Dogged by criticisms Canada's upper chamber, the Senate, showed that it could be a chamber of second thought, and delayed passage of a government sponsored bill that had passed through the House of Commons.
Photo Credit: Adrian Wyld/CP

Beleaguered Senate blocks immediate passage of union disclosure bill

Canada’s upper chamber the Senate has won both praise and condemnation for blocking the immediate passage of a government supported bill on union disclosures, this despite a government majority in the Senate.

In recent months the Senate has been the focus of controversy over contested expense claims by a number of Senators. As well, there have been calls for the abolition of the Senate, particularly by the Official Opposition NDP party.

Canada’s senators are appointed by the Prime Minister, not elected like Members of Parliament in the House of Commons. It is supposed to be the sobre chamber of second thought, reviewing legislation passed by the House of Commons, before it’s given royal assent.

According to some observers, that role was played out Wednesday (June 26) when the Senate amended a government supported bill by government MP Russ Heibert.

The stated goal of Bill C-377 – An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (requirements for labour organizations) – was union transparency by obliging all unions in Canada to reveal their finances and their use of the finances. Part of the justification for the bill was union dues paid by members are tax deductible.

But Canada’s unions saw the legislation as part of a larger anti-union tendency by the Conservative government. The bill would have forced unions to set up a new reporting system to the Canada Revenue Agency on labour relations activities, political activities, lobbying activities, and a very comprehensive financial picture of all union expenses.

Because this was a private member’s bill, the legislation went fairly quickly through the Conservative dominated House of Commons.

In the Senate, the Conservatives also hold a majority, but a number of government senators were very concerned by what they had heard from witnesses about the constitutionality of the legislation, on the right of association, on the right of privacy.

A Senate Committee was also concerned by the cost to government of such scrutiny.

And, so a number of government senators ended up voting for amendments to the bill, which, because the House is on summer break, effectively stopped the passage of the bill, at least until the autumn.

Canadian media reported that the Prime Minister’s Office released a statement saying that the bill was a priority for the government, and that it intended to have the House of Commons restore the bill goals, and pass it.

More information:
Senate debate and vote on Bill C-377 on June 26, 2013 – here
CBC News – Amendment renders private member’s bill ‘useless,’ says Tory MP – here
Globe and Mail – Conservative-dominated Senate blocks union disclosure bill – here
Montreal Gazette – Conservative senators who helped ‘gut’ union spending bill get stern warning – here

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