Friday, June 28, 2013

On single battles

There's been plenty of press this week about the Senate's amendments to the Cons' odious anti-union legislation (dressed up as a private member's bill to avoid the scrutiny that would come from honestly-labeled government legislation). And it's certainly a plus to see C-377 delayed and amended.

But it's worth both contrasting the treatment of C-377 against that of other bills to assess the Senate's supposed independence, and pointing out how any victory may be only temporary.

To start with, for all the talk about the single amendment by Hugh Segal "gutting" C-377, the fact is that the bill remains live, well and set to be reconsidered (and potentially pushed through again in its original form) by the House of Commons. Which makes for a stark contrast to how Harper's trained seals in the Senate trashed previous legislation which had been approved by Canada's actual elected representatives - voting it down altogether rather than amending it for reconsideration.

If the best case to be made for the Senate's continued existence is as a check on the out-of-control executive, then, the Senate's actions under Harper suggest that it's broadly failing in that role - and the improvements to C-377 make at best a minor dent in the overall impression.

But what of C-377 itself? The obvious danger from this point forward is that the anti-labour Cons will simply return the bill to the Senate in its original form - meaning that the effect of this week's vote would be merely to delay its implementation. But there's another possibility which would could result in similar damage in a much shorter time frame.

The actual amendment approved by the Senate (scroll down somewhat from here) primarily tinkers with the dollar thresholds and technical reporting requirements set out in the initial bill - which are set out in subsection 3 as particulars of the information required to be provided. But for unions or organizations with more than 50,000 members, it leaves intact the following general provision as amended:
(2) Subject to subsection 149.01(6), every labour organization and every labour trust shall, by way of electronic filing (as defined in subsection 150.1(1)) and within six months from the end of each fiscal period, file with the Minister an information return for the year, in prescribed form and containing prescribed information.
So who gets to assemble the "prescribed form" and determine the "prescribed information" which will be subject to mandatory disclosure? That would be the Lieutenant Governor in Council, through the regulatory authority set out under section 221(1)(a) of the Income Tax Act. And there's little reason to think that Segal's amendment as to what must be included in the form will restrict the implementation of what may be prescribed without any Parliamentary oversight whatsoever.

In other words, if the Cons are satisfied merely attacking Canada's largest unions and labour organizations, they can grudgingly push through the amended C-377 as quickly as possible, and use their regulatory power to impose the same reporting requirements which were stripped out of the bill in the Senate.

We'll find out before too long whether Harper prefers to take the quick win in his latest battle against working Canadians, or try to force through all of the original C-377 all at once. But we shouldn't pretend for a second that this week's Senate votes will do much to help the cause of workers in the broader war.

No comments:

Post a Comment