House of Commons Hansard #95 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was air.

Topics

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

I thank the hon. parliamentary secretary for his intervention.

Members will take note of Standing Order 18, which refers to unparliamentary language and, in particular, the way in which it is imputed in the House. I would say that in this particular case the reference to a specific hon. member in that way would certainly be in the category of disrespectful. I would encourage the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre to consider withdrawing that remark and to perhaps stay away from that particular narrative.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I have almost made it through the whole shift and I have not apologized to anyone yet today, so I would rather not start now. However, I will suggest that it is perhaps this piece of legislation that I find gutless and cowardly and not the member who put it forward.

I am offended by this piece of legislation, personally. I used to be the head of the carpenters union in my home province of Manitoba, and the carpenters union in my industry is the only friend a worker has. The only friend a carpenter has is the union that is looking after his fair wages, his pension plan, his health and safety, his apprenticeship and his training. I started my carpenter apprenticeship indentured to the carpenters union because I could not find a private employer who would sign my apprenticeship documents, and that was the vehicle by which I got my post-secondary education, which is my journeyman carpenter's papers.

I started my career in the asbestos mines, as a labourer. I was 17 years old. Believe me, there was no friend in that mine except for the union too, because we were the ones going to the company and saying “Isn't it true that asbestos is bad for you?” They said, “No, get back to work; this is Canadian asbestos; this is benign asbestos; this asbestos won't kill you”. The only friend a working person has, frankly, is the union.

Let me take this opportunity to use this completely meritless piece of legislation to celebrate some of the contributions the labour movement has in fact made and explain why this war on labour on the left that the neo-conservative right wing zealots and reactionaries are so intent on pursuing is in fact folly economically. There is no business case for smashing the labour movement.

I challenge members to look south to the United States. The United States' greatest strength and greatest asset was a consuming middle class that received fair wages that could feed and sustain a family, which led to consumerism and led to the greatest economic powerhouse the world has ever known. Somehow, in their wisdom, the neo-conservatives during Reaganomics decided they should smash the labour movement. By cowardly, gutless legislation like this, they systematically, by legislation, dropped the unionization rate in the United States from 33% down to 6%. With that went fair wages. With that went the right to organize, the right to free collective bargaining, pension plans and health and welfare benefits. All these things are just a pipe dream now. The American dream is over. If we were to talk to working people in the United States, those lucky enough to have a job, we would find they are earning $8 or $9 an hour with no benefits. In whose best interest is that?

In the short time I have, let me give one illustration of how far we have come and how far we have fallen. This year will be the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire. In New York City, in 1912, 700 women were working in a sweatshop in the Triangle Shirtwaist factory. A fire started and hundreds of women were killed. That was the impetus of the workplace safety and health movement that led to the cleaning up of workplaces all across the United States, and by extension, all across North America. It was the birth of the trade union movement in the garment industry.

I had 43 garment manufacturers in my riding. I know full well the contribution that UNITE and those unions have made to the safety of those workers. That was a hundred years ago. Then we got cleaned up. We had health and safety provisions, clean workplaces and fewer accidents. Then Reaganomics came along and smashed the labour movement.

In 1995, in Durham, North Carolina, there was a chicken processing plant, non-union of course, with mostly black women working in there. The assembly line would go so fast that, with the number of cuts they made per minute, often they would not even know they had cut themselves until they saw the blood on the floor. A fire started. They had locked the doors from the outside because the women were taking home giblets and pieces of neck and wing tips to make soup with, to supplement the crappy minimum wage they were getting. What happened? They had bolted the door shut from the outside so the women could not steal the goddamn byproducts of the chickens. And what happens? Another fire—

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Order, please.

The hon. member for Winnipeg Centre will know that particular coarse language is also in the category of unparliamentary. I would insist he not make use of profanity and encourage the hon. member to consider withdrawing the remark, if he could.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I do withdraw the remark. In my enthusiasm I used profane language, but I will finish the story.

This is coming full circle. The unions, through free collective bargaining and the right to withhold their services in the event of an impasse, drove up the average middle class wage in the United States to where it was a living wage, a consuming wage, a wage one could raise a family on. People had workplaces that were safe and healthy workplaces, because they had enforcement of health and safety provisions, because they had a union workplace safety and health committee on that work site. Coming from the construction industry, I know that every building built in the old days was a tombstone because men died on those jobs. That does not happen anymore because we made those workplaces safe.

As the government smashes the labour movement, as clearly it has given the indication it intends to do, declare war on labour on the left, not only will workers' wages diminish. How is that good for the economy? Also, workplace safety and health provisions will diminish. People will be dying in the workplace again just like in 1912 in the Triangle Shirtwaist factory.

Do not groan at me from over there, because I can tell members it is a fact that conditions will diminish if we do not have a strong and healthy trade union movement to protect the gains we have made in the last hundred years. Bill C-377 should go on the trash heap of history. It is an insult to working people in this country.

I want to recognize and pay tribute to the push-back of the building trades unions, especially my own union, the carpenters union, which is doing a job trying to lobby members of Parliament and trying to point out the folly in smashing the only thing that has elevated the standards of living wages and working conditions in this country. That is a free, vibrant and healthy trade union movement.

This is a cornerstone of any western democracy, the free and healthy trade union movement, the right to organize, the right to free collective bargaining and the right to withhold one's services in the event of an impasse. It is a cornerstone we are proud of. It is one of the very things by which we define ourselves as a free and open democracy. This piece of legislation has no place in a western democracy that prides itself on the rights of ordinary people and its citizens. It makes one wonder whose side the Conservatives are on.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Before giving the floor to the hon. member for Pontiac, I must inform him that I will have to interrupt him at 6:25 p.m., when the hon. member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale will have his right of reply.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

March 13th, 2012 / 6:20 p.m.

