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MP welcomes bill's second chance
Russ Hiebert, Conservative MP for South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale, says he’s pleased by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decision to prorogue – or suspend – Parliament until October.
For Hiebert, prorogation means the clock will be turned back to last December on his controversial private member’s bill, C-377, which would require labour unions to publish detailed financial information.
Harper has said prorogation is in anticipation of a throne speech putting forward a new agenda for the government at the midpoint of its mandate.
Following heated debate, the Senate sent C-377 back to the Commons in June, with extensive amendments reducing the scope and impact of the bill that Hiebert claimed, at the time, had “gutted” it.
Under prorogation, according to the Library of Parliament, the bill will revert to the way it was when it passed third reading in the House on Dec. 12 – essentially nullifying the Senators’ amendments and the deliberations leading to them.
The unamended bill will subsequently be resubmitted to the Senate, Hiebert noted in a statement issued Tuesday.
“As such, I am hopeful my colleagues in the Senate will give C-377 appropriate and timely consideration,” he said, adding that the restored bill will “once again reflect the wishes of the elected lower house of Parliament.”
Wednesday, Peace Arch News asked Hiebert if that means he expects the bill will receive a smoother ride the second time around.
“I’m always hopeful,” Hiebert said, adding that he’s making no predictions about how quickly the Senate will deal with the bill when it returns to the chamber.
“This does give me an opportunity to communicate with the small number of members of my caucus who had concerns about the bill. I’ll do my best to persuade them that the bill should pass as it stands.”
Hiebert acknowledged going back to square one with the Senate also raises the possibility the bill could face further Senate Banking Committee hearings before being debated by senators.
“That decision would have to rest with them,” he said. “My hope is that, because we have already had three weeks of testimony, that could be taken into consideration. But it’s completely in the hands of the senators.”
A total of 16 Tory senators joined their Liberal counterparts in approving the amendments to Hiebert’s bill in June.
Hiebert has argued that since unions receive tax deductions through union dues, their finances should be made public, and that the transparency he’s asking for is no greater than that currently required for charities.
Opponents, however, claim the legislation – as it stands – will cost unions millions of dollars, adding that the bill also ventures into dangerous areas of unconstitutionality and invasion of privacy.
Conservative Senator Hugh Segal was among those who spoke out against the bill in June, saying it was poorly drafted and likely to be challenged.
"Whatever may have been its laudable transparency goals, (it is) really – through drafting sins of omission and commission – an expression of statutory contempt for the working men and women in our trade unions and for the trade unions themselves and their right under federal and provincial law to organize," Segal said.
Conservative Senator Diane Bellemare, a former economics professor at the University of Quebec, was also critical of the legislation.
"Even with the proposed amendments, this bill remains an unbalanced bill that has no similarity to other transparency bills in France, the United Kingdom and Australia," she said.