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