An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (requirements for labour organizations)

This bill was last introduced in the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in August 2015.

This bill was previously introduced in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session.

Sponsor

Russ Hiebert  Conservative

Introduced as a private member’s bill.

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Income Tax Act to require that labour organizations provide financial information to the Minister for public disclosure.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

Dec. 12, 2012 Passed That the Bill be now read a third time and do pass.
Dec. 12, 2012 Passed That Bill C-377, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (requirements for labour organizations), be concurred in at report stage with further amendments.
Dec. 12, 2012 Passed That Bill C-377, in Clause 1, be amended by : (a) replacing lines 1 to 7 on page 2 with the following: “(2) Every labour organization and every labour trust shall, by way of electronic filing (as defined in subsection 150.1(1)) and within six months from the end of each fiscal period, file with the Minister an information return for the year, in prescribed form and containing prescribed information. (3) The information return referred to” (b) replacing lines 26 to 31 on page 2 with the following: “assets — with all transactions and all disbursements, the cumulative value of which in respect of a particular payer or payee for the period is greater than $5,000, shown as separate entries along with the name of the payer and payee and setting out for each of those transactions and disbursements its purpose and description and the specific amount that has been paid or received, or that is to be paid or received, and including” (c) replacing lines 33 to 35 on page 2 with the following: “(ii) a statement of loans exceeding $250 receivable from officers, employees, members or businesses,” (d) replacing line 4 on page 3 with the following: “to officers, directors and trustees, to employees with compensation over $100,000 and to persons in positions of authority who would reasonably be expected to have, in the ordinary course, access to material information about the business, operations, assets or revenue of the labour organization or labour trust, including” (e) replacing lines 11 to 14 on page 3 with the following: “consideration provided, (vii.1) a statement with a reasonable estimate of the percentage of time dedicated by persons referred to in subparagraph (vii) to each of political activities, lobbying activities and other non-labour relations activities, (viii) a statement with the aggregate amount of disbursements to” (f) replacing lines 22 to 25 on page 3 with the following: “provided, “(viii.1) a statement with a reasonable estimate of the percentage of time dedicated by persons referred to in subparagraph (viii) to each of political activities, lobbying activities and other non-labour relations activities, (ix) a statement with the aggregate amount of disbursements on” (g) replacing lines 33 to 40 on page 3 with the following: “(xiii) a statement with the aggregate amount of disbursements on administration, (xiv) a statement with the aggregate amount of disbursements on general overhead, (xv) a statement with the aggregate amount of disbursements on organizing activities, (xvi) statement with the aggregate amount of disbursements on collective bargaining activities,” (h) replacing lines 1 and 2 on page 4 with the following: “(xix) a statement with the aggregate amount of disbursements on legal activities, excluding information protected by solicitor-client privilege, (xix.1) a statement of disbursements (other than disbursements included in a statement referred to in any of subparagraphs (iv), (vii), (viii) and (ix) to (xix)) on all activities other than those that are primarily carried on for members of the labour organization or labour trust, excluding information protected by solicitor-client privilege, and” (i) replacing lines 4 to 13 on page 4 with the following: “( c) a statement for the fiscal period listing the sales of investments and fixed assets to, and the purchases of investments and fixed assets from, non-arm’s length parties, including for each property a description of the property and its cost, book value and sale price; ( d) a statement for the fiscal period listing all other transactions with non-arm’s length parties; and ( e) in the case of a labour organization or” (j) replacing line 29 on page 4 with the following: “contained in the information return” (k) replacing lines 33 to 35 on page 4 with the following: “Internet site in a searchable format. (5) For greater certainty, a disbursement referred to in any of subparagraphs (3)( b)(viii) to (xx) includes a disbursement made through a third party or contractor. (6) Subsection (2) does not apply to ( a) a labour-sponsored venture capital corporation; and ( b) a labour trust the activities and operations of which are limited exclusively to the administration, management or investments of a deferred profit sharing plan, an employee life and health trust, a group sickness or accident insurance plan, a group term life insurance policy, a private health services plan, a registered pension plan or a supplementary unemployment benefit plan. (7) Subsection (3) does not require the reporting of ( a) information, regarding disbursements and transactions of, or the value of investments held by, a labour trust (other than a trust described in paragraph (6)(b)), that is limited exclusively to the direct expenditures or transactions by the labour trust in respect of a plan, trust or policy described in paragraph (6)(b); ( b) the address of a person in respect of whom paragraph (3)(b) applies; or ( c) the name of a payer or payee in respect of a statement referred to in any of subparagraphs (3)(b)(i), (v), (ix), (xiii) to (xvi) and (xix).”
Dec. 12, 2012 Failed That Bill C-377, in Clause 1, be amended by replacing line 20 on page 1 with the following: “labour organization is a signatory and also includes activities associated with advice, commentary or advocacy provided by an employer organization in respect of labour relations activities, collective bargaining, employment standards, occupational health and safety, the regulation of trades, apprenticeship, the organization of work or any other workplace matter.”
March 14, 2012 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Finance.

Private Members' BusinessOpening Of The Second Session Of The 41St Parliament

October 16th, 2013 / 6:10 p.m.
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Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I would like to make a statement concerning private members' business.

As hon. members know, our Standing Orders provide for the continuance of private members’ business from session to session within a Parliament.

In practical terms, this means that notwithstanding prorogation, the list for the consideration of private members' business established at the beginning of the 41st Parliament shall continue for the duration of this Parliament.

As such, pursuant to Standing Order 86.1, all items of private members' business originating in the House of Commons that were listed on the Order Paper at the conclusion of the previous session are automatically reinstated to the Order Paper and shall be deemed to have been considered and approved at all stages completed at the time of prorogation.

All items will keep the same number as in the first session of the 41st Parliament. More specifically, all bills and motions standing on the list of items outside the order of precedence shall continue to stand. Bills that had met the notice requirement and were printed in the Order Paper but had not yet been introduced will be republished on the Order Paper under the heading “Introduction of Private Members' Bills”. Bills that had not yet been published on the order paper need to be recertified by the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel and be resubmitted for publication on the notice paper.

