Friday, January 2, 2015

LabourWatch is watching me!

John Mortimer, the President of the right-wing business-funded anti-union organization Canadian LabourWatch Association, took the time to write a letter to the editor critiquing my column of last week about the Senate. I copy his text here, followed by my response.

Columnist shouldn't throw stones

(Re: 'Going to the polls before the snow melts' in the Dec. 22 edition of the Examiner)

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins’ Barrie Green Party 2011 online profile says he was an 'education consultant'. His op-ed column is full of inaccurate education.

The writer, who makes errors such as the ones noted below, also appears to call Green Party leader Elizabeth May a “partisan and flighty” Member of Parliament in the House of Commons.

First, Canadian Senators are not “securely serving-for-life representatives” – they must retire no later than age 75.

Second, calling disgraced Senators Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin Conservative “party hacks” is completely contradicted by their decades as respected, high-profile journalists of prominent media organizations.

They were never long-time party activists, let alone “party hacks”.

Finally, he inaccurately criticizes the Senate process regarding Federal Bill C-525, the Employees’ Voting Rights Act, which aligned three federal labour codes with six different provincial labour codes and all 50 American states.

The new law statutorily protects an employee’s right to the bulwark of democracy – a secret ballot vote in place of unionization with union cards alone.

He claims that the bill had “significant errors”. This is completely false. He also misrepresents what happened in the Senate.

The bill had been amended by a House of Commons committee earlier in 2014. The committee missed adding the number '.1' in two places to get its amendments perfect. These errors were not in the original draft of the Bill that came to that committee.

The Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs had before it a legal opinion from a prominent lawyer and Queen’s Counsel, along with three high profile Court rulings, one from the Supreme Court of Canada, noting such numbering errors are a reality, particularly when laws are amended (as was the case with this Bill).

I was in the committee room for that additional session.

At that whole extra hearing on the two tiny, tiny numbering errors, the committee considered the law of the land on errors and voted the Bill into law. Our common law says any tribunal or court corrects such errors when faced with them; to do otherwise would be 'absurd', our courts have ruled. All governments pass laws from time to time to correct these errors which are a reality of life.

Jacoby-Hawkins either needs to get his facts right and be more careful himself, or maybe recognize that he is no more perfect in his glass house than those he throws stones at.

It is unclear to what extent he is still in fact a Green Party 'partisan' and 'party hack' or is headed to the same career path as former media personalities Duffy and Wallin, and maybe an eventual appointment to the “chamber of sober second thought”.

John Mortimer


Canadian LabourWatch Association

Vancouver, BC

Well, he took the trouble to write that lengthy and detailed letter, so I felt I owed him at least the following response.

Thank you for reading my column and taking the time to write in, John! I'm sorry you seem to have misunderstood some of my points.
When I contrasted the Senate's "sober second thought" with the House of Commons, I was speaking to the implications of that phrase, namely that MPs are partisan and flighty. Although some of them certainly are, I was noting the generalization inherent in that concept, not making a categorical claim. I happen to know several MPs (including Elizabeth May and Bruce Hyer, but also Michael Chong, Nathan Cullen, and Joyce Murray) who are not at all flighty or partisan - if the rest of the House were like them, then perhaps we would not need a Senate at all!
Now, as to a secure job "for life", since retirement age in Canada is generally 65 or younger, having a position guaranteed until 75 pretty much meets that definition, would you not say? (Although in our original Constitution, there was no mandatory retirement for Senators - but then life expectancy was well below 75, too). Especially since their guaranteed post-retirement pension is well above the average income of a working Canadian, such as the employees of the businesses who fund LabourWatch.
One could certainly wish that Duffy's and Wallin's long media careers would have prevented their descent into political hackdom, yet it seems they dived right in as soon as they were appointed, spending much of their time (and allegedly some public money) on partisan fundraising.
As to whether the errors in the bill are significant, as I claimed, or tiny, as you characterize them, I quote Chair of the Public Service Labour Relations & Employment Board Catherine Ebbs: "The impact of this change is not trivial because our current specific regulations will be effectively removed from our tool kit to deal with applications for certification," referring to how her board could lose its power to regulate the evidence that must be filed when an employee organization applies for certification of a bargaining unit.
Sure, those errors can probably be fixed by a tribunal or court, but why pass laws that we already know will have to be challenged in court to correct? And what happens to the government offices that have to deal with incorrect legislation in the meantime, given how long it may take to get a ruling?
We clearly disagree on some opinions, as is our right, but I don't have my facts wrong.
I don't know if a community volunteer can rightly be termed a "party hack", but thank you for suggesting that I am Senate material, and your confidence that my party will someday be in a position to make that appointment. If your prediction comes true, I'll be sure to invite you to my swearing-in.
Yes Virginia, interesting things do sometimes happen in the Senate

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