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Conservative Ministers Called The Tories' Own Union Bill “Harsh” And “Garbage,” New Report Says

Lisa Raitt and Jim Flaherty apparently weren't fans of Bill C-377.

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High-ranking Conservative cabinet ministers levelled heavy criticisms at a controversial bill that targets unions, calling the legislation “harsh” and “garbage,” a new study of the bill says.

Meanwhile, a battle has been waged in the Senate over C-377, which will go to a final vote this week after the Tories overruled the speaker to break a Liberal filibuster.

One year ago, the former head of Canada’s biggest labour lobby group told two University of Regina researchers that Transport Minister Lisa Raitt and the late Finance Minister Jim Flaherty disagreed with the bill.

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"When we were dealing with [then Minister of Labour] Lisa Raitt, she was quite blunt that she thought that 377 was very harsh. She didn't say what her position was in Cabinet but she thought it was pretty harsh," former Canadian Labour Congress president Ken Georgetti is quoted as saying in the paper. "We know [Jim] Flaherty thought it was, I think his words were 'garbage'."

"But," Georgetti told researchers Andrew Stevens and Sean Tucker, "it had the support of [the Prime Minister's Office], that's what counted."

BuzzFeed Canada reached out to Raitt to ask if this was true.

Chris Wattie / Reuters

"During my times at Labour, I had many discussions with Mr. Georgetti, many very open and 'blunt.' Our Caucus works together to form the best resolution, and once our Government makes a decision, I support that decision," she said in a written response.

A former spokesman for Flaherty did not respond to a request for comment.

It’s the most recent revelation of dissent within the Tory caucus over Bill C-377, which would force unions and other wide-ranging groups, including medical and hockey associations, to open their books to the public.

Under C-377, unions would have to publicly disclose contracts of more than $5,000 and union officers' salaries of more than $100,000. Some union members and contractors would also have to disclose information related to a wide range of organizing activities.

Conservative senators are on the brink of passing the bill after rewriting the red chamber’s rules to shut down debate.

Emma Loop / BuzzFeed Canada

The rare move required Tory senators to overturn a ruling of Sen. Speaker Leo Housakos, who was appointed by their own government, and redefine the private member's bill as a government bill. The retroactive change allows the Conservatives to break a filibuster from the Liberals, who argue the bill is unconstitutional.

The bill has been criticized by experts at committee hearings, the federal privacy commissioner, seven provinces, opposition parties, and Conservative senators, some of whom initially voted to kill C-377.

One of those senators is Sen. Diane Bellemare, who has spoken extensively about the bill, and the "massive invasion of privacy" and "absurdity of the costs" involved with some of the legislation's provisions.

But support from the Prime Minister’s Office has sustained the bill, Stevens and Tucker conclude in their paper.

When the bill first went to a vote in the House of Commons, the Conservative government "ordered a two-line whip, where the prime minister, his cabinet, parliamentary assistants, and committee chairs were all required to vote in favour of the legislation," the authors write.

"With the support of the PMO, MP voting on C-377 suggests that it is really a government bill."

The study, titled Working in the Shadows for Transparency: Russ Hiebert, LabourWatch, Nanos Research, and the Making of Bill C-377, was published in the spring 2015 edition of Labour/Le Travail.

Emma Loop is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.

Contact Emma Loop at emma.loop@buzzfeed.com.

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