Bill C-377 can be just the start – let’s shine a light on some corners that are really in the dark!

The ideal Canadian workforce, Harper Conservative style. Below: Social conservative B.C. MP Russ Hiebert.

Well, you can’t fight a call for transparency, so why bother? I say, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!

The so-called Conservative Party of Stephen Harper quietly whipped its troops in the privacy of their caucus rooms and managed to squeeze Bill C-377 – social-conservative B.C. MP Russ Hiebert’s amateurish and unconstitutional piece of anti-union mischief – through the House of Commons last night.

They’ll say that they didn’t whip it – that is to say, impose party discipline to enforce the vote the Prime Minister’s inner circle wanted – but they’ll be lying, notwithstanding a few conveniently symbolic Tory holdouts.

As Canadians are coming to understand, these Harper Conservatives lie about everything – their motives, their agenda, their plans to sell the country out to foreign governments, the price of a stealthy jet bombers they want us to buy for them, not to mention what they plan to use them for, which sure as hell ain’t the defence of the realm!

So why not lie about their reasons for Bill C-377 too, which, no doubt, will soon slide through the Senate, nowadays packed with Tory porkchoppers, like corn through a goose?

Opposition leader Thomas Mulcair is right, of course, that this legislative rubbish is so badly flawed it’s unlikely to survive an encounter with an independent court. But in the mean time it’ll provide the Harperites with an opportunity to lie some more about Mr. Mulcair’s and the NDP’s relationship with organized labour, so I suppose despite its flaws the ruckus it stirs up may prove fleetingly valuable to Reform Party dead-enders like the prime minister of Calgary.

But as the Toronto Star’s Thomas Walkom wisely pointed out last night, it’s not really the political right that’s killing unions – it’s unions themselves when they make themselves irrelevant to ordinary working people by paying attention only their own members.

Ironically, while most unions don’t do enough to represent working people beyond their own membership, what little they do to fight for the powerless in society is why authoritarian neoconservatives like Mr. Harper have such a hate on for labour and other groups that speak out for traditional Canadian values.

So one worthwhile response to the effort by the Conservatives to smother unions in red tape is to fight harder for real progressive causes, not to mention never again signing a lousy two-tier contract that leaves young workers with the short end of the stick to preserve the past victories of older workers. No, an injury to one remains an injury to all, people!

No doubt many unions will want to challenge this unconstitutional law in the courts, and, since they stand a good chance of success, one can hardly blame them.

Still, I think we should also be working hard now to extend the range of transparency in society to where it will actually do some good, casting a bright light into the dingier corners of the corporate world, including its network of Astroturf agencies and far-right think tanks.

“An overwhelming number of Canadians believe it should be mandatory for unions to publicly disclose detailed financial information on a regular basis,” a Conservative MP said in the Commons debate. It is said here that exactly the same thing can be said of Canadians’ attitudes about privately held corporations, think tanks, lobbyists and groups that serve the same purpose as labour unions only for more powerful and better connected individuals.

And someone – perhaps a labour union – should finance a public opinion poll, which could observe the same high standards as the push poll conducted by Mr. Hiebert’s friends – to gauge how the public feels about the extension of these standards of transparency throughout society. I can guarantee you their attitudes will be much the same when it comes to businesses, employer councils, chambers of commerce and their ilk.

The Alberta Medical Association, which is clearly operating as a labour organization under the loosey-goosey terms of this act, would be an excellent place to start. After that, the Law Society. And then the think tanks, the professional lobbying firms, the charities that stake out political positions and give donations, the privately held businesses that nevertheless do business with any level of government. Hockey boss Daryl Katz, c’mon down!

Why not? As Mr. Hiebert and the Conservatives have told us repeatedly, Canadians just love transparency.

Of course the Conservatives were lying about the details. But they just should have been more careful about what they wished for, because transparency is coming – and not just to unions.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

13 Comments on "Bill C-377 can be just the start – let’s shine a light on some corners that are really in the dark!"

  1. Alex P says:

    “[...]it’s unions themselves when they make themselves irrelevant to ordinary working people by paying attention only their own members.”

    Well said. For the HarperCons (sounds like a minor villain in a cartoon) safety is in numbers when you learn to divide. Old against young, east against west, rural against urban.

  2. Filostrato says:

    When the unions win in the courts, please send the bill to Hiebert – personally. Stupid bills should have real consequences. After all, he was the second-highest spending MP in 2012. Maybe he should find out what its like to drain his own finances for a while.

