Perspectives

Parliament must speak for all Canadians

By Bob McGahey
October 27, 2014

September 25, 2014. This is the day that debate began once again on the Conservative party’s contentious anti-labour Bill C-377. Debate in the Canadian parliamentary system in 2014 is not what it used to be. It seems that no longer can the Canadian public rely on fact-based discourse, intelligent, thoughtful discussion or well-reasoned responses to questions. Instead, we are subjected to ideologically based, well-rehearsed, obfuscation.

Take, for example the questions posed to Senator Bob Runciman, the newly crowned champion of C-377 during the questions after his comments. Some of the preamble of questions and answers has been left out for readability. For a full text of the “debate” see www.parl.gc.ca/Content/Sen/Chamber/412/ Debates/
080db_2014-09-25-e.htm
.

Following are Senator Runciman’s responses to a few of the questions along with what we believe to be more appropriate answers.

Hon. Céline Hervieux-Payette: “Since I was the assistant deputy minister of the Quebec labour department, you will understand that this topic concerns me in particular. This issue is subject to provincial legislation. …How can my colleague try to involve the federal government in an area that basically falls under provincial jurisdiction?”

Senator Runciman: What CTF would say:
“I think I did, Mr. Speaker, spell it out in my comments. This is a tax benefit that all Canadians recognize as coming from the federal government, and I believe there’s a responsibility on the part of these institutions to let us know how that money, that tax benefit that they’re gaining from federal legislation and from federal tax codes, is being utilized. I think that’s a fair and reasonable request.” Labour laws do indeed fall under provincial and territorial jurisdiction. In fact, Robin Elliot, Q.C. has written a legal opinion stating “Bill C-377 is clearly beyond federal legislative jurisdiction, and would be struck down by the courts on that ground as “of no force or effect” pursuant to s. 52(1) of the Constitution Act, 1982.

Senator Hervieux-Payette: “Since you yourself said that it was in Ontario that you had seen things you didn’t like, why are you talking about them here, at the federal level? If those things were causing problems in Ontario, it is up to the Government of Ontario to enact legislation. You are using tax credits as a secondary argument. Small and medium-sized businesses receive tax credits. Should they have to release all their financial statements and contributions? If you followed the Charbonneau commission, you would have heard about the front men used by companies, accounting and engineering firms — ask Mr. Housakos, he is no doubt aware.

Every time they receive benefits, be they tax credits, contributions to political parties or businesses, should all the numbers be posted on the revenue department site?”

Senator Runciman: What CTF would say:
“I’ve been asked to speak to Bill C-377. The senator raises suggestions that may have merit, but they’re not the subject of this legislation, and I support this legislation.” There is a long history in Canada of providing tax credits for dues to organizations – including unions. In a democracy, all voices should be heard. In recent years, governments have been using tax dollars in increasingly partisan ways to promote their ideas making it even more important that other voices be heard. Tax credits for donations and membership dues assist in providing opportunities to hear diverse perspectives.

Senator Hervieux-Payette: “I just wanted to ask the senator what jurisdictions outside Canada — Germany, France, Great Britain or others — grant the right to publish the financial information of all unions. To my knowledge, it is not a common practice to publish this information, and especially not on the websites of these countries’ revenue departments.

I would like you to give us the specific information that the Canadian government would like to obtain.”

Senator Runciman: What CTF would say:
“I am not the sponsor of this legislation, but I was advised that public financial disclosure for union and labour organizations is a reality in most G7 countries. I will ensure that that information is forwarded to your office.” While other jurisdictions may gather financial information from unions, this information is not made public. Further, the information proposed to be gathered in Bill C-377 goes much farther than existing laws in other jurisdictions.The CTF, along with most, if not all, like organizations has a budget and financial statements approved by its membership and available to any member who should ask.

Senator Fraser: “I was struck by your repeated use of the phrase “union bosses,” which is a phrase one hears quite often from certain segments of the debate on this issue. Union leaders are elected, and if their members don’t vote them into office, then they’re not union leaders anymore.

In contrast, the managers with whom they negotiate are not elected. They do, it seems to me, qualify rather more for the phrase “bosses,” if one wants to go down that route. But I had been under the impression that people on the other side — and I hope I’m not making too far a leap here — and that you yourself on certain occasions had held that election confers legitimacy. So why go on calling people “union bosses”?”

Senator Runciman: What CTF would say:
“Well, you can call them corporate bosses, labour bosses or union bosses. If you wish to use that terminology, feel free. From my perspective, that’s the way I like to describe many of these individuals who — you’re right; they are elected, and they have, I guess, the authority to do and say what they please with respect to the matters that fall under their ambit of responsibility. But I think it’s an appropriate use of the English language, and I will continue to use it, especially in respect to this legislation.” At CTF, our president is elected at the Annual General Meeting for a 2-year term. He or she may only run for one term and normally is seconded from the classroom for 2 years. Our leader is a practicing teacher who understands the classroom and the issues related to the education system.The use of the term “bosses” serves no purpose other than to be inflammatory and divisive.

Canadians deserve better from their representatives be they in the House of Commons or in the Senate. Name-calling, misinformation and obfuscation have no place in a parliamentary democracy. As British parliamentarian Edmond Burke stated in a 1774 speech to the electors of Bristol:

“Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests; which interests each must maintain, as an agent and advocate, against other agents and advocates; but parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole. You choose a member indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not a member of Bristol, but he is a member of parliament.”

Bob McGahey is Acting Director of CTF’s Research and Information.

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