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Three private bills up for final vote on last day before Senate rises

OTTAWA – A final vote on a contentious union finance disclosure bill will likely be the last act of senators before they leave for their summer break.

The government used its majority in the Senate to shut off debate and force a final vote on Bill C-377 that’s set for later today.

That followed hours of acrimonious debate in the Senate where, at one point, the chamber’s deputy speaker had to calm hecklers after a Liberal senator referenced her father’s service in the Second World War as she made arguments against the union bill.

The bill would require unions to publicly disclose all transactions over $5,000, reveal the details of officers or executives who make over $100,000, and provide that information to the Canada Revenue Agency, which would publicly post the information to its website.

The Conservatives argue the bill will shed light on union finances.

The federal privacy commissioner has raised concerns about the scope of the bill, seven provinces have said the bill is unconstitutional, and numerous other labour associations have called for the bill’s defeat.

That’s unlikely to happen, given the Conservative majority in the Senate, unless enough Tories buck the party line and vote against C-377 as they did two years ago.

In a lengthy speech Monday, Senate Liberal leader James Cowan said “a number” of Conservative senators were “uncomfortable” with parts of the bill.

“Indeed, we heard that members of the government — cabinet ministers — were themselves uncomfortable with this bill, and quietly hoped it would die,” Cowan said.

“Amending or allowing this bill to die on the order paper would be the right thing to do.”

Today’s vote will be the culmination of four years of debate on C-377, but it is not the only private member’s bill whose fate will be decided on the eve of Canada Day.

One is a transgender rights bill introduced by NDP MP Randall Garrison that was passed with bipartisan support in the House of Commons.

The other one, a bill aimed at stripping convicted parliamentarians of their pensions, comes with particular relevance for the upper chamber, with some 34 senators in varying degrees of hot water over their expense accounts.

Both bills were amended by senators when they were reviewed at committee, which means if they are approved, they are doomed: they would have to go back to the House of Commons, which won’t reconvene before the fall election.

A third bill passed by the House of Commons with bipartisan support — one that would allow single-game sports betting — isn’t expected to have a third reading vote Tuesday.

Any bills the Senate doesn’t pass before it rises will die on the order paper.