Canada’s prime minister jams anti-union law through Parliament

OTTAWA, Ont. (PAI) – Using moves taken wholesale from the right wing’s playbook in the U.S., Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the Conservative Party leader, jammed a wide-ranging anti-union law through Parliament.

The law forces unions – and nobody else – to disclose every financial item, including who got paid and each payment’s purpose. That includes otherwise-confidential licensing agreements and fees for professional services, such as attorneys that unions use.

Harper’s law, enacted before expected parliamentary elections this year, drew outrage from seven of Canada’s 11 provinces, the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), its largest union – the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) – and other unions in the U.S.’ northern neighbor country.

CUPE called the law just one more reason for voters to oust Harper, a Conservative, from the prime minister’s chair, and elect a New Democratic Party government. NDP is the leading opposition party in Parliament.

“Several senators tried to do their job and demonstrate that the Senate really is a chamber of second sober thought, but Prime Minister Harper appears to have thrown a temper tantrum, stepping in to rig the rules, shut down debate, and make things go his way,” said CLC President Hassan Yussuff.

“It’s a corrupt, cynical move that once more demonstrates that unions are far more democratic, transparent and accountable to their members than this prime minister and his government are to taxpayers,” he added.

Harper’s law also flies in the face of Canadian labor law. Canadian labor law is left more to the provinces. While their codes vary, most are much stronger than U.S. labor law, including card-check recognition, first-contract arbitration and heavier fines for law-breaking.

Harper jammed his law through the Canadian Senate by a 35-22 party-line vote in late June, just before Canada Day (July 1). It previously passed the House of Commons. The Senate rejected it before, but Harper used parliamentary tactics to force its reconsideration. And his party changed the Senate’s filibuster rules to stop an opposition filibuster against it.

Inserted as a change to the Canadian tax code, the new law requires detailed union financial reports on salaries, grants, lobbying efforts, and the amount of time its employees and contractors spent on “political activities, lobbying activities and other non-labor relations activities,” its sponsor, a rank-and-file member of Parliament, says.

It also would force disclosure of individual financial transactions above $5,000, a CUPE fact sheet adds. That includes spending on labor relations, lobbying, politics, administration, overhead, collective bargaining, conferences and conventions, organizing and education and training. Failure to follow it would be a criminal offense, with a $25,000 fine for each offense.

“The Conservatives have tried to spin Bill C-377 as being about union transparency, but experts from across the spectrum agree that it’s really about red tape, that will force unions, their suppliers and other businesses they work with to spend millions of dollars and thousands of hours producing and processing expense reports to be reviewed and filed at taxpayer expense,” the Canadian Labour Congress added.

CUPE called the law “a political attack on the right of freedom of association and free speech in Canada.” CUPE says it’s modeled on U.S. legislation first proposed three decades ago.                                                              

Photo: CUPE


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.