Of course all items in the order of precedence remain on the order of precedence or, as the case may be, are referred to the appropriate committee or sent to the Senate.

Specifically, at prorogation there were three private members' bills originating in the House of Commons adopted at second reading and referred to committee.

Therefore, pursuant to Standing Order 86.1, Bill C-458, an act respecting a national charities week and to amend the Income Tax Act (charitable and other gifts) is deemed referred to the Standing Committee on Finance.

Bill C-478, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (increasing parole ineligibility), is deemed referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

Bill C-489, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (restrictions on offenders) is deemed referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

Accordingly, pursuant to Standing Order 97.1, committees will be required to report on each of these reinstated private members’ bills within 60 sitting days of this statement.

In addition, prior to prorogation, nine private members' bills originating in the House of Commons had been read the third time and passed. Therefore, pursuant to Standing Order 86.1, the following bills are deemed adopted at all stages and passed by the House: Bill C-217, an act to amend the Criminal Code (mischief relating to war memorials); Bill C-266, an act to establish Pope John Paul II day; Bill C-279, an act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code (gender identity); Bill C-290, an act to amend the Criminal Code (sports betting); Bill C-314, an act respecting the awareness of screening among women with dense breast tissue; Bill C-350, an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (accountability of offenders); Bill C-377, an act to amend the Income Tax Act (requirements for labour organizations); Bill C-394, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the National Defence Act (criminal organization recruitment); and Bill C-444, an act to amend the Criminal Code (personating peace officer or public officer).

Accordingly, a message will be sent to the Senate to inform it that this House has adopted these nine bills.

Consideration of private members’ business will start on Thursday, October 17, 2013.

As members may be aware, among the items in the order of precedence or deemed referred to committee, there are four bills standing in the name of members recently appointed as parliamentary secretaries who, by virtue of their office, are not eligible to propose items during the consideration of private members' business.

Bill C-511, an act to amend the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act (period of residence) and Bill C-517, an act to amend the Criminal Code (trafficking in persons) were awaiting debate at second reading in the order of precedence at the time of prorogation.

Bill C-458, An Act respecting a National Charities Week and to amend the Income Tax Act (charitable and other gifts), and Bill C-478, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (increasing parole ineligibility), were in committee at the time of prorogation and, as stated earlier, have been returned there.

This is in keeping with the principle expressed at pages 550-551 and 1125 of the House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, which provides that bills remain on the order of precedence since they are in the possession of the House and only the House can take further decision on them.

These items are therefore without eligible sponsors but remain in the possession of the House or its committees. If no action is taken, at the appropriate time these items will eventually be dropped from the Order Paper, pursuant to Standing Order 94(2)(c).

Hon. members will find at their desks a detailed explanatory note about private members’ business. I trust that these measures will assist the House in understanding how private members' business will be conducted in this session. The table officers are available to answer any questions members may have.

I thank all members for their attention.

Federal Electoral Boundaries CommissionRoutine Proceedings

December 12th, 2012 / 3:15 p.m.
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Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank you for recognizing me on a point of order.

Earlier, during question period, the Minister of Labour gave an unsatisfactory answer.

In a letter addressed to the federal minister, the Quebec labour minister talked about the urgency of the situation in the following terms:

This bill would therefore establish a precedent that opposes the principles and administration of labour relations in Quebec and, according to some experts, would also constitute a violation of the division of powers in this area.

I seek the unanimous consent of the House for the following motion: That, notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practice of the House, the taking of the deferred recorded divisions on the motion at report stage and at third reading of Bill C-377, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (requirements for labour organizations) be deferred until after a meeting of the Minister of Labour of Canada and the Minister of Labour of Quebec.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

December 11th, 2012 / 5:35 p.m.
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Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, the reality is that I am not pleased to be speaking to this bill because I do not think we should even have it on the table. We have a government that does not have the courage to do exactly what it wants to do, so it does what it always does, which is fly a trial balloon so that someone else does the leading and it can just play it and massage it as it wants. It is not being honest with the public about what its true agenda is. We we know for a fact, when we look at the ideology of the Conservative government, that respect for unions is not something it has.

We need to ask ourselves where Canada would be without the labour unions today. The pension systems, health care, a tremendous number of these things were brought to the table in a variety of different forms as a result of the work that unions did. For those who are anti-union and think it is not necessary to have one, I would ask people to think of what the country would be like without one. All progressive countries have a positive working relationship with the unions and have shown true leadership.

However, to bring a bill like this forward and to pretend that it is just a private member's bill, it is like the abortion issue. The Conservatives just keep flying a bunch of balloons on what they truly want to do just to keep putting wedges between people, the same way that we have had wedges on a variety of other important issues. This is just another way to split the labour movement against another whole bunch of people here in Canada. It is that continued opportunity to try to destabilize people and to pander to that 36% who elected the Conservatives.

To ask any other organization in this country to give all of this disclosure, one usually should show some leadership, right? However, that would mean that the government would be saying that everything is open. Instead, we have the exact opposite with the government. The Parliamentary Budget Officer, who was appointed by the Conservatives to help everyone understand the books better and to monitor the spending, cannot get any information and has to fight with the government every day just to get the basic spending and financial data he needs to do his job. Now he is at a point where he has to go to court to force the government to release the information. Now we have Bill C-377 that would tell everyone else that they need to disclose everything about what they do.

Government is supposed to be about leadership and the folks in the current government are going in the exact opposite direction. This is also the first government that has ever been found in contempt, which is an absolute disgrace for this country. The Conservatives do not care what the rules are. We know what they have done on the whole issue of the scandals and the election fraud. They do not believe in respect for the laws of this country and yet they are trying now to force unions to open up their books and divulge information that they would never do in a hundred years. This is all an attempt to break the back of the labour movement. This is just one more step they are using to try to get there.

