Conservative senators approved anti-union bill C-377, late last month, forcing labor unions to publicly disclose all their financial transactions to the federal government — everything from office supply purchases to salaries — creating onerous reporting requirements for union leaders and staff.
“This bill, whatever may have been its laudable transparency goals, is really an expression of statutory contempt for the working men and women in our trade unions,” said former Conservative Sen. Hugh Segal.
C-377 was first introduced by Conservative MP Russ Hiebert more than three years ago. While ostensibly a private-member bill (meaning it was introduced without official support of the prime minister’s office), it received wide support from Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government.
In fact, the Senate rushed a vote on the bill without a public hearing, a rarity for a private-member bill.
“You rarely ever see the senate cut short debate on anything besides a government bill,” said First District Political Action/Media Strategist Matt Wayland. “This is unprecedented.”
It was opposed by all the chamber’s Liberal members, as well as three Conservatives and two independents.
"This is an unconstitutional bill to begin with and it does not comply with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms," Conservative Sen. Diane Bellemare told Blacklock's Reporter earlier this year.
In many ways, C-377’s reporting requirements are even more stringent than those in the United States.
As Ella Bedard at Rabbel.ca writes:
Unlike the U.S. financial disclosure laws, Canada's C-377 requires the same reporting standards for all labor organizations, regardless of their size. [United Steelworkers President Leo]Gerard said that his union's accountants have estimated that it takes the equivalent of roughly three or four people working full-time to file their financial disclosure reports to the U.S. government.
That's time and money that smaller locals just cannot afford.
Despite this setback, Wayland says that he is hopeful that it will be overturned at the ballot box.
“The best way we can get rid of C-377 is to throw out Harper and his government,” he said.
Federal elections are scheduled for Oct. 19. Leaders of the Liberal and New Democratic parties – both of which are running closely with the Conservatives in the polls – have vowed to repeal the bill if they take power.
“It’s helping mobilize our members to unseat the Conservatives in the fall,” said Wayland.
Photo: Márcio Cabral de Moura