Last month, I went on at length about how godawful the federal budget was. I surprised myself with how upset I was able to get over the damn thing.
At that time, I couldn’t have predicted that the budget could get any worse. After all, it had all the credibility of a sheaf of hastily scribbled, semi-illegible, mostly incorrect and three weeks overdue math homework.
But never doubt the HarperCons’ ability to take bad and make it worse. They succeeded in this ignoble endeavour this time by stapling a bunch of completely unrelated laws and bills to the back of the budget and giving it a fancy Latin name to make it sound boring to the Average Voter.
Now, omnibus bills are nothing new in HarperLand, and to be fair, this one isn’t quite as bad as previous ones have been – mostly because they’re running out of ideas for awful/stupid/destructive laws to pass.
This isn’t to say there aren’t any awful/stupid/destructive new laws proposed in #Omnibus2015 (officially titled Bill C-59, which you can read here if you want a headache). They’re mostly pretty bad.
For instance, there’s the Prevention of Terrorist Travel Act (which to be honest conjures up an image of Osama bin Laden at a Caribbean beach resort). I’m not a lawyer, but basically what this reads like to me (and yes, I read a bill! I’m real proud of me!) is that the government can revoke somebody’s passport if they suspect that it will be used to commit a “terrorism offence”. That person can then appeal the decision, but look at these restrictions on the trial:
(a) at any time during the proceeding, the judge must, on the Minister’s request, hear evidence or other information in the absence of the public and of the appellant and their counsel if, in the judge’s opinion, the disclosure of the evidence or other information could be injurious to national security or endanger the safety of any person;
(c) throughout the proceeding, the judge must ensure that the appellant is provided with a summary of evidence and other information that enables the appellant to be reasonably informed of the Minister’s case but that does not include anything that, in the judge’s opinion, would be injurious to national security or endanger the safety of any person if disclosed;
(e) the judge may receive into evidence anything that, in the judge’s opinion, is reliable and appropriate, even if it is inadmissible in a court of law, and may base his or her decision on that evidence;
(f) the judge may base his or her decision on evidence or other information even if a summary of that evidence or other information has not been provided to the appellant during the proceeding [all emphasis added]
Again, not a lawyer here. But this seems to go against some pretty basic principles of jurisprudence.
The conducting of secret trials wherein the defence isn’t able to hear, let alone rebut, the government’s case? Moreover, the ability of a government minister to get a secret trial literally on demand, just by invoking the spooky spectre of national security? The admission of evidence which would, in a “normal” court, be considered inadmissible?
The use of “threats to national security” (or “the safety of any person”, which is the same principle taken to the extreme) in order to subvert the normal rule of law is a worrying trend. To my knowledge, this is the first use of this type of “secret court” tactics in Canada, although they’ve been widespread in the United States for years, and I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if they’ve existed here for a while as well. Readers?
There’s also a whack-ton of minor amendments in this Omnibus related to the establishment of a brand-spanking-new police force on Parliament Hill. This is being framed as a response to the shootings last October, although (a) there were already two different security details, plus OPD and the RCMP, keeping tabs on the Hill, and (b) extreme incidents like that might not be exactly what the government has in mind.
In this Official Government of Canada page on Parliamentary security, there’s a list of threats to the Hill over the years, including the FLQ crisis and various nutjobs with improvised bombs, as well as this:
a 1999 strike action in front of the Wellington building preventing Members from getting to their offices.
That is one of the reasons that we need a new cop squad at Parliament?
And in fact, as it turns out, hostility towards unions turns out to be a centrepiece of this omnibus.
Here’s the sleeper story of the spring, and maybe the summer and fall, right on through to election season.
During last month’s coverage of the piece of pure propaganda the HarperCons are trying to pass off as a budget, I flagged this little-noted source of “savings”:
And speaking of unions, the HarperCons also are assuming that they’re gonna be able to put a boot to their throats in the months to come:
The government wants to get rid of the system whereby public service employees can bank sick days and instead provide short-term disability benefits through an insurance company. Sick leave has been the subject of contentious contract negotiations for the past year.
On Tuesday, the 2015 federal budget said that negotiations held to date “reflect the government’s commitment to good faith collective bargaining.” But it also added that if negotiations fail, it will “take the steps required to implement the changes within a reasonable timeframe.”
The government said the overhaul will clear $900 million in future liability to sick leave, which it is applying to the coming fiscal year to help the reach a $1.4-billion surplus.
Catch that? Two-thirds of their projected “surplus” is based on shoving a toxic policy down the throat of public sector unions who have been fighting a change to their sick days for over a year. Apparently the government’s “commitment to good faith collective bargaining” only applies as long as they get what they want out of negotiations.
This one is actually probably the biggest deal out of all the budgetary shenanigans I’ve documented. While the other rely on accounting trickery and number juggling, this $900 million in “future liability savings” requires some union-stomping for it to be workable.
What we’re talking about here is basically stripping civil servants of their hard-won benefits in order to make a surplus possibly. The unions are obviously well-aware of the giant middle finger buried in the budget, and they’re not taking it kindly. Seven years of chafing under Conservative mismanagement has doubtless left a lot of public sector workers pretty aggravated.
If talks break down, expect strike action – which in an election year will make things pretty super-charged.
Well, shit just got real.
Bill C-59 gives the Treasury Board minister the power to ignore provisions of the Public Service Labour Relations Act and unilaterally change the terms and conditions of sick leave in the public service and create a new short-term disability program.
Treasury Board President Tony Clement has said a new sick leave regime was his priority heading into labour negotiations last year with public service bargaining units. The major unions had said they strongly opposed Mr. Clement’s proposal.
This law gives them the power to ignore other laws? That’s literally how it’s worded: “Despite the Public Service Labour Relations Act, the Treasury Board may” do whatever it wants with regard to sick leave policies.
The unions are of course not taking this lightly:
“The government has decided to completely throw out any pretense [sic] that they intend to respect the collective bargaining rights of its workers,” said Robyn Benson, president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the largest union of federal public servants. “This attack on our members’ rights will seriously harm public services by forcing people to go to work sick, and cause irreparable damage to labour relations. We will take every available action in our power to challenge the legislation.” [emphasis added]
You better believe they will. The public service is pretty much the last bastion of unionized workers’ rights in this country. You’d better believe they will kick and scream and claw and hit below the belt and, yes, go on strike during an election to draw attention to this.
This is a story to watch – I’ll be keeping a close eye on it.
The government is hoping to adjourn for the summer in mid-June and not sit again until after the October election, so this is all getting pushed through at top speed. Passage is of course all but assured. And no doubt there’s more hidden goodies deep within the bill that’ll worm their way to the surface long after its passage.
Stay tuned for more details.