When people have a decent pension, good health care and all the other kinds of things they want, they do not need to rely on the government for a hand-up when things get tough for them because they clearly have great programs in place. When we start to undo collective agreements, people start to lose all those safeguards they have, which, by the way, they pay for. No one has given anyone anything. All of the folks who work and contribute to the unions, they do not need to belong to any of them. They could be independent and do it on their own. No one forces anyone to belong to a union. People choose to belong to a union because there are a variety of safeguards, which means safer conditions than other job sites, but it also guarantees them support for their families. If someone gets killed on the job there is health and safety precautions, much more so than would be there if they did not have a labour union doing the leadership that it does.

I will get back to the Conservatives who continue to cut all kinds of programs. The second one is to go after the unions, destabilize them and try to break their backs. However, who will pay for all of the services that will be required? Someone will need to pay. I guess it will be downloaded to the provinces when it comes to the social services that are required. It should be a shame on the government and the hon. member who is bringing the bill forward. When he was on the agriculture committee he stood up and supported XL packers--

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

December 11th, 2012 / 5:45 p.m.
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Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Well, that is pretty fast. When were the first and second readings? It is here today because the government wants it on the table and it wants us to vote on it. It wants to turn around with its whole way of being very negative. The amendments that were tabled, that my colleague from Cape Breton put forward, were all voted down. All we were trying to do is to say that if this is good for gander, it is good for the goose as well. Therefore, let us see the PMO open up its books and let everyone see it in the same way the Conservatives are asking of the unions. However, they are not prepared to do that because that is not the their issue; their issue is how to destabilize and break the backs of the unions.

I am glad I had this opportunity. I realize I am talking in the wind, because they have the votes. They will pass the bill tomorrow night and will have to live with the consequences. However, they are not here for a hundred years. The day will come when there will be an election and I expect there will be different faces on that side of the table at that time.

It has been important to have an opportunity to try to get some comments down. I remind people that the Conservatives have been found in contempt and the Prime Minister has yet to disclose even the donors to his leadership campaign. Therefore, if they want to start talking about who has to disclose what, who donated to the Prime Minister's leadership campaign? We are still asking for those things. If they are going to be fair here, then the Prime Minister should let Canadians know who donated to his campaign.

It is all one-sided. It is all about our having to disclose everything, or labour unions or other people, but any of their buddies or companies they want to favour, they will protect, and because they have a majority they get away with it. I think it is grossly unfair.

Our critic has done a tremendous amount of work on this file, as have my other colleagues in government. However, clearly, this will pass tomorrow night, which I say with great sadness, because it will start to pull back all of those various supports that are in place that people have enjoyed. These will just start to turn around and disappear through a variety of ways. Through the collective agreements, there will be changes coming.

We will move forward. We cannot do anything about it. It is here and will be voted on tomorrow night. I wanted to be on the record that I am very sad and discouraged that it is here and I challenge the government to be as open with everything it does, as it expects of other people. Bill C-377 is just one more step trying to undermine and defeat unions who have negotiated collective agreements and who are being totally disrespected as this moves forward.

The Liberals will be voting against Bill C-377, as we have made very clear. We asked to move some amendments and tried to get them on the record and voted on, amendments that would have made some positive changes to the bill. However, they were all voted down.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

December 11th, 2012 / 5:45 p.m.
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Conservative

Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, as a former member of the BCTF in British Columbia, I can say that this legislation is most welcome to those of us who are both former and current members.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to Bill C-377, a private member's bill to amend the Income Tax Act to require labour organizations to publicly disclose their financial information. Before continuing, let me recognize the sponsor of this legislation, our Conservative colleague from British Columbia, the member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale. He has done a tremendous amount of work and research on the bill and is to be applauded for his work.

Since his election in 2004, the member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale has been very effective in his representation of his constituents and a well-respected parliamentarian. Indeed, that is why his constituents have re-elected him three times in a row and returned him to Ottawa to continue representing them so well. He has also continued the public debate on many issues, including the subject of today's private member's bill, which seeks to require public financial disclosure by organizations that receive substantial public benefits.

Unions play an important role in Canada, representing and defending the rights of workers. Each union represents health and safety in their jobs and ensures appropriate compensation for their members in accordance with negotiated collective agreements. Approximately 4.5 million Canadians currently pay union dues and many more millions have been unionized at one time or another. Labour organizations are influential institutions in Canadian society and the bill reflects the importance of each.

The bill, an act to amend the Income Tax Act (requirements for labour organizations), seeks to increase the transparency and accountability of all labour organizations as a result of the fact that they receive substantial public benefits through the tax system. The principle here is that, like charities, labour organizations receive public money and the public has a right to be informed about how foregone taxpayer dollars are being spent.

Since 1977, registered charities in Canada have been subjected to reporting requirements and public disclosure for over 30 years. This legislation would require every organized labour union in Canada to file a standard set of financial information with the Canada Revenue Agency each year, which would then be posted on its website for the Canadian public to see, just as is the case with charities. I will explain that in more detail in a moment for the benefit and education of the House and for Canadians watching at home. The public will be able to gauge the effectiveness, financial integrity and health of any union they wish. This legislation applies to all labour organizations that claim tax exempt status or whose dues payers receive a federal income tax deduction for their union dues, whether or not they are actual union members.

As promised, I would like to talk about the example of charities for a moment to more fully explain what is already required of them and how this private member's bill follows that example. As such, I will briefly provide the chamber with an overview of the measures currently in place to oversee financial disclosure by charities in relation to today's proposal.

The Canada Revenue Agency, also known as the CRA, has various tools at its disposal to monitor and disclose spending by Canadian charities. At the federal level, the CRA administers a system to registered charities under the Income Tax Act. As the regulator of charities, the CRA's responsibilities include processing applications for registration, offering technical advice on operating a charity, handling audit and compliance activities, and providing general information to the public.

The regulation of the charitable sector by the CRA is based on both common law and the provisions under the Income Tax Act. The common-law requirement that charities devote their resources to charitable activities is central to how the CRA provides guidance to the sector and enforces the rules. For instance, recent legislative and administrative reforms have given the CRA additional compliance tools for use in regulation of the charitable sector, such as intermediate sanctions in the form of taxes or penalties for charities that do not comply with the requirements of the Income Tax Act. Prior to this, the only sanction available to the CRA was the revocation of registered charity status.

