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In his own words: Hugh Segal on Bill C-377


Bill 377 is anti-democratic and will destabilize the Canadian economy. Conservative Senator Hugh Segal put it best this week when he said:

Honourable senators, my comments on Bill C-377 on my colleague's amendment will be brief and to the point. I make them with no joy, as I very much believe in private member's legislation as a strong force for popular and constituency democracy within our parliamentary system.


I salute the fact that under the present government more private member's legislation has made it through both houses than ever before in Canadian parliamentary history. This is a tribute to our Prime Minister and the members of both the government and opposition parties in the other place and here.


That being said, I take the observations reported in with the unamended Bill C-377 from committee, observations which passed with support from both the opposition and government side in the committee very seriously.


Those observations correctly reflected the very heavy total weight of testimony before the committee on Bill C-377, as my colleague just mentioned. The bill in its drafting, if not in its intent, had serious and, in the view of the vast majority of witnesses, fatal flaws as to the constitutional violation of sections 92 and 91 of the British North America Act, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, freedom of speech, expression and association as protected by that very Charter of Rights and Freedoms.


As a Conservative, I am first a "decentralist" who respects provincial autonomy within Confederation. Bill C-377 would subject unions to federal authority, when their activities clearly fall under provincial jurisdiction.

The bill before us is using the Income Tax Act to try to avoid a constitutional challenge before the courts, and that is not going to fly. One of the most important roles of the upper chamber in a confederation is to amend and even prevent legislation that would directly interfere in our constitutional provisions in Canada.


I also take the decision of our colleagues on the committee that this bill and the issues it raises are so serious that we should be able to have a fulsome debate in this place on third reading.


On second reading, I indicated that I would not stand in the way of this bill going to committee study and abstained formally for that reason. I also indicated that, were it not amended or improved, I would oppose it on third reading.


Honourable senators, we have a chance to amend and improve the bill that is before us, send it back to the house for them to consider and decide, as the elected side should be able to do.


The key flaws of the bill are its invasion of privacy of up to 12 million Canadian mutual fund owners who will be swept into the disclosure and labour trust provisions of the bill which, whatever the intent, were badly crafted, along with pension recipients and joint union-employer pension or health insurance arrangements that exist broadly. Why should these innocent bystanders, who have paid into plans which may pay out more than $5,000 in any one year, be victimized by having their privacy invaded? What justice does this serve?


Also, there is an inconsistency to the level of disclosure for salaries between what the bill before us proposes regarding trade union employees and what the government members of the House of Commons have chosen as a disclosure level for senior public servants and Crown corporation employees, as my colleague mentioned in her speech a few moments ago. It behooves us to respect the level of disclosure that was set by the elected side.


The bill before us also violates solicitor-client privilege and forces upon unions in Canada disclosure levels far lower than the corporations, whether public or private or government employers with whom they might negotiate. This will actually worsen labour relations in Canada, slow economic development, and upend the balance between free collective bargaining, capital investment and return, which are vital to a strong and free mixed-market economy. As a Conservative, I oppose the upending of this balance.


The spirit of the amendment I shall propose is straightforward. Freedom to invest, to grow, to build, to expand market share and to innovate are central to a strong entrepreneurial economy based on risk and productivity, sound human resource management and open regulation as sparse and minimalist as possible. That freedom cannot be exclusive or exist in a vacuum. It must coexist with the rights and freedom of association, freedom of speech, free collective bargaining, the right to organize, and the rights of both the employer side and the employee side to maximize its opportunities and aspirations through free and open negotiation.


Honourable senators, this bill violates that balance. The conservatism I absorbed and supported from leaders like Daniel Johnson — the father, not the son — Jean-Jacques Bertrand and Jean Charest in Quebec; John Robarts and Bill Davis in Ontario; Bob Stanfield in Nova Scotia and Ottawa; Peter Lougheed in Alberta; Richard Hatfield in New Brunswick; Angus MacLean in Prince Edward Island; and Brian Mulroney and Stephen Harper in Ottawa is an inclusive view of society, where there is room in the debate about our economic choices, preferences and future in this country for all.


Hobbling one part of the debate is not what mainstream Conservatives should ever want to do to legislators at any time. There will be agreements, disagreements on occasion, difficult strikes and challenging choices. However, the civility of that debate is sustained by how open it is to all who are legitimate stakeholders in any economic outcome. Trade unions and public sector unions are part of those stakeholders, and they are legitimate.


Conservatism in the Canadian Tory context is not about the protection of class or the oppression of labour by capital or capital by labour; it is about a freedom tied to mutual respect, whatever legitimate disagreements, between all the participants in the mixed free-market system. This bill before us, whatever may have been its laudable transparency goals, is really — through drafting sins of omission and commission — an expression of statutory contempt for the working men and women in our trade unions and for the trade unions themselves and their right under federal and provincial law to organize.


It is divisive and unproductive.

Source: Senate of Canada Debates, Monday June 17th 2013


Photo: U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Used under a Creative Commons BY-ND 2.0 licence.