    Eagerly awaiting to find out where the Fraser Institute funding comes from. I don’t expect to hear much about it’s non-political activities. They simply don’t exist.

    Off on a completely different tangent, it looks like The Wiz made it into the CBC National’s The Insiders : Worst Political Strategist segment for December 11, 2012. (It starts about the 14 minute mark.) You’ll notice he wasn’t specifically named but everybody knew who he was. Nice to know he’s appreciated for what he is.

    • Filostrato says:

      Sorry, make that the second highest spending MP in 2010.

    • Filostrato says:

      “..much about it’s non-political activities”.

      Um…make that “its” non-political activities. My inner copy editor seems to go AWOL until after I press the “submit” button.

  3. Buddie Dharma says:

    No much the unions can do but challenge this in court – it’s obviously unconstitutional, so they will likely win in the short term. But we as individuals can do plenty. Isn’t it time to start publishing personal information about the Conservative MPs behind this kind of thing – good for the goose, good for the gander, sort of thing? Where do they reside? Where do their spouses work? What kind of cellphone pictures have they gotten themselves into? Perhaps some activist in the United States – where there’s a commitment to free speech – could set up a site where this could be published.

  4. The Drake says:

    I’m not sure how you can say “unions don’t do enough to represent working people beyond their own membership” I have a good pension but part of union dues went into a campaign to pay for lobbying the government to double the CPP and increase the Old Age pension Supplement for ALL workers. That isn’t going to benefit me much.
    Unions fought to keep the gun registry open, not just for the few jobs that would be lost, but for the hundreds of lives that police, social services and victims groups said would be endangered without some form of firearm accountability.
    Unions are struggling to fix against employers’ two-tier wage/benefit/pension proposals at the bargaining table every day

  5. The Drake says:

    Not to mention the postal workers who went on strike in ’81 to earn maternity leave for their members – now it’s a legislated benefit for ALL workers across the country. Or the literacy education opportunities that the provincial Federations of Labour put on for workers. And let us not forget the gains unions have made that non-unionized members share in – weekends, vacation pay, health & safety legislation. Yeah, those greedy unions, only looking out for themselves.

  6. Bruce says:

    I’ve been a union member my entire life with the different jobs I’ve had. It pains to say that the last job I had was in the lumber industry and we were poorly served. We were beaten out of serverance pay and settled for about $3100 from the feds. Our modest pensions, if you held on to them, might be worth 30% of their value. In my case maybe $15,000. Maybe. Our local didn’t do anything to advise people on a course of action or advice. Nothing came from the National. This was the CEP. I expected better but we didn’t get anything in terms of leadership. When we needed the union the most, they were nowhere to found. It dosen’t change my view of unions and role in helping advance workers interests and rights but damn it, my local, regional and national reps let us down. There was nothing. I am still a union guy but this sort of thing contributes to why we become easy targets for people like Chairman Harper and lackey’s like Hiebert. I don’t know what could have really be done but an utter lack of effort isn’t acceptable and let’s be realistic, bad news and experiences form or cloud an individuals opinions on subjects like this.

    Putting that aside, I still believe and support collective bargaining and unionism but there’s got to be more than just putting in the bare minimum of effort, especially when workers need it the most on critical isues like pensions..

  7. Alex Macdonald says:

    This is the most blatant use of the law to attack a political opponent that I have ever seen. I am outraged that they were able to pull it off…that the Opposition did not fight it loudly enough and that the media did not see the political strategy behind it and report it as an attack.

    I also believe that the Canadian labour movement allowed themselves to be steamrolled. Their opposition was muted and ultimately ineffective. Where were the people marching in the streets? Where were the hundreds of thousands of emails and letters to the PMO and local editors? Where were the full-page ads? Where was the TV campaign defending their rights?

    IMHO, Bill C-377 was a Kristallnacht in slo-mo for the union movement, the single event that defines the Harper government’s intention to kill the labour movement.

    Canadian unions did not (really, no pun intended) crystallize that for the country.

  8. As a longtime member of the Executive of the Edmonton Catholic Local of the ATA, I have to say that we served primarily our members, but supported other labour organizations financially as well as philosophically. We were not alone in this, but limited resources and the miniscule numbers of unionized employees in this province dulls the effectiveness of labour unions as agents of social change.

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