At the same time, the concept of undue personal benefit was clarified in the Income Tax Act. As a result, in the case of excessive executive compensation, the CRA has the authority under the Income Tax Act to conduct an investigation to determine whether the charity is indeed fulfilling its charitable purposes. It also has the authority to determine whether there is undue personal benefit and to impose a range of penalties up to and including a suspension of receipting privileges.

There is also more public information available today on the activities of registered charities. This helps increase accountability in the sector by providing prospective donors with the information to determine for themselves whether or not they would like to donate to a particular charity. Under the Income Tax Act, all registered charities are required to complete a registered charity information return, which is published on the Canada Revenue Agency website and includes information about compensation.

What is more, our Conservative government recently made a key change to further improve accountability of charities. Up until 2008, charities were required to report on the compensation for the five highest-paid employees, and indicate their salary range, with the last threshold being $119,000 and over. We changed that. Starting in 2009, charities were required to report the 10 most highly compensated positions. Annual compensation categories were also expanded, with the last threshold being $350,000 and over.

The introduction of this new reporting on employee compensation has served as a key tool to help increase transparency to show how charitable resources are being used, providing Canadians who generously donate their hard-earned money with even more information to help guide their decisions about giving.

One wonders, if charities are required to submit all such information and have it disclosed, should not union members and the Canadian public have the same type of information about organized labour? Many people have asked that question and have suggested it is appropriate.

Gregory Thomas, the federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, had much to say about this issue in an article published in an October issue of The Chronicle Herald newspaper entitled, “Putting unions, charities on same playing field”.

Let me conclude by quoting an important passage from that article that I suggest everyone read.

The Income Tax Act gives tax breaks to Canadians for various purposes. However, there are two major groups in particular that benefit most directly from tax breaks within the act: registered charities and labour unions.

While both groups benefit from taxpayer-aided income tax laws, the way they disclose to the public what they do with the money is very different.....

Charities in Canada receive a pretty decent taxpayer-funded advantage. If you donate money to a registered charity, you get to claim a hefty tax credit when you file your annual return. In return for this favoured tax treatment, charities are required, by law, under the Income Tax Act, to make annual financial filings and disclose their salaries, revenues and expenses. In fact, you can look at every charity’s filing online on the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) website.....

However, despite their tax-advantaged status, Canada’s unions are currently not required to submit any public financial disclosures to the CRA, let alone the public.....

Some unionized workers have spent thousands of dollars, and big chunks of their lives, battling to get a look at their union’s books. In B.C., the United Food and Commercial Workers Union fought these workers in multiple labour relations board and court hearings, in a bid to deny them five years of financial statements. The case raged on for years. When it was finally decided in the Supreme Court of B.C., it came to light that the financial statements for 2002 through to 2007 weren’t even compiled until the end of 2007 and early 2008.

Examples like this go to show that the legislation is long overdue. Canadian workers are entitled to greater fiscal transparency and accountability from their labour unions. It is for that reason that I urge all members to support this important bill, and especially coming from a former BCTF member, I encourage all people in this House to support the bill.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

December 11th, 2012 / 5:55 p.m.
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NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to begin today with a couple of quotes.

The Canadian Bar Association said: “It is difficult to see what issues or problems this bill is trying to fix. It provides for a greater public disclosure of information on labour unions' financial operations and restricts their political and lobbying activities through mechanisms that could be problematic constitutionally and in terms of privacy”.

The member who sponsored this bill, who is in the House with us today, said that public disclosure, which will help the public better understand how the benefits are provided, is being utilized. He also said in an interview that he had not received a single call or complaint from any member of a union or the general public, saying that they wanted the information that they were unable to obtain.

During the finance committee hearings on Bill C-377, we heard from witnesses who spoke about Merit Canada. Merit has had dozens of meetings on this bill with the sponsor and with the Prime Minister's office officials. At committee, when they were before us, the carpenters were there talking at the same time as Merit. They were testifying.

Mr. Speaker, were you speaking to me?

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

December 11th, 2012 / 5:55 p.m.
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NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Representatives for the Merit group and the Carpenters union were in the room. I asked the representative for the Carpenters union: “If Bill C-377 passes, would Merit Canada see a financial gain?” Of course, he said “yes” and went on to speak about it.

Clearly, the Merit group is a competitor to the building trades and, in particular, to carpenters and electricians. It would be competing for the same jobs, seeking to employ its workers as the union would be seeking to employ theirs. However, the Merit group would know the bid structure that the unions were working from. Where do we ever see that in the business community?

We hear talk about big labour bosses in this place. I am not quite that big, but I am getting there. I signed my first union card at 14 years of age in 1961. I was a member of the CBRT&GW and later with the communications workers. I was vice-president and president, both terms of six years. I was an executive member of the Hamilton and District Labour Council for 28 years and president for 14 years.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

December 11th, 2012 / 5:55 p.m.
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NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Yes, as a friend was saying, all elected and repeatedly elected.

However, I had close to 20 years as a rank and file member previous to that. I attended monthly union meetings where I reviewed line by line and then voted on our monthly financial statements. The trade union taught me one important lesson, which may be why Bill C-377 is before us here today, and that was to question authority.

In the 1980s and 1990s there were two leaders fighting for justice and equality and questioning authority. Nelson Mandela was first supported by the Canadian labour movement when it was not acceptable in society. Then there was Lech Walesa, a trade union organizer, human rights activist and co-founder of Solidarity, the union. That was the union believed by many to have started the downfall of the Soviet Union. Both Mandela and Walesa were feted and honoured in Canada by our federal government.

To my Conservative colleagues, I want to share some information about union operations they may not know. Please take a moment and listen. In fact, I doubt if many members of the Conservative Party have ever set foot in a union hall, union meeting or a union convention. Therefore, I will try to inform them as to why Bill C-377, in my opinion, is not needed.

I spoke of my early years as a rank and file member, but later, around 1979, I became vice-president of my local union at Bell Canada for communications workers and then president. In those positions, I was responsible for ensuring that the treasurer's reports were complete and available to our members each month.

