Canada's unions are likely breathing a sigh of relief — at least temporarily — thanks to the Conservative dominated Senate.
On Wednesday afternoon, senators' flexed their collective muscle watering down Bill C-377 — a private members bill, introduced by MP Russ Hiebert and approved by the House of Commons, which would require all Canadian labour unions to publicly disclose details about their expenses and salaries or risk losing their tax exempt status.
The amendments were promoted by maverick Tory Senator Hugh Segal who had argued that the bill would violate privacy. As explained by CBC News, Segal's changes to bill included an exemption for unions under 50,000 members, raising the expense disclosure from $5,000 to $150,000 and drastically increasing the salary disclosure from $100,000 to approximately $444,000.
"Forty-nine senators approved the Segal amendment, including Conservatives Nancy Green, Betty Unger, and Norm Doyle," CBC notes.
"Seven senators abstained from voting, including Conservative senators Donald Oliver, Vern White, Raynell Andreychuk and Diane Bellemare."
The next Tory caucus meeting should be very interesting.
The Bill will now go back to the House, in the fall, for debate and amendments.
In a statement released after the vote, the Bill's sponsor said the changes have essentially gutted C-377.
"Amending the bill so that it will only apply to a handful of the very biggest unions in Canada completely undermines the principle that transparency should apply to all labour organizations, equally," Hiebert said.
"Fortunately, this is not the end of the process. When the bill returns to the Commons, I trust that MPs will agree that all labour organizations should be treated equally and subject to the same standards for transparency."
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The Prime Minister's office also released a statement in response:
We continue to support union transparency and the principles of the bill, which will be returned to the House as part of the normal process.
As per Parliamentary convention, we expect that the Senate will respect the will of the House of Commons should the Bill be returned to the Senate.
For their part, the union friendly NDP were in the unenviable position of being pleased with the outcome but not of the Senate. Labour critic Alexandre Boulerice released this peculiarly worded statement after the vote:
I am relieved to see that Bill C-377, which sought to impose unreasonable administrative constraints on labour organizations, will find its way back to the House of Commons.
From its introduction on, New Democrats have denounced this bill as no more than an ideological attack against the labour movement. C-377 is a useless, biased, inequitable and unconstitutional bill that threatens privacy and increases red tape.
That this bill has finally been amended by the Senate proves one thing only: what we need is not a Senate that costs taxpayers almost 100 million dollars a year but a government that puts the public interest before blind partisanship.
Regardless of whatever happens to the Bill, this affair is a reminder that — like it or lump it — the un-elected unaccountable Senate still yields some power in our legislative process.
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