By Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press
OTTAWA – The Harper government has thrown its support behind a bid to whisk a controversial anti-union bill through the Senate.
Kevin Sorenson, minister of state for finance, said Monday the government supports the intent of Bill C-377, a private member’s bill initiated by Conservative MP Russ Hiebert which would force unions to publicly disclose details of their spending.
Sorenson called it “a reasonable bill to increase union transparency” and backed a move by Conservative senators to cut short debate on the bill, which has been widely denounced as unconstitutional, undemocratic and an invasion of privacy.
“Our government believes Canadians and workers should have the right to know where their mandatory dues are being spent,” Sorenson told the House of Commons.
He noted that the bill has been before the Senate for two years and added: “It is time to get it out of the Senate. We believe that we need to move this bill ahead.”
The bill sparked a revolt among Conservative senators in June 2013. Sixteen Tory senators joined forces with the Liberals to approve amendments that gutted the bill. Another four Tory senators abstained.
Before the House of Commons could consider the Senate amendments, Prime Minister Stephen Harper prorogued Parliament. In accordance with rules for reinstating legislation following prorogation, the bill wound up back before the Senate in its original form, where little attempt was made over the past year to move it forward.
However, Conservatives signalled last week that they intend to restart debate on the bill this week. At the same time, they’re moving to change the rules in the upper chamber so that time allocation can be imposed to limit debate on private members’ business, including C-377.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said the two moves demonstrate that the C-377 is really a government bill disguised as a private member’s bill. And he said they make a mockery of any notion that senators are independent.
“They don’t want to wear it as their own … It gives them a fig leaf and they get to around saying, ‘Well, it’s not us, it’s a private member’s bill,'” Mulcair said.
“But obviously it’s a government bill. And that’s why Mr. Harper’s going to use his bully pulpit with the Senate once again and tell, of course, these independent senators exactly what they’re going to do.”
The bill would require unions to publicly disclose any spending of $5,000 or more and any salary of more than $100,000.
Critics maintain the bill would infringe on provinces’ constitutional power over labour issues, violate charter guarantees of free speech and association and amount to an invasion of privacy.
Mulcair said the bill is part of the Conservative agenda to make life miserable for labour unions.
“It’s also manifestly illegal. It will be thrown out by the courts, I have no doubt about that,” he predicted.
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