Unidentified Conservative Party Member of Parliament contemplates B.C. Tory MP Russ Hiebert’s “own goal.” Strangely, actual Harper Government MPs may not appear exactly as illustrated. Below: Mr. Hiebert.
What are Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s boon companions in the courts, fern-encrusted law offices, plush executive suites of provincial medical associations and anti-union construction associations going to say when they discover that Bill C-377 gores their sleek oxen too, and not just the scrawny beasts owned by a bunch of annoying trade unionists?
Bill C-377, for those of you who don’t keep up on these things, is a typical little bit of Reform Party wedge-politickery designed to poke a stick in the eye of the NDP Opposition. Give me a minute and I’ll explain everything.
But first, you need to know that Bill C-377 is an unconstitutional and Orwellian (that is, deceptively named) private member’s bill written up by a social conservative MP from British Columbia named Russel Hiebert who was hitherto best known for knocking off the former Conservative MP for the distant and deeply déclassé Vancouver dormitory suburb of South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale.
The previous Tory MP South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale-Multiple Names, a woman named Val Meredith who once seemed like a rising star in Conservative ranks, was skidded by Mr. Hiebert because she didn’t have family values pure enough, or as pure as Mr. Hiebert’s at any rate.
How socially conservative is Mr. Hiebert? He’s so socially conservative that he not only hates reporductive rights and same-sex marriage, he hates human rights commissions too. You know how those human rights commissions are always going around mucking with family values by saying they apply to other families too, not just the ones that look exactly like yours!
In fact, Russ Hiebert is so socially conservative he may have given up the extra L in Russell so that there would always be an eternal home with sufficient Ls in it for social democrats, people married to people he doesn’t approve of, and other miscreants.
As an aside, apparently he also used to be one of Parliament’s big spenders, briefly occupying the No. 2 spot for travel and office expenses in 2010.
Well, whatever. I’m wandering off track here. Anyway, as a guy who hates all those things, I suppose it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Mr. Hiebert hates labour unions too – or, at least, strongly disapproves of them being able to do their jobs, which would be looking out for the interests of middle class, uh, families….
Seeing as labour relations come under the provinces in Canada’s constitution, and seeing as he somehow managed to get elected at the federal level, this family values guy looked around for a way to attack the kind of people he really disapproves of – you know, “union bosses,” who encourage their members not to just step ’n’ fetchit – and came up with his private member’s bill, an Act to Amend the Income Tax Act (Labour Organizations).
Now the idea of this act, according to Mr. Hiebert, “is to increase transparency and accountability in another group of public institutions – labour unions.” Mr. Hiebert and his pals on the social conservative super-right even cooked up some leading questions for a poll that allowed them to claim they have enormous public support for this idea. However, this is of course a load of baloney.
The reporting requirements under Bill C-377 would be so intensive (notwithstanding Mr. Hiebert’s risible claim to the contrary) that unions would be required to spend essentially all of their time reporting every expense over $5,000, which would then have to be published on the Canada Revenue Agency’s website. (And who would manage that gargantuan task, you ask? Surely not newly hired civil servants!)
Well, never mind that for the moment, because this is just another example of why private member’s bills were created to die on the order paper. To say C-377 is a poorly thought out and badly drafted piece of legislation understates the matter considerably.
Here’s a quick list of just the Top Ten problems with the bill, as compiled by those well-known union lovers and crazy radicals at the Canadian Bar Association:
- The bill’s financial disclosure provisions violate provincial privacy laws.
- The bill requires unconstitutional disclosure of targeted individuals’ political beliefs and practices in direct conflict with protections in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
- The bill could be challenged under the Charter’s freedom of expression and freedom of association provisions.
- The bill lacks an appropriate balance between personal privacy rights protected by law and “legitimate public policy goals.”
- The bill’s requirement of disclosure of salaries and personal information from independently governed organizations raises “serious concerns.”
- The definition of “labour organization” is so broad it may include employer organizations (such as, although the CBA letter does not name them, the anti-union Merit Contractors Association), the perennial employer’s favourite, the Christian Labour Association of Canada, pension plans and medical benefit providers.
