Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Tensions Inside Tory Caucus Flare over Senate Snub on Union Transparency Bill

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Tensions Inside Tory Caucus Flare over Senate Snub on Union Transparency Bill

Article excerpt

Rift widens in Tory caucus over union bill


OTTAWA - The already testy relationship between Conservative MPs and the Senate hit more rocks Wednesday, as a group of Tory senators helped to gut a bill backed by their colleagues in the House of Commons.

The private member's bill would have forced unions to file financial statements, making public any expenses over $5,000, along with the salaries of their employees making more than $100,000.

Now Prime Minister Stephen Harper is preparing to abandon the gutted bill and re-introduce it as government legislation, possibly in a new parliamentary session, a Conservative caucus source told The Canadian Press.

That would represent a direct a challenge to Conservative senators since they are expected to support government legislation. Votes on private member's bills don't carry such an explicit expectation.

More than a third of the Conservative caucus in the Senate helped to pass a radical amendment to the bill by Tory Senator Hugh Segal, by either voting for it or abstaining from the vote. Segal's amendment, among other measures, would have raised the threshold to $150,000 for union expenses to be made public.

That bit of defiance comes at a time when the Conservatives are already facing considerable pressure over the Senate expenses scandal from the party's own base, and are talking more aggressively about reform in the red chamber.

Harper's office issued a statement Wednesday saying that it expects the Senate to "respect the will of the House should the bill be returned to the Senate." The legislation, first put forward by MP Russ Hiebert, had strong support among Tory MPs.

One of those MPs, speaking on condition of anonymity, called the Senate opposition "intolerable."

Segal from the outset had been vocal in his opposition, arguing the bill intruded on provincial jurisdiction, violated privacy laws and would upset the balance in collective bargaining across Canada.

Although the unions would have been obliged to reveal all spending over $5,000 and the salaries of their employees making over $100,000, the private corporations they would be bargaining with would not. …

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