Private member’s bill author touts positive side of Senate hearing

South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale MP Russ Hiebert's news release doesn't mention testimony from bill's opponents.

Conservative MP Russ Hiebert is claiming a victory for his contentious private member’s bill seeking full disclosure of labour organization spending, following a day of testimony this week before a Senate committee.

In a news release titled ‘C-377 Senate Hearings Confirm Bill Needed and Lawful’ – following Thursday’s hearing of the Senate’s Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee –  Hiebert said “many of today’s witnesses confirmed that (the bill) will deliver real benefits for Canadian in improved transparency and accountability for labour organizations.”

Not mentioned in the release is that the committee also heard that day from representatives of of the Canadian Bar Association and the Association of Justice Counsel, both of which have gone on record in the past opposing the bill as an attack on labour unions, and saying Hiebert’s bill would likely be subject to legal challenge.

The Senate had previously rejected Bill C-377 in its current form in June 2013. Its decision was nullified due to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decision to prorogue (suspend) Parliament that fall, allowing its return to the chamber.

(Hiebert – a four-term MP for South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale – has since announced that he would not be seeking re-election this fall).

Hiebert’s main argument for his bill has been that labour organizations, as recipients of tax benefits, should report fully on their financial affairs to the CRA.

“We heard from very compelling witnesses in the Senate today that my bill is a timely step forward for transparency and accountability in Canada’s labour organizations,” This week’s news release said.

Hiebert cited testimony from Ken Pereira, who was a key witness before the Charbonneau Commission, investigating corruption in Quebec’s construction unions, that “only full public disclosure will fix the problem.”

Hiebert also cited testimony from former Supreme Court Justice Michel Bastarache, a past supporter of the bill, quoting him as saying it “does not affect the functioning of unions… it is about tax benefits and the conditions for obtaining those benefits.”

Also among those speaking before the committee were Noah Arshinoff, staff lawyer, legislation and law reform, and Michael Mazzuca, past chair of the national pensions and benefits law section of the Canadian Bar Association.

In 2012, when the bill was first debated, the association wrote to Parliament urging it not to adopt the legislation.

In the letter, the association said “it is unclear what issue or perceived problem the bill is intended to address… (it) mandates greater public disclosure of details of the financial operations of labour unions, and limitations on their political and lobbying activities using mechanisms that could be problematic from a constitutional and a privacy perspective.”

Also speaking on the bill was Len MacKay president of the Association of Justice Counsel, bargaining agent for some 2,700 lawyers employed by the federal government as crown counsels or in the Department of Justice and the Public Prosecution Service.

On the association’s website MacKay writes “we remind our members that this bill, which has been widely criticized, is basically an anti-union piece of legislation… ultimately Bill C-377 is likely to expose the government to more legal challenges.”

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau has also voiced his opposition this week.

In a letter to the Senate sent Wednesday, he reconfirmed the Liberal caucus’ opposition to C-377, adding that it would be scrapped if the Liberals formed the next government.