"There's nothing democratic about what's going on here. It's like watching the Roman Empire collapse." -- BC Liberal Senator Larry Campbell on Conservative senators imposing Bill C-377
Is there anything more undemocratic than Canada's most tainted organization -- the Conservative-controlled Senate -- breaking its rules and then overturning its own Conservative Speaker's ruling, all to hurriedly impose anti-union legislation before the federal election?
That's what happened last week with Bill C-377, an odious private members' bill shepherded from beginning to end by Prime Minister Stephen Harper's own office, passed by Parliament's Conservative majority and sent to the Senate for approval.
When Liberal, independent and even Conservative senators tried to delay passage of the legislation through extended debate, the Conservative Senate majority moved a motion to end debate.
And after Senate Speaker Leo Housakos -- a Conservative appointed by Harper only last month -- said their motion was "inconsistent with the basic principles of our rules and practices," they simply challenged Housakos' ruling and voted it down.
The rules of the Senate don't apply if inconvenient to Harper's political goals.
'Suicidal' strategy: Segal
But the move may badly backfire, says the former Conservative senator who led a successful revolt against it in 2013 when it first went to the Senate.
"Why somebody would decide that kind of suicidal, ideologically narrow excess is in the national or the party's interests or the prime minister's interests is completely beyond me," Hugh Segal said last week.
And Segal, a lifelong Conservative who also served as former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney's chief of staff, said overruling the Senate speaker further undermines its already battered credibility -- disgraced as it has been with Mike Duffy charged and Pamela Wallin, Patrick Brazeau and other Conservative senators under investigation.
"So, whatever the defences were for the continuing existence of the institution and its relevance...those who voted against the Speaker have just cut a huge hole in that flag," says Segal. A final vote on Bill C-377 should come this week.
C-377 will cost millions to administer
So why are the Harper Conservatives so fixated on C-377?
And why do seven provinces, every union and labour organization in Canada, the National Hockey League Players' Association, the Canadian Bar Association, police associations and many others all strongly object to the legislation?
Bill C-377 is clearly intended to tie unions up with costly bureaucratic administrative costs, though Conservatives say it is about "transparency."
Every union expenditure over $5,000 must be publicly reported and posted online -- something no other group faces -- not organizations for lawyers, doctors, architects, engineers or indeed any professional association.
That means not only salaries of staff but also fees for lawyers, accountants, contractors and consultants (including firms like mine). Plus the cost of collective bargaining, pension funds, education and political action, administration and much more.
And taxpayers can expect the legislation will cost the federal government itself $20 million to administer in its first two years. As York University law professor David Doorey says: "Bill C-377 is government red tape on steroids."
Yet it's the work of a Conservative government that says it opposes bureaucracy -- unless it applies to its political opponents.
Breaking their own rules and voting down their own representative to crush their opponents with red tape they profess to hate -- the Conservatives are running all the red lights on their own morality.
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