OTTAWA - The Senate was locked in debate Friday about the fate of a contentious union finance disclosure bill, known as Bill C-377. Here are five things to know about the bill.
1.What would it do? The bill would require unions, labour trusts and employee associations to disclose any transaction of more than $5,000, along with the names of the payer and payee, to the Canada Revenue Agency, which would post the information to its website. That rule could apply to anyone who receives cash from a union, including private contractors hired to do work, such as construction, maintenance, or photocopying. Unions would also have to disclose any executive or officer who earns more than $100,000 (similar to provincial "sunshine" salary disclosure lists), and publicly explain the details of their spending on political activities.
2.What's the rationale? Conservative MP Russ Hiebert, wants unions to disclose the details of their spending because they benefit from tax deductions under the Income Tax Act, including the ability for members to deduct union dues on their taxes. If unions are benefiting financially from taxpayer-subsidized benefits, proponents say it is only fair for unions and labour groups to be transparent and accountable for their spending beyond their membership.
3. What's all the fuss? A number of high-profile organizations have come out against the bill, including the Canadian Bar Association, the National Hockey League Players' Association, the association representing police unions, the federal privacy commissioner, and seven provinces. Groups who oppose the bill argue it is invasion of privacy for anyone caught in the broad reporting requirements, and that the bill would increase spending at the Canada Revenue Agency to handle the increased number of disclosures. The provinces say the bill is unconstitutional.
4. It's deja vu all over again. Exactly two years ago Friday, on June 26, 2013, 16 Conservative senators broke ranks and voted to gut the bill and send the amended legislation back to the House of Commons. Parliament was prorogued before MPs could deal with it, sending it back to the Senate, minus all the changes. The bill was later stalled at committee for six months before it returned to the Senate as a whole in May.
5. Procedural wrangling has set up a final vote for some time next week. On Friday, the government used its majority in the Senate to overrule the Speaker and allow it to shut down debate even though the rules of the Senate don't allow that. The Conservatives will officially move Monday to limit further debate on the bill. Conservatives say there has been more than enough debate on the bill and it should go to a final vote.