THE BLOG

Will a Retired Supreme Court Justice Do?

06/05/2013 05:14 EDT | Updated 08/05/2013 05:12 EDT

On May 31 Canadian Labour Congress president Ken Georgetti issued a press release suggesting supporters of union financial disclosure legislation currently before the Senate "cannot find a single constitutional expert who will agree that Bill C-377 is constitutional."

Merit Canada is one of the supporters of that legislation and is pleased to report that retired Supreme Court Justice Michel Bastarache has provided our organization with a legal opinion suggesting the bill in question "would likely be upheld by the courts." The retired Justice found the legislation to be "a valid enactment of Federal Parliament's power over taxation" and consistent with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Will an opinion from a retired Supreme Court Justice be enough for Mr. Georgetti and other union leaders to drop their campaign against this legislation? Probably not, because this has never been about the Constitution, or privacy rights, or bookkeeping requirements, or any of the other myths labour leaders have put forward in their all-out lobbying fight against basic transparency and accountability.

When all else fails, it is a tried and true lobbying tactic to suggest a piece of legislation is unconstitutional. If Senators stalled a bill every time opponents argued it was unconstitutional, Parliament would never pass any legislation. Since the constitutionality of the bill in question has been the dominant theme of the arguments from union leaders to defeat it in the Senate, hopefully the opinion of Mr. Bastarache puts that debate to bed.

Union leaders have tried to use constitutional arguments as a smokescreen to disguise the real issue: their outright refusal to concede that the generous tax benefits unions receive and their funding model that forces all unionized workers to pay dues comes with an obligation to operate in an open and transparent manner.

Under the legislation passed by the House of Commons and now sitting before the Senate, labour organizations will be required to report annually their financial statements, salaries paid to top officers and employees, certain information about expenditures over $5000, and the percentage of time spent on lobbying and political activities. These reporting requirements are not onerous and will be easy to implement for any organization with even the most basic bookkeeping practices.

What is it then about these requirements that has induced union leaders to mount a lobbying campaign unlike any other? Why do they feel Canada should not have similar union disclosure laws to those that exist in the rest of the developed world? More broadly, in rejecting transparency and accountability, what principles are union leaders defending?

Those are the real issues at the heart of this debate and the ones Merit Canada hopes Senators will focus on during their deliberations on this legislation.