As an officer and a delegate, I attended union conventions, political Federation of Labour conventions and Canadian Labour Congress conventions, where we received and voted on audited financial statements, approved future workplace information campaigns, and also campaigns to inform the general public of the labour movement's views on municipal, provincial and federal governments. For 14 years as president of the Hamilton and District Labour Council, we also produced monthly financial statements and yearly audited statements for our delegates. Therefore, if this is the case, why is Bill C-377 before us?

Bill C-377 is intended as an attack weapon against unions that do not share the Conservative government's political view. In other words, unions question the authority of the government, which is one thing the Conservative government has a great deal of difficulty with.

Unions have stood up against the policies of all three major political parties at one time or another, including the NDP. Therefore, as Walesa and Mandela did, unions continue to stand up for their members and in doing so stand up for the broader community. The last I heard, this is how our democracy is supposed to work.

Bill C-377, in my opinion, from the very first has been a flawed piece of unnecessary discriminatory legislation designed solely to impede legitimate member-approved union activities that call into question the actions of the Conservative government. Any union member who says that they do not know the functions of their union has not been attending their monthly union meetings where they are debated and voted upon.

We are in favour of transparency, but it must be applied fairly to the organizations that should be targeted and must not cause harm. The bill violates the rights of association, privacy and freedom of expression. The privacy commissioner agrees with that statement, by the way.

The bill is an ideological attack on labour organizations, and it is interesting, because it uses the words “transparency” and “fiscal responsibility” to mask its real objectives.

It would be a costly bill. It would cost millions of dollars to put into place and to establish the databases, which will cost at least hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars a year, going forward. The estimates that came before the finance committee were based upon 1,000 organizations. More than 25,000 would be covered by this in the labour movement of Canada. This is a huge burden for both government and workers. The purpose would lessen the vitality of those organizations to defend the rights of workers. Imagine what would happen if there were an additional 17 million hours of paperwork foisted on to business, like it would be foisted on to labour?

Bill C-377 would also give confidential information to businesses and government, which would give them unfair, competitive advantages and political advantages over the labour movement.

Why does the bill target only labour organizations and not all organizations? There are other organizations in the country that receive the benefits of tax breaks and, further, they receive them from the government. In fact, the government promotes many of them. Is this not discriminatory? Are the Conservatives comfortable spending millions of dollars for the records of unions' financial transactions during this period of fiscal restraint? Are they comfortable disclosing so much private and personal information on Canadians?

I realize I am getting close to the end of my time, but we have a bill to deal with an issue that nobody was complaining about, except the government. The Conservatives decided that they lost an election in Ontario because of the labour movement, and this is the end result. This is the reality of what it is all about.

There is another minor point: double taxation, and it is double taxation exactly. It would cost the taxpayer to institute Bill C-377 in the government. However, it would also cost the same taxpayer who happens to be a union member because 4,300,000 would have their union dues raised by the Conservatives. Is that not a first. They would have to pay for it. How do we think it would get done?

Now there will be Conservative union dues for the union workers in the country, and I am sure they will send letters of thanks to the government.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

December 11th, 2012 / 6:10 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Stella Ambler Conservative Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale for his work on this bill.

Before I begin, I will provide a quick recap of the bill. Bill C-377 would require public disclosure of the finances of labour organizations, including unions, as they would be required to file standard financial information, which would then be publicly posted on the Canada Revenue Agency website. This would be similar to registered charities that are already required to do so.

I think we can all agree that the fundamental issue at stake with this bill is the question of transparency. All across the country, workers part with approximately two weeks pay each year for the privilege of union membership, which Canadian taxpayers effectively pay for with foregone tax revenues.

I will read a few words from a recent letter to the editor on this very bill from an Air Canada flight attendant, a dues-paying CUPE member by the name of Marc Roumy. In his letter, Mr. Roumy stated:

For many of my colleagues and me, we believe our union would be stronger if we had a truly open and easy access to our union's financial statements. If we have nothing to hide, then we should know what our union leaders earn and where our dues are being spent. If [my union] does not choose to change direction soon...then I fear there may come a day when many of my colleagues will choose to no longer be part of [the union].

Mr. Roumy and his fellow flight attendants, whether or not they are actually union members, have the right to know how their dues are being spent, especially when it comes to non-union activities. Several jurisdictions regulate such disclosure by providing some limited financial information but to members only. This bill's transparency is about what all Canadians get to know about their tax system with respect to labour organizations. Mr. Roumy addresses the risk of what unions decide to do or not to do independent of any legislation. The continued failure by unions to disclose their finances internally would result in greater numbers of Canadian workers becoming disillusioned with the value of union representation and membership.

The same letter from Mr. Roumy goes on to describe the process that he and other union members must currently undertake in order to view their union's financial statements. It states:

On...my union's website, there are no financial statements to be found. At our local union meetings, the budget is handed out and numbered and then returned once the meeting has ended. If a member cannot make a meeting, and then wishes to see this statement, they must make an appointment and meet with the secretary-treasurer at the local union office. Since most of my colleagues work just before or after local union business hours, this can be inconvenient to arrange. Yet, as a delegate for a national convention...one does receive an individual budget booklet to take home.

Clearly, that union member refutes the claims of other union leaders about what they do and do not do internally regarding what should be known by the rank and file, what their union bosses are doing and if they support them using their union dues in the way that they do.

In the most recent Quebec election, Canadians were shocked to learn that the Public Service Alliance of Canada, PSAC, which represents Canada's more than 172,000 public servants from coast to coast to coast, supported the separatist Parti Québecois with its tax deductible, tax exempt revenues. The PQ's mission statement is to promote sovereignty, social progress and the promotion of French. In other words, the party's primary political objective is the breakup of Canada.

Notwithstanding the absurdity of a union representing federal employees supporting an unquestionably sovereignist political party, do Canadians, whether or not they pay PSAC dues, who believe in a united Canada not deserve to know that their hard-earned tax dollars, especially the ones not collected by unions, are being spent to fund the breakup of the country? We think they do.

