Conservative MP Russ Hiebert admits to being “surprised” and “disappointed” by the outcome of last week’s Senate vote adopting amendments he says “gutted” his private member’s bill (C-377) requiring greater disclosure of union finances under the Income Tax Act.
But Hiebert (South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale) feels the controversial legislation – which critics have said is unconstitutional, an invasion of privacy and an attempt to undermine the union movement – will get a smoother ride when it returns to the House of Commons for further consideration this fall, and when it subsequently comes back to the Senate.
While the Senate can review and reflect concerns about legislation, he noted, if the bill were to be returned by Parliament without the suggested changes, he would expect senators to follow the standard practice of deferring to the wishes of elected representatives.
“I don’t anticipate it will be contentious,” he said of the bill’s return to Parliament.
“The vast majority of my colleagues are in favour of greater transparency of union finances, and so many of our major trading partners already require this.”
Hiebert couldn’t foresee how soon his bill would become law.
“I never predicted it would be by this summer, and I’m not going to predict how long it will take,” he said. “I’m still committed to it, and I’m in good company.”
He noted the government issued a statement shortly after the Senate vote reaffirming its support of transparency in union financial dealings.
“Some 83 per cent of Canadians and 86 per cent of union members support this. Clearly, there’s public support, government support and support from the majority of elected representatives in the House of Commons.”
Hiebert said he was “quite surprised” at the outcome of the Senate vote.
“Obviously, I had been working closely with my colleagues in the Senate and I was under the impression that things were going well, but that was not the case,” he said.
“It was mostly Liberal senators who voted for the amendments but enough colleagues of my own party voted to make a difference.”
He said that it was “just not credible” that senators were merely tweaking the bill when amendments effectively exempted “99 per cent” of unions by raising reporting levels to unions with more than 50,000 members.
Hiebert said he felt amendments he already made to the legislation in the fall – including safeguarding privacy in a number of union transactions – had “addressed all the significant concerns,” he said.
“I also believe there was a lot of misinformation presented before the Senate banking committee,” he said. “People were still suggesting that (information on) benefit payments would be released, which was simply not true.”
Hiebert added that while much had been made of the constitutionality of his bill, witnesses before the Senate, including “law professors and a former supreme court justice,” had declared it constitutional.
Hiebert can also count on the support of the BC Liberal government of Premier Christy Clark.
While governments of Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Manitoba have expressed concerns the bill could impair their ability to bargain collectively with their public-sector unions, B.C. Finance Minister Mike de Jong wrote to Sen. Marjory LeBreton, Tory Senate leader, supporting transparency and accountability in union spending decisions.
But Canadian Labour Congress president Ken Georgetti, among others, has pointed out that de Jong’s letter seems to misinterpret the bill as also applying to employer associations.
De Jong did not return requests for comment by Peace Arch News’ early press deadline Friday afternoon.