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the hon. member who spoke before me. He has a lot of passion for workers and the labour movement in this country, and has demonstrated a thorough understanding of the situation.

On this side of the House, we are wondering why unions are being targeted rather than all the organizations that collect dues. If we consider this motion in the context of the bill that we will be debating very soon, it seems to be an ideological attack by the government against the labour movement in this country, a movement that has achieved significant social gains.

When my great-grandfather came to Canada to work as a stonemason, the conditions were awful. Labour movements have made it possible to live in a society with healthy working environments and with benefits that enable us to raise children, to age with dignity and to have a pension.

This bill will also make privileged information available to businesses and to the government, which will give them unfair competitive and political advantages. However, when we talk about members of labour organizations, we are not talking about a small group of Canadians. There are 4.3 million Canadians who are either union members or have family members in a union. Those people will be automatically placed at a disadvantage compared to the government and business. The government and business will actually have access to all the information about the workers whereas the workers will not have access to any of that information. So they will be at a disadvantage in a bargaining situation.

The NDP is clearly in favour of transparency as long as it applies fairly to all organizations concerned and as long as it causes no harm. While recognizing that the hon. member probably has noble reasons for promoting transparency, this bill is going to violate the right to freedom of association in this country, as well as the rights to privacy and freedom of expression.

We estimate that this bill will create about 17.5 million hours of paperwork. About 25,000 workers' organizations that will have to comply with these requirements will each need about 700 hours of work annually to do so. That is a major burden, both for the government and for those workers. It will be an obstacle to the vitality of organizations that stand up for the rights of our fellow citizens. We must remember that it is these democratic organizations that stand up for the rights of our fellow citizens. In any case, how are Canadians going to be able to find their way through these millions of pieces of data? Of what use are the data? Their use will be when they are sent to the employers and used against the workers.

Bill C-377 takes its place in the series of Conservative attacks on workers, such as the strike at Canada Post or the bargaining at Air Canada. Instead of laying into hard-working Canadians, the Conservatives should be addressing the real problems Canadians face, like unemployment, poverty and our retirement pensions.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

I now invite the hon. member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale for his right of reply. The hon. member has five minutes.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

Russ Hiebert South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to briefly summarize the second reading debate on my Bill C-377, which would require public financial disclosure of labour organizations.

First let me express my appreciation to my colleagues on both sides of the House for their comments and their interest in this subject. I commit to you, Mr. Speaker, and this place that I will not say anything that would force me to apologize because of my remarks.

My purpose in introducing the legislation is to create financial transparency in a group of institutions that are receiving substantial public benefits. All members here and the general public know the value in financial transparency for public institutions and for institutions that receive public benefits. That is why, for example, financial transparency for charities, which has existed for over 35 years now, is fully accepted by charities themselves, as well as the public.

Some members across the way have raised the point that some provinces have labour codes that require limited financial disclosure to union members only. This, however, is an irrelevant point that has nothing to do with this bill.

The purpose of the bill is not about requiring disclosure to union members. Rather its purpose is requiring disclosure to the general public because the public is providing a financial benefit through the tax system. The public has a right to know how the benefit they provide to labour organizations is being used.

Some MPs and several leaders and labour organizations have also raised the issue of the cost of compliance with the legislation. Again, I believe the cost to labour organizations of compliance with Bill C-377 to be quite minimal in this age of electronic bookkeeping.

Clearly, labour organizations already track their finances internally and translating this data into a format which can be filed with the Canada Revenue Agency is largely a question of technology and software. Compiling and filing a single unaudited information return once a year is not going to unduly encumber any labour organization. Any actual cost to the labour organization will be far outweighed by the benefits of transparency.

The NDP House leader stood in the House during the first hour of debate and made some wild claims that the bill was about to strip Canadians of their charter rights. He actually called the bill “an attack on the labour movement.”

Contrary to the NDP House leader's wild claims, transparency for unions is no more an attack on unions than transparency for charities is an attack on charities. We know, with 35 years experience of the matter, that financial transparency for charities has been a positive development and not an attack.

The truth is the vast majority of Canadians, a full 83%, as expressed in a recent Nanos poll, support financial transparency for labour organizations. I know those numbers are even higher in Quebec. As for the labour movement, according to the same poll, 86% of Canadians who identified themselves as unionized employees supported financial transparency. Clearly, the broad labour movement does not regard the bill as an attack on themselves. It is quite opposite in fact.

The NDP member for Acadie—Bathurst also complained during the debate that it did not apply to other types of organizations. We have heard that here as well. In fact, in ratcheting up the rhetoric, he suggested that transparency for a wide range of organizations was a matter of justice.

When drafting my bill, I chose to focus on addressing public financial disclosure by labour organizations, because they were unique institutions with a specific purpose and function, distinct from the other types of institutions that he mentioned. However, there is nothing in Bill C-377 that would preclude another member from seeking financial disclosure by other types of organizations that receive a public benefit. Some members, even this afternoon, mentioned the CFIB and I note that as a non-profit it does not receive a public benefit, unlike charities and the labour movement.

Despite the fact that a handful of union leaders and NDP MPs have suggested otherwise, this is very much a pro-union bill. The bottom line in all of this is that public financial disclosure will build public confidence that the public benefits that labour organizations are being provided are being used efficiently and effectively.

I appreciate the opportunity to share my input and I seek the support of all my colleagues at the second reading of the bill so that it can go to committee for further review.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

It being 6:30 p.m., the time provided for debate has expired.

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

All those opposed will please say nay.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.