When we consider that taxpayers are on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue from unions and trade organizations, it is important to consider more broadly the importance of financial transparency for all Canadians. If registered charities that benefit from similar deductions are required to post their financial statements online, why not unions? What, if anything, exempts unions from the same principle of fairness to taxpayers that we already expect from charities?

We all know the answer to that question, and Canadians agreed. In a 2011 survey conducted by Nanos Research, 83% of Canadians agreed with mandatory public financial disclosure for both public and private sector unions, with support numbers rising to an incredible 95% in Quebec. Not only that, but across the country 86% of unionized workers agreed, even higher than the national average. Yet, union leaders nearly universally opposed this bill and what both Canadians and the people represented by the union leaders want.

Public opinion on the premise of this bill is clear. An overwhelming number of Canadians believe it should be mandatory for unions to publicly disclose detailed financial information on a regular basis. If 86% of Canadian unionized workers agree, why are union bosses themselves so opposed to a proposal that appeals so widely to their funders, the dues-payers, whether or not they are actual union members? Why are the New Democrats opposed?

What is more, union financial disclosure requirements like those contained in Bill C-377 are already law in Australia, New Zealand, Germany, France, Ireland, the U.K. and the United States—in fact, in the United States since 1959. Labour unions in those countries have continued to successfully advocate for their members in the workplace, while respecting the principle of financial transparency, as well as those members and taxpayers who fund them. If similar legislation in other countries has not imperiled unions abroad, why can Canadians not benefit from the same openness and transparency as in Germany or France?

Our government is deeply committed to public transparency, and we have taken many measures in proudly promoting this important value. When we came to office in 2006, we heard from Canadians that they wanted and needed to be able to trust their government and to be confident that their hard-earned tax dollars were being carefully managed. We understood that, to regain this trust, real and significant reform was necessary. Over the years, we have worked hard to gain the trust of the Canadian people. We believe that, through our actions, we have achieved that.

In 2006, our government ushered in the toughest anti-corruption law in Canadian history. The goal of the Federal Accountability Act was to make everyone in government, from the Prime Minister on down, fully accountable to Canadians. The act was intended to restore confidence in government for all Canadians, by streamlining and simplifying how it works and making it more effective and accountable. The changes for Canadians included strengthening the powers of the Auditor General; banning corporate union and large personal political donations; providing real protection for whistleblowers; ensuring government contracting is proper, fair and open; preventing lobbying by former ministers and other public office holders for five years; and creating a more open government by improving access to information.

For example, with respect to political reform, we limited donations so that there is no longer undue influence on politicians because of funding. The Federal Accountability Act banned secret donations and trust funds to politicians. It prevented the immediate move from government to lobbying, and it enhanced the role of the Ethics Commissioner and transformed the Conflict of Interest Code into law, previously an unofficial guideline.

In that spirit, I call on all members to support Bill C-377 and its pro-worker message.

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada ActGovernment Orders

December 7th, 2012 / 10:30 a.m.
See context

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, historically in Roman and Greek times the Spartans had terrible disciplinary measures, which I will not go into, but they were pretty grotesque. There has always been severity in the kinds of punishment meted out in our military. In many cases that was used to drive people forward in battle, to ensure that they did their duty as seen fit. However, the reality is that we are not talking about people in battle. We are talking about people who, in their everyday duties as military personnel, come into conflict with the military's rules and regulations and find themselves before a tribunal without rights that are really essential to ensuring a balance.

Later today I will be making another speech on Bill C-377 and will talk about questioning authority. That is the one thing that the military does not wish a service member to do; the military sees that as almost an offence in itself.

We have to find a way to balance a genuine, and I stress the word “genuine”, democratic and open process that is accountable within the military to those people who administer the so-called justice. The reality is that it is important that we ensure balance in this.

Speaker's RulingIncome Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

December 7th, 2012 / 1:30 p.m.
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Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

There are five motions standing on the notice paper for the report stage of the member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale's Bill C-377, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (requirements for labour organizations).

While it is not usual for the Chair to provide reasons for the selection of report stage motions, in this case it has been decided to do so given that the Speaker has received written submissions from the hon. members for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale and Cape Breton—Canso, outlining exceptional circumstances surrounding the committee consideration of the bill.

As members know, consistent with the note to Standing Order 76.1(5), the Chair would not normally select motions that could have been presented in committee.

In the present case, however, there appears to be extenuating circumstances. The hon. members who have submitted motions at report stage were in attendance at the meeting scheduled for the clause-by-clause consideration of the bill by the Standing Committee on Finance. In addition, they had both submitted motions in advance of this meeting and these had been circulated to all members of the committee. At first glance, it would therefore appear that the amendments submitted by these members could have been proposed during the committee consideration of the bill.

In his submission, the member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale explained the efforts that were made to ensure that the committee would actually begin the clause-by-clause study of the bill as scheduled in order to complete consideration of the bill within the prescribed deadlines attached to it. He reported that these efforts were unsuccessful and, as a result, there was no opportunity to propose amendments in committee.

The Chair has been met with this kind of circumstance before. On September 20, 2010, in the Debates on page 4,069, Speaker Milliken ruled on a case where the member for Scarborough—Guildwood faced a similar situation in relation to his Bill C-300, an act respecting corporate accountability for the activities of mining, oil or gas in developing countries. In that case, the Speaker selected report stage motions for debate because it had been established that the member had made clear attempts to have the clause-by-clause study take place so that amendments could be considered by the committee.

Similarly, in the case before us today, the Chair has carefully reviewed the sequence of events as well as the written submissions from the members for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale and Cape Breton—Canso and is satisfied that these motions could not be presented during the committee consideration of the bill.

Accordingly, Motions Nos. 1 to 5 have been selected for debate at report stage. They will be grouped for debate and voted upon according to the voting patterns available at the table.

I shall now propose Motions Nos. 1 to 5 to the House.

Motions in AmendmentIncome Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

December 7th, 2012 / 1:45 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Russ Hiebert Conservative South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to address report stage of my private member's Bill C-377 and the amendments I tabled to improve the bill.

