Ontario Tory Senator Hugh Segal Opposes
"Anti-Labour" Bill, Right To Work
As Conservative Parties in both Ontario and federally move to tighten restrictions on labour unions that would affect their ability to organize, conduct collective bargaining and try to influence political decisions, the backlash is not just coming from unions, the NDP and the Liberals.
Senator Hugh Segal, a long time Progressive Conservative from Ontario, former top aide to both Premier Bill Davis and Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, spoke in the Senate last week opposing Bill C-377. It would require labour unions to disclose to the Canada Revenue Agency the names and addresses of any individuals or companies to which they pay more than $5,000 in a year. This is what Senator Segal had to say:
(Note: It is traditional for those speaking in the Senate to refer to the House of Commons as "the other place.")
Hon. Hugh Segal:
I believe the bill must be amended and critically examined before committee. As I do believe that, I do not oppose second reading, although I cannot vote
for the bill in principle and will not.
Let me share my best judgment as to why Bill C-377, dealing with broadening trade union disclosure to CRA (Canada Revenue Agency), is bad legislation, bad public policy and a diminution of both the order and the freedom that should exist in any democratic, pluralist and mixed-market society.
I want to point out that, while transparency is a compelling public good, applying it in a discriminatory way is harmful and divisive.
As a Tory, I believe that society prospers when different views about the public agenda, on the left and the right, are advanced by different groups, individuals and interests. Debate between opposing groups in this chamber, in the other place and in broader society is the essence of democracy. Limiting that debate as to scope and breadth is never in the long-term interest of a free and orderly society.
Dispatching CRA to police how trade unions spend their money, in denominations of $5,000 or more, is to increase the role of CRA and of the state in ways that create a bigger, nosier and more expensive government. As a taxpayer and as a Conservative, I oppose that kind of increase in any government's power or expenditures.
At the disclosure level that is now in the bill — $5,000 — a two- year supply of coffee, a used car, a new computer system or printer, or the replacement of plumbing or a boiler at a union headquarters would qualify for explicit disclosure. Is this all that CRA has to do?
... Do we want to take people who might be working on tax evasion and have them assess which union local bought a new boiler for its headquarters? That is what this bill would produce.
If this is to apply to trade unions, why would it not apply to rotary clubs, the Fraser Institute, Christian, Muslim and Jewish congregations across Canada, the Council of Chief Executives, local car dealers or the many farming groups, like the cattlemen's associations or the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, all of whom do great work? How about local constituency associations, food banks, soup kitchens, or anglers and hunters clubs?
All of these groups express views on policy. All have the right, under election law, to volunteer in municipal, provincial or federal elections, and all come to Ottawa to lobby and press government on issues important to them. They do so along with representatives of the defence industry, our First Nations and various cultural groups. Are they all to be swept into the CRA bureaucratic remit? That is what this bill would lead to.
If CRA is to become the political judge of what expenses are appropriate, what are the guiding criteria? The bill is silent on that....
There are, honourable senators, other doubtful provisions that should be of deep concern, such as proposed paragraph 149.01(3) (a), on page 2.
It says that information shall be provided in "such form and containing such particulars... as may be prescribed."
It does not say by whom. Would it be the representatives of the Privy Council Office or the Department of Labour? Spare me.
Proposed subparagraph 149.01(3)(b)(ix) lists the need to declare what is spent on labour relations activities, with no concurrent disclosure imposed on the management side.
How about a law that forced my political party to disclose its campaign, travel, research and advertising budgets to the Liberal Party of Canada or to the NDP two weeks before the election was called?
Perhaps Coca-Cola should be forced to disclose to Pepsi its marketing plan and expenditures over $5,000.
How about the Montreal Canadiens having to tell the Boston Bruins whether their coach spent more than $5,000 on dinner for their team and where they ate in Boston before the game?
Honourable senators, this bill is about a nanny state; it has an anti-labour bias running rampant; and it diminishes the imperative of free speech, freedom of assembly and free collective bargaining.
I imagine that, were it to pass, subsequent legislation from the other place from private members might be aimed at newspapers; networks, TV and otherwise; student groups; universities; junior baseball leagues; and even, God forbid, community soccer. Where we are headed with this bill is down a dark alley to a very dark place indeed.
If the unions should disclose, so should the auto dealers, the C.D. Howe Institute, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, all the local Legions and all of the various local organizations.
Have we decided that CRA has lots of employees with little to do? When did that meeting happen? Who came to that conclusion?
To manage the new nosey mission, CRA would need new employees and up to $2.5 million in operating funds, plus an extra $800,000 a year. That is CRA's own estimate. The Parliamentary Budget Officer says the number will be much higher.
Let me talk now, in conclusion, about one Conservative who, while not perfect, was generally revered for his role in the building of Canada. His name? Sir John A. Macdonald...
In a piece on early labour legislation in Canada, Mark Chartrand, in reference to the introduction and passage of the Trade Unions Act of 1872 under the Liberal-Conservative government of Sir John A. Macdonald, wrote:
Sir John A. Macdonald was solely responsible for the introduction of the Bills. In his preliminary remarks in the House of Commons he said that that they were modeled after British statutes. In his preliminary remarks in the House of Commons he said that that they were modeled after British statutes enacted in the previous year [under Gladstone] that had emancipated union members from existing laws that were considered to be 'opposed to the spirit of the liberty of the individual' and 'too oppressive to be endorsed by free men.' He suggested that it was in Canada's best interest to enact analogous legislation so that Canadian and British immigrant workers 'would have... the same right to combine for the accomplishment of lawful objects, as [workers] had in England.'
During the debate of 12 June, he noted: "[r]ecent events in Toronto — he was referring to the famous printers' strike — had shown the necessity of adopting some amendment [to existing law] here', and also expressed his concern that if 'workingmen... should learn that the old law remain unchanged, they would not come to settle in Canada'.
Honourable senators, the very growth of Canada, the successive waves of immigrants from the British Isles that built Canada in the early days, depended in some measure on protecting legitimate union rights. Honourable senators, they did so then and they do now...
The negative effect of this bill, either in deploying CRA on political missions or on limiting freedoms, is debilitating and offensive. The bill before us today, as well as right-to-work legislation that is being proposed in the other place as a private member's bill, is not who we are as Canadians. It is time this chamber said so.
Honourable senators, I know union leaders whom I dislike and do not trust. Some have been mean, narrow, divisive and unconstructive, but I defend their right to advance what they consider to be their members' interests. I know corporate, political and not-for-profit leaders who suffer from the same faults.
As for soft-sounding, labour-financed coalitions that campaign against Conservatives at various points in provincial elections, we have seen that. It is the election laws that should be changed to limit anybody's right to do so on the right or the left without spending limits and full, timely disclosure, not the Income Tax Act of Canada. This is a matter of election law, not CRA inquisition.
I urge honourable senators on all sides to reflect on how this bill might be revamped or, if necessary and if it is not revamped at third reading, actually stopped dead in its tracks.
In the interests of free, collective bargaining; strong, competitive environments; safe workplaces; and the fair treatment of working men and women, socially, economic and politically, this bill should be either readily revamped or set aside.
If it has been quoted on other matters in this place that "the best social policy is a job," then people who seek union support in the workplace — as is their right in a free society — should be protected, and the unions who serve them should not be singled- out unfairly.