South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale MP Russ Hiebert.

South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale MP Russ Hiebert.

MP Hiebert defends reactive changes to his bill

South Surrey-White-Rock Cloverdale MP says private member’s bill inadvertently went too far

Conservative MP Russ Hiebert is adamant he is not stepping back from his private member’s bill requiring financial transparency from labour unions, even though promised amendments echo objections from critics.

The South Surrey-White-Rock Cloverdale MP said Thursday’s announcement that he will draft amendments to Bill C-377 – which correspond with points raised by opponents, including a submission to the house finance committee from Ken Georgetti, president of the Canadian Labour Congress – does not constitute a rethink of the basic concept.

“I’m not retreating from the need for accountability and transparency whatsoever,” he said.

Hiebert said he recognized his bill inadvertently “captured pension, health, dental and disability trusts and required them to disclose payments to beneficiaries.

“Those kinds of transactions don’t relate to the expenditures of a union, they relate to personal benefits that individual members receive.”

Hiebert said his amendments will protect the privacy of the individuals and exempt such information from disclosure.

“Once it came to light, it was an obvious amendment I wanted to make,” he said, acknowledging the issue was seized by opponents.

“I’ve been speaking publicly about these amendments for several months, yet they (unions) continue to bring it up. The purpose (of my announcement) is to put the issue to rest, so that they don’t use this as a straw man, or a false reason to not support the bill.”

CLC media-relations co-ordinator Dennis Gruending said the organization has no specific comment on Hiebert’s promise to introduce amendments to C-377.

“But we note that the Canadian Bar Association has said the bill is so badly flawed that it should be withdrawn rather than amended,” he said. “The CBA says Bill C-377 is likely unconstitutional and would invade the personal privacy of thousands of individual Canadians, including those businesses that supply services to unions. Canada’s federal Privacy Commissioner has said much the same thing.”

Another amendment, specifically exempting solicitor-client information, corresponds with objections to the bill raised by the CLC during finance committee deliberations.

Hiebert said he thought it was self-evident that solicitor-client information was excluded.

“As a lawyer, I can tell you that… my presumption was that the law has long recognized that solicitor-client information is privileged. A request was made that the language be added to explicitly include it, and I have no problem with that.”

Hiebert pointed out he does not have “the entire resources that the Government of Canada has when it drafts legislation – I have limited resources.

“It doesn’t surprise me at all that I wasn’t able to capture every fine detail, and I have no trouble making reasonable adjustments.”

Hiebert is insistent, however, that CLC claims that his bill will impose crippling paperwork and compliance costs on unions are spurious.

“Organized labour made the same arguments in the U.S. around a decade ago when similar legislation was introduced,” he said.

Hiebert noted polls show 86 per cent of unionized Canadians want to see disclosure of union expenses.

 

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