I want to thank you for allowing my amendments to stand. It was disappointing to see the shameful tactics of the NDP members at the finance committee attempting to shut down debate and prevent these amendments from coming forward. This bill reflects the transparency that 83% of Canadians say they want to see from labour organizations. Nevertheless, the parliamentary process is robust and despite the NDP's efforts to prevent improvements to Bill C-377 for the benefit of labour organizations and all Canadians, the amendments I proposed are moving forward again.

There are a number of benefits to my amendments, and before I mention each of the individual changes in the bill, I will highlight a few major areas of improvement in particular.

First, there are several amendments that address the issue of privacy. Over the course of the last year I heard from a number of groups and individuals concerned about how various aspects of the bill might affect them. In particular, my amendments eliminate any uncertainty about reporting requirements for pension plans, health benefit plans and other regulated plans. They will not be required to report under Bill C-377 and neither will benefit payments to individuals from such registered plans. Let me be clear that it was never my intent that registered pension plans or health insurance plans report, or that the pension or health benefit payments that workers or their families receive be published. Regardless, the amendments before the House offer greater clarity that the regulated plans listed in the amendment will not report, and neither will payments from those plans to individuals be reportable under Bill C-377.

I have also removed home addresses from the reporting requirements. This change was especially important to those who serve in labour organizations, particularly for the police. I appreciate the input I received from the Canadian Police Association on the importance of this change.

Additionally, union employees earning less than $100,000 annually will not be identified unless they are in a position of authority. The $100,000 reporting requirement reflects similar legislation that has long existed in Canada, such as Ontario's sunshine legislation for the public service.

The second major area of change is that of cost savings to government. The opposition has been making much of the Canada Revenue Agency's report to the finance committee estimating the costs of implementing Bill C-377. Of course, those cost estimates were based on an unamended Bill C-377.

I have determined that significant cost savings will be achieved by the removal of the requirement that searches of union disclosure data be subject to cross-referencing, and by the requirement that all filings be electronic, therefore eliminating paper filings. Apparently cross-referencing is a feature that can substantially increase the cost of developing databases. While some government websites certainly offer this feature and it might become standard on such sites in years to come, I am not interested in driving up costs for the CRA just to have this feature at this time. Of course, requiring paperless filings can easily be seen as a way of ensuring savings. There will be no need for clerical help to transcribe filings into a usable electronic format and the CRA can take the filing data and post it on its website easily.

These two changes will reduce the CRA's costs substantially. Indeed, the CRA has confirmed that the estimated start-up costs of implementing Bill C-377 with my amendments will be less than one-quarter of what they would have been, and the ongoing costs will be less than half of what it previously estimated.

A third area of change that my amendments would foster is in what will be reported. There are two significant changes here. The first is that less reporting will be required of unions' core labour relations activities. Instead of providing details of spending over $5,000 on such activities as organizing or collective bargaining, an aggregate figure will only need to be reported. This reduction in the level of reporting detail required should lower the cost to labour organizations of complying with Bill C-377.

Second, for transactions where there is a potential for a conflict of interest, a so-called related party transaction, there will be full reporting on the details of those transactions. An example of a related party transaction might be when a labour organization buys a parcel of land from one of its directors. Bill C-377 does not comment on the appropriateness of such a transaction. It merely requires that it be reported. I believe everyone will agree that full transparency is called for when it comes to related party transactions.

I would like to address a few issues that have been raised by critics of the bill during its committee consideration and elsewhere.

First, critics have asked why the general public should be able to see the financials of unions they are not members of or contributing dues to. As we know, labour organizations operate tax free and their members receive full income tax deductibility for their dues and payments and receive their strike pay tax free. The deductibility of dues alone costs the federal treasury in the range of a half a billion dollars a year. I believe there is a genuine public purpose served by requiring financial transparency in all institutions that receive a substantial public benefit. It exists in government, crown corporations, charities and most recently on native reserves. Now we are extending transparency to another set of institutions that enjoy public benefits, that being labour organizations.

Second, critics have said that a $1,000 a day fine seems designed to punish labour organizations. Compliance with Bill C-377 will not be an onerous burden, but there has to be a deterrent for non-compliance, as the official opposition already implicitly recognizes. In the present Parliament, Bill C-205, in the name of the NDP MP for Hamilton Mountain, seeks to impose a fine of $1,000 per day for non-compliance with the new section of the Canada Labour Code. This is the precise amount of the fine in my bill. The NDP cannot have it both ways.

Third, critics have suggested that other than tax-free status, labour organizations do not actually receive any special subsidies or public dollars. Rather it is their members who do. While it is correct that many of the benefits accorded to labour organizations under the Income Tax Act, such as the deductibility of dues, are indirect rather than direct benefits, the effect is still the same. The benefits were created to support and maintain labour organizations.

The same is true of charities. Charities also do not receive public dollars or special subsidies. Instead, a direct tax benefit is given to donors. That benefit was clearly created for the purpose of supporting and maintaining charities. Just as it is legitimate to ask charities to publicly disclose how they spend the money that is ultimately derived from this public benefit, it is just as legitimate to ask labour organizations to do the same.

Fourth, a few have suggested that Bill C-377 would place unions at a disadvantage in labour negotiations, given that management would know details about the union's finances and its ability to sustain a strike. However, it is obvious that the willingness of workers to withdraw their labour in a bargaining dispute is based on far more important considerations than simply the amount of cash in the strike pay fund. The fact is, American and British unions, and for that matter a good number of Canadian unions which are already required to report in the U.S., have lived with financial transparency for a long time and it does not appear to have affected their ability to bargain effectively.

Another criticism sometimes levelled against Bill C-377 is that the list of financial items would be larger than required of charities. It is true that the list of statements that they would file is longer, but it simply recognizes the fact that labour organizations are more complex and administer a wide range of funds for activities, such as training, education and so on.

Finally, some critics have said that it is unconstitutional. They say that the bill nominally amends the Income Tax Act, but its real purpose is to regulate labour organizations, which is sometimes a provincial matter. That is simply inaccurate. The bill does not regulate labour organizations and does not tell them how to spend their money. In requiring labour organizations to file a report, my bill does not even require an audit. The bill would amend a federal statute, namely the Income Tax Act. The bill is only concerned with matters that already fall under the Income Tax Act that have long been constitutional. I would refer critics to the existing sections of the Income Tax Act and to the fact that charities have done so for 35 years and no one doubts that it is constitutional.

