Anti-union bill shows no­body gets in PM's way

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - Tim Harper Tim Harper is a na­tional af­fairs writer for Torstar Syn­di­ca­tion Ser­vices. tharper@thes­ Twit­ter:@nut­graf1

How badly does Stephen Harper want anti-union leg­is­la­tion — odi­ous, puni­tive and al­most cer­tainly un­con­sti­tu­tional as it is — passed into law?

On an early sum­mer Fri­day, while you were long­ing for your week­end, the Prime Min­is­ter's Of­fice chore­ographed another head­long be­havioural plunge down the mine shaft for your Se­nate.

It won't end up with any­one in the pris­oner's docket, it didn't in­volve wan­ton dis­re­gard for your tax money or in­volve sex, a teenager and a power im­bal­ance.

But be­cause this has to do with a law of the land, it was ar­guably more scan­dalous than any of the mis­con­duct for which this Se­nate has be­come renowned.

This game fea­tured noth­ing less than a Con­ser­va­tive ma­jor­ity seek­ing to break Se­nate rules, then re­buk­ing the Speaker, the hap­less PMO-ap­pointed Leo Housakos, af­ter he ruled they were break­ing the rules.

The bot­tom line is that the Con­ser­va­tive ma­jor­ity has bul­lied it­self into a po­si­tion to pass a law that al­lows Harper to cam­paign against those om­nipresent "union bosses" and tell Cana­di­ans how a for­mer Lib­eral Se­nate cau­cus went to the wall for those bosses on or­ders from Justin Trudeau.

Like much of what comes out of here in this fevered pre-elec­tion pe­riod, the nar­ra­tive varies widely from the truth, but this much is true — it is a strange strat­egy to pick such a high-pro­file fight with the labour move­ment with New Demo­crat Tom Mul­cair lead­ing in the polls.

Bill C-377 would re­quire unions to pub­licly dis­close any spend­ing of more than $5,000 - nam­ing both the payer and payee - and the salaries of any mem­bers earn­ing more than $100,000, all to be pub­licly posted on a web­site.

If you are a small busi­ness deal­ing with a labour union, the de­tails of your trans­ac­tion over $5,000 would be placed on a Canada Rev­enue Agency public site.

It has been rightly de­rided by crit­ics as an in­va­sion of pri­vacy. It would tilt the bal­ance in col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing be­cause it will give em­ploy­ers an ad­van­tage in de­ter­min­ing the fi­nan­cial health of the union.

It would tie up union lead­er­ship in pa­per­work. The CRA web­site would be over­seen by public ser­vants whose own salaries can­not be di­vulged un­der the Pri­vacy Act.

It would scoop into its net med­i­cal as­so­ci­a­tions, NHL play­ers, who could find it more dif­fi­cult to reach agree­ment on video-game and hockey-card li­cens­ing agree­ments, and po­lice as­so­ci­a­tions, which have ex­pressed fear that the pub­li­ca­tion of names and salaries could en­dan­ger of­fi­cers work­ing on drug or or­ga­nized crime duty.

This week, Al­berta be­came the sev­enth province to op­pose C-377 as an un­con­sti­tu­tional in­fringe­ment on pro­vin­cial ju­ris­dic­tion over labour law.

The leg­is­la­tion will be chal­lenged in court, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment will doubt­less lose and we will watch public funds frit­tered away yet again on a fruit­less bid to pro­tect an un­con­sti­tu­tional law.

But Harper wanted this one. It was in­tro­duced as a pri­vate mem­ber's bill in De­cem­ber 2011, by Bri­tish Columbia Con­ser­va­tive back­bencher Russ Hiebert, who long ago an­nounced he is not run­ning again.

By one es­ti­mate, it had lin­gered 925 days in the Se­nate as of Fri­day.

Two years ago, Se­nate Con­ser­va­tives, led by the de­parted Hugh Se­gal, showed back­bone and gut­ted Hiebert's bill with a se­ries of amend­ments. Harper pro­rogued Par­lia­ment be­fore it could be re­turned to the Com­mons so it re­mained in the Se­nate in its un­a­mended form.

Fri­day, with an elec­tion loom­ing, there was no such back­bone.

Gov­ern­ment leader Claude Carig­nan knew, since this was a pri­vate mem­ber's bill, not a gov­ern­ment bill, he could not cut off an op­po­si­tion at­tempt to fil­i­buster and run out the clock on the leg­is­la­tion.

So he moved a mo­tion to — poof — retroac­tively de­clare the leg­is­la­tion a gov­ern­ment bill.

When Housakos gave him the red card on that trick, Carig­nan chal­lenged him and used his ma­jor­ity to over­turn the Speaker's rul­ing, even though he had bro­ken the rules.

"We all know the heavy hand of Mr. Harper is at work here," said Op­po­si­tion leader James Cowan. If the prime min­is­ter can­not get what he wants un­der the rules, he just changes the rules, Cowan said.

The Se­nate has shown it makes up its own spend­ing rules and will change them midstream if needed.

Now it is mak­ing up its own rules to pass leg­is­la­tion.

Cowan lamented that ev­ery time the Se­nate acts as it did Fri­day, it gives those who wish to abol­ish the place more am­mu­ni­tion. He couldn't be more cor­rect.

Harper was once go­ing to re­form the place, but it is merely home to his pup­pets who will do what it takes to ful­fil the boss's wishes.

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