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Anti-union bill shows Conservative disregard for evidence, democratic institutions


Canadians like their labour law the way they like their touques – sturdy and designed to protect. 

As a result, Canadian lawmakers have a long history of consulting with labour and business before tinkering with existing law. This ensures predictability for employers and workers, and has been a hallmark of the Canadian system. A system that is internationally regarded as effective, fair, and most importantly, stable.

Bill C-525, passed by the Senate on Tuesday, throws that tradition under the bus.  

Here’s why:

A solution in search of a problem Bill C-525 takes the current one-step process of certifying a union in the federal sector, and makes it a two-step process. It also increases the burden on the Board responsible for overseeing certifications, de-certifications, and complaints. 

What this will mean, on the ground, are fewer unionized workers in the federal sector. Delays in certification introduce opportunities for employers (or unions) to intimidate workers in a certification or decertification drive. 

According to evidence presented before the House and Senate committees evaluating C-525, nine times out of 10, illegal intimidation of workers comes from employers.  Often, this takes the form of threatening workers' jobs. In fact, the Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board told lawmakers that there have only ever been two cases of illegal interference from a union in their jurisdictions. 

Unions care, why should I?

Writing good legislation should be patient and thoughtful. At every step of the process, C-525 has been exactly the opposite. 

The bill is a poster child for this government’s complete disregard for the spirit of Canada’s democratic institutions, and reflects its single-minded obsession with their narrow agenda.

The bill was introduced as a private member's bill, even though it has full government backing. In this way, the bill bypassed the consultation and scrutiny of potentially affected departments that government bills receive.  It also led to the many embarrassing drafting errors discovered in the bill.

Evidence played a frustratingly marginal role in the design of this bill. C-525's entire raison d’être – supposed mountains of complaints about union interference – evaporated once interrogated. 

Further, expert after expert testified to the unintended negative consequences that would result from its adoption, including unnecessary increases in workload and costs for the federal government. 

Was the government swayed in the face of this testimony? Hardly.

C-525 takes the Conservative’s immovability in the face of evidence to an absurd extreme. Even when the senate found C-525 contained technical errors arising from poorly thought out drafting of the legislation, the amendments introduced to correct these errors were voted down in the Senate. Why? Because making the corrections would prolong the process and delay the adoption of the bill.

The implication of the errors found by senators were “not trivial”, in the words of the Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board Chairperson. They effectively remove powers that the board currently enjoys. 

As the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Hon. James Cowan, said, “this is the perfect example of ill-considered legislation passed in haste”.

Bill C-525 is a bad bill.  It makes it harder for unions to certify, and easier for them to be decertified. That’s bad for worker’s rights and economic equality more generally.

Even if you aren't concerned about the content of Bill C-525, one should absolutely be concerned about the ham-fisted process by which it was drafted, debated, and passed into law, evidence be damned.

Photo: Wader. Used under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.