.
If this bill is rejected, delayed or significantly changed, it will also help in the battle against other anti-labour and anti-democratic laws being planned by Harper and other Conservatives at the federal and provincial level.
Please contact Conservative and independent Senators to urge them to vote against Bill C-377 –and thank Liberal and independent Conservative senators for vigorously opposing it. Take action by visiting: http://cupe.ca/action/senate-c-377 to send a message.
The list and contact information for Senators can also be found at: http://www.parl.gc.ca/SenatorsMembers/Senate/SenatorsBiography/isenator.asp
Toby Sanger and Graham Cox