A Conservative Senator appointed just months ago by Prime Minister Stephen Harper is the latest to speak out against a controversial union disclosure bill that the government would like to see passed into law this summer.
Diane Bellemare, a former economics professor with the University of Quebec at Montreal, was appointed to the Senate on Sept. 6, 2012.
On Friday, she delivered a speech in the Senate outlining why she opposes Bill C-377 in its current form.
Ms. Bellemare listed several reasons, including technical issues with the bill’s French translation and more substantial issues questioning why a bill with such broad implications is being proposed as a private members’ bill rather than a piece of government legislation.
“I’ve done my homework, I’ve done my research,” she said in French. “Most of the witnesses who we had asked to suggest amendments told us clearly that this bill, even amended, would still be fundamentally open to challenges in terms of constitutionality and the protection of private life. Even with the proposed amendments, this bill remains an unbalanced bill that has no similarity to other transparency bills in France, the United Kingdom and Australia.”
Conservative MPs are urging their Senate colleagues to pass the bill, which would force unions in Canada to disclose a range of information to the Canada Revenue Agency for posting on a public website. Supporters of the bill argue that unions receive tax deductions through union dues and therefore their spending should be made public.
Unions counter that financial information is released to union members. Unions warn the bill will cost them millions of dollars in order to comply with the measures. Some witnesses, including the federal privacy commissioner, have warned that the bill goes too far in terms of an invasion of privacy.
Unions would have to disclose details on all payments they make that are worth $5,000 or more. They would also have to list all employees who are paid more than $100,000. That amount was $5,000 in the original bill, which was introduced by B.C. Conservative MP Russ Hiebert. An amendment in the House of Commons raised that to $100,000, though there is debate over whether the amendment was properly written.
Several Conservatives are hinting they have concerns with the bill, but few have so far delivered public speeches in the Senate declaring that they oppose the legislation.
Conservative Senators Raynell Andreychuk and Donald Oliver both told the Globe Friday they are listening to the debate and have not yet taken a position.
When the Senate amends a bill, the amendment must be approved by the House of Commons. However because the House has risen for summer, any amendment would have the effect of ensuring the bill does not become law before the fall.
The question Senators are waiting to see answered is whether the government wants to force the issue or allow the embattled Senate to break for summer. The Liberal opposition could prevent a vote for a few weeks through procedural delay tactics, which could push off a vote on the bill well into July.
“In our caucus, there’s been vigorous debate on all sides and I respect peoples’ opinions,” said Conservative Senator Marjory LeBreton, the Government Leader in the Senate. “I told my elected colleagues that we would do everything possible to get this bill (into law) before we adjourn, but of course, the debate goes on and it’s still before the Senate and there’s lots of people that want to participate in the debate. There’s some amendments that we’re going to have to vote on, so we’ll have to just wait and see what happens.”