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Conservative MP Russ Hiebert is behind the private members Bill C-377Adrian Wyld

A group of Conservative and Liberal senators are trying to talk out the clock on a Tory union disclosure bill, hoping to prevent it from becoming law before the sun sets on the 41st Parliament.

Bill C-377 was previously blocked by the Senate in 2013 when several Conservatives sided with the opposition to amend the bill, but the House of Commons sent it back to the Senate in its original state.

The legislation is a private members bill put forward by Conservative MP Russ Hiebert that would force unions to disclose a wide range of expenses, including salaries. Supporters say it responds to concerns from some union members who fear intimidation if they ask for too much detail from their union leaders. Critics say the bill sets a dangerous precedent of interfering in non-governmental sectors and would be a costly burden on unions and the Canada Revenue Agency.

"Three-seven-seven is just an outrageous bill," said Liberal Senator Larry Campbell.

Conservative Senator Diane Bellemare and Liberal Senator James Cowan both put forward amendments to the bill this week, which will delay the final vote. Should the Senate rise before the final vote, the legislation will be dead because of the October federal election. The final outcome could depend on whether the Senate chooses to rise on Friday or whether it comes back next week to wrap up unfinished business.

Senators are well aware that they are debating the bill at a time of unprecedented scrutiny. Senators who are in favour of the bill hope the Auditor General's concerns about the expenses of Senators will tilt the scales in favour of supporting the bill, because it deals with transparency and expenses.

At the same time, Senators opposed to the bill see this as an opportunity to show the public that they have a legitimate role to play in providing sober second thought.

Then there is the fact that unions are preparing to launch ad campaigns that will feature their most partisan attacks ever on the Conservatives ahead of the fall election, which they hope will unseat a government that they see as an enemy of organized labour.

For instance, the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, which has historically been less confrontational than the larger Public Service Alliance of Canada, recently launched an ad campaign that says "the Conservative government" does not understand integrity and says public servants will be voting accordingly on October 19.

However Bill C-377 would apply to all unions, not just those in the federal public sector. That has led to objections from several provinces, who argue labour regulations fall under their responsibility.

Another union that is quietly lobbying against the bill is the National Hockey League Players Association. The NHLPA is concerned that the bill would force players to disclose details on their lucrative merchandising deals in areas like video games and hockey cards.

Conservative Senator Jean-Guy Dagenais, a former Montreal police officer who worked with a policing union, is the government's main advocate for the bill in the Senate.

"I have no hesitation in saying that Bill C-377 contains nothing that is anti-union, nothing unconstitutional, and more importantly, nothing against unionized workers," he told the Senate this week. "It simply establishes the formula that union leaders will be required to use every year to make a disclosure that will enable those who pay union dues to ensure that the union is spending their money wisely."

Debate is expected to continue on Thursday.

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