One Senator's fight to stop a bill that demands greater transparency from Canadian unions:
If senators want to reclaim some relevance in the midst of the current crisis, [Senator Diane] Bellemare maintains they need to represent the interests of their provinces and vote against C-377.
"I would like to say that, at this difficult time when the Senate is being accused on all sides of not playing its role as a chamber of sober second thought, and of not taking the interests of the people it represents seriously, I urge you to vote in line with your constitutional obligations, the official positions of your respective governments, in other words, the provincial governments and the people they represent, and all of the emails you received that have criticized this bill as being too invasive," she implored her colleagues last week.
The bill, which was passed by the House of Commons back in December of 2012, would require unions to provide detailed disclosure of their expenditures. Similar legislation has been on the books in the United States for decades. The Left has predictably denounced the bill as "union-busting" and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau has attacked C-377 for serving "no demonstrable public good nor necessary policy objective." Tory MP Russ Hiebert, who introduced the bill, has described the legislation more blandly pointing out that it would require unions "to file a standard set of financial statements each year."
Union backed organization such as the Working Families Coalition have spent millions in attacking and defeating the Ontario Tories for over a decade. C-377 is widely seen as the federal Tories aiding their provincial cousins, while also attempting to head off similar anti-Conservative efforts at the national level. Whatever the partisan logic behind this piece of legislation it was duly passed by the elected House of Commons. Now Senator Bellemare, ironically a Harper appointment, is attempting to kill it.
For all the Prime Minister's legendary adroitness he has shown astonishingly poor judgement at picking senators. The names Duffy, Brazeau, Wallin and now Meredith have become household words for all the wrong reasons. Yet of all these spectacularly inept pseudo-legislators it seems that the until recently obscure Diane Bellemare might be the worst. Mike Duffy expensed his way into the contempt of the Canadian taxpayer. Even Duffy was never arrogant enough to presume he could effectively veto a bill passed by the House of Commons.
Whatever the constitutional status of the Senate it is, from a purely practical standpoint, the inflamed appendix of our body politic. Senator Bellemare, and previously Senator Hugh Segal, have raised reasonably objections to the bill interfering with the mostly provincial power to regulate unions. There are also concerns about the bill being too onerous in terms of the time and effort being imposed on what are legally private organizations. Whatever the merits of these objections the Senate has not the slightest moral, and possibly even constitutional standing to block the passage of this bill.
Perhaps it is a bad bill with a good aim. Perhaps it is even a good bill with a good aim. Neither point matters. It has been voted upon by the Commons and passed. Senators have a right and duty to raise whatever technical objections they feel appropriate. Should their consciences nag at them too strenuously they can and should abstain. Otherwise their duty is to shut up and vote the bill onward to the waiting pen of the Governor-General. Senators represent no one, are accountable to no one and make a mockery of the principle of responsible government. They have about as much moral right to block the passage of a bill as do the maintenance crews on Parliament Hill.
Senator Bellemare has called upon her colleagues to reject C-377 as a way of redeeming themselves. Perhaps she has a point. Rejecting this legislation might finally convince Canadians to either abolish or radically reform the Upper House. Now that would be a real act of redemption.