- Since labour organizations are analogous to closed corporations, and the governance and transparency of the organization should be a matter for members, not the general public. (Unstated, if I’m not reading too much into this, is that the lawyers fear these provisions could be extended to private corporations, especially those that deduct fees from employee paycheques.)
- If union dues have to be raised to pay the higher costs of complying with the legislation, unions will try to take it out of the hides of employers come contract time, meaning higher costs for employers.
- Costs for the federal government to administer the bill would be significant.
- The bill would require the reporting of pension and medical benefit information, and therefore the disclosure of members’ sensitive personal medical and financial information.
And all this for what? As the CBA letter’s authors note, “as a threshold statement, it is unclear what issue or perceived problem the bill is intended to address.”
Which brings us to the mystery at the heart of this matter. Why is the government of Stephen Harper treating this piece of legislative junk as if it were a government bill? It’s passed second reading with all those Reform-a-Tory MPs slapping their fins and barking “Aye!” like the trained seals they are and looks very much as if it could actually be passed into law.
Actually, the explanation isn’t that much of a mystery if you think about the past behaviour and known future plans of Mr. Harper’s Reform Party government.
Alert readers will recall the discussion not so long ago in this blog of what a senior executive for the Alberta branch of the mighty Hill & Knowlton Strategies PR agency has been telling sympathetically right-leaning audiences about how Prime Minister Harper plans to kick ass and take names to get another majority government in 2016, or whenever.
Mike Storeshaw, Communications VP for H&K (not the German manufacturer of fine firearms with the same initials), is a former director of communications to both Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Paraguayan-born Public Security Minister Victor Toews, plus according to his slide show a top spinner in the office of Mr. Harper back in opposition days.
The Conservative strategy, he tells his listeners, will be to isolate the NDP, “squeeze out” the Liberals (hoping “blue Liberals” will vote Tory), and polarize the electorate into a left-right battle. And thus, he promises, the Conservatives will “paint the NDP into a corner” and “mow the Liberal lawn.”
The NDP must be “inextricably tied to big labour unions,” Mr. Storeshaw explains to his audiences. “‘Bad guys’ are one and the same – NDP and ‘big union bosses,’” another slide says, adding that the “bad guys” in question should never be framed as “workers” – that’s NDP language!
Which brings me to my perfectly believable explanation of why the Harperites has stuck with this ridiculous piece of legislative junk, even though they have to know the courts will punt it if they dare to pass it, faster than you can say ultra vires and freedom of association in one sentence.
They want to get the NDP Opposition on record noisily defending “big union bosses,” those guys with their modest salaries, broken-down Detroit Three automobiles and genuine family values lifestyles
The trouble with this – which apparently hasn’t occurred to the brainiacs in Mr. Harper’s inner circle – is that the thing might actually pass. You see, as a private member’s bill, it doesn’t get the normal committee scrutiny that a government bill would get, or at least would get in normal times when Canada had a government committed to democracy.
And what’s going to happen then when the provincial medical associations, law societies, Crown prosecutors’ associations, the RCMP officers’ staff association and the judges’ associations, for heaven’s sake, not to mention the groups of anti-union thugs who finance Tory governments everywhere, insurance companies and heaven knows who else all discover they’re included too in the sloppy language of this amateurish piece of legislation?
One thing that may well happen will be a significant reduction in the number of donations heading the Tories’ way from these often like-minded groups.
Another might be some pretty brisk phone calls advising the government to drop this bill right blanking now – which, after all, would be easy for the government to do without any embarrassment because it’s just a private members’ bill.
Or maybe the Tory braintrust thinks they can enforce this law selectively – since in their hearts of hearts guys like Russ Hiebert and Stephen Harper don’t really believe any law that proves inconvenient ought to apply to them and their well-heeled cronies anyway.
Whatever, the smart course of action would be to drop this sucker like the hot potato it’s bound to become the instant someone other than a “union boss” takes note, as it appears the Bar Association just has.
This post also appears on Rabble.ca.