I hope all members will consider how the amendments I have put forward will improve Bill C-377 and support these amendments when the bill comes up for a vote.

Motions in AmendmentIncome Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

December 7th, 2012 / 1:55 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Mark Adler Conservative York Centre, ON

As I was saying, Mr. Speaker, I am in favour of today's important pro-worker legislation from the member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale. I also want to thank all my colleagues on the finance committee and the many witnesses who appeared before it who shared their thoughts and concerns during our study of today's bill.

I certainly applaud the member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale for listening to the feedback we heard and for making some important amendments to this landmark legislation to address some legitimate concerns and to make a good bill even better.

Before starting my speech, let me acknowledge and highlight the work of its sponsor, our Conservative colleague from British Columbia, the member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale. The member has truly done an incredible amount of homework and research on this legislation before Parliament today. He is to be applauded for his efforts in standing up for workers, not union bosses, as the NDP have.

Since his successful election in 2004, the member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale has been a strong voice in Ottawa for his constituents and is widely respected as a parliamentarian. Little wonder, then, that for the past three elections, when his constituents went to the ballot box, they asked him to keep standing up for their concerns in Parliament. Today he builds on his record of advancing ideas and proposals that make Canada better with this important and long overdue piece of legislation, especially for Canadian workers.

Before I continue, I urge all Canadians who are watching at home today to write down the following Internet address on a piece of paper: www.c377.ca. This Internet site provides lots of additional information about this proposal, including actions Canadians can take to help ensure its success, such as filling out a petition or writing to their member of Parliament.

Let us now take a moment to examine the background of the bill, which would require transparency and public disclosure for organized labour organizations that receive considerable tax benefits.

All parliamentarians recognize that labour organizations play an important role in Canadian society by advocating on behalf of workers to ensure their health and safety on the job and appropriate wages and benefits. However, parliamentarians also recognize that the federal government provides substantial benefits to unions to support them in their work. Notwithstanding the generous tax benefits, unions are not required to disclose their financial activities in any significant detail.

As the member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale has said, this bill is designed to provide for the financial disclosure of how those public benefits are used and how the dues of everyday workers are used. It would give workers and all Canadians simple openness and transparency to ensure that their dues and their taxpayer subsidies are not being abused by union bosses, as we have seen all too frequently. Indeed, only recently, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers sent a five-member delegation to attend a Free Palestine conference in Brazil and then demanded that taxpayers pay for it.

This kind of public disclosure will affirm and increase Canadians' trust in the work of these organizations, putting it in line with most other industrialized countries. For instance, it should be pointed out that disclosure requirements for labour organizations in Canada are in stark contrast to those in the United States, where detailed filings are publicly disclosed and are available on the website of the United States Department of Labor. Indeed, it even captures some Canadian unions affiliated with their larger American chapters.

Even France, a country with a strong left-leaning tradition, has ushered in rules that force unions to post their financial activities online, something unions themselves requested to improve trust and their reputations. It is time Canadian workers had the same rights as their American and European brothers and sisters, to use labour-speak.

I should note that registered Canadian charities have long been required, for over three decades, to disclose similar information. Indeed, this is, according to independent polling data, exactly what Canadians have been asking for. For the benefit of this House and all those Canadians watching at home on television or listening online, I would like to share some of this important independent polling data.

Specifically, the well-respected Nanos Research firm recently conducted a survey of Canadians and asked about their impressions of unions, particularly with respect to financial transparency and their use of union dues. This report entitled, “State of the Unions 2011”, is the second survey of its kind conducted by Nanos. One thousand and one employed Canadians were polled between July 20 and July 25 of 2011. I would like to share with Parliament this important finding taken directly from the Nanos survey. It stated:

Findings showed that working Canadians surveyed agreed with greater financial transparency on the part of unions...83% of Canadians agreed with mandatory public financial disclosure for both public and private sector unions on a regular basis.

Support for mandatory disclosure of financial information by unions was strong across Canada, with over 70% of Atlantic Canadians saying yes, over 90% of people in Quebec agreeing, nearly 80% in the Prairies and over 85% in British Columbia. Even more impressive, a whopping 85% of unionized workers agreed that it was time for mandatory union disclosure of financial information. That overwhelming support has been reflected in a lot of public commentary that we have heard on Bill C-377 in the past year. I would like to take a moment to share some of that feedback with the House.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business stated:

—we feel that requiring unions to publically disclose how they spend those dollars will bring some measure of transparency to their operations, especially in light of on-going news that unions are using those funds to back certain political parties and candidates throughout Canada.

I should note that even some union leaders themselves have stood up and said they would support this push for more transparency and we applaud them. For instance, CAW Local 444 president Rick Laporte told The Windsor Star, “I don't have a problem with it...Our books are always open to our members and anybody can come to our meetings and see our financials”.

A noted think tank had this to say this on the matter, “members would like to see where their dues are spent, and if that money was used to better the lives of said rank and file members, not fund exotic trips to communist get-togethers for union officials”.

I agree and that is why I ask all members to stand up for workers and support the member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale.

Motions in AmendmentIncome Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

December 7th, 2012 / 2:05 p.m.
See context

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would have liked to say how happy I am to rise in the House to speak to private member's Bill C-377. That is not entirely true, however. I will spend a few minutes talking about it today. Everyone knows I have much to say on the subject. It is worrisome to me, as it is to the NDP, the labour movement as a whole, labour organizations and other associated organizations.

I would remind all members that the labour movement is the greatest democratic movement in our country's civil society. More than four million workers strong, it ensures that Canada and Quebec are, generally speaking, great places to live. Our working conditions, wages and occupational health and safety standards are what keep this country's economy running. Whether in the city or in the country, people can patronize businesses. They can go to restaurants and purchase goods. This historic legacy of the labour movement deserves to be recognized in the House. The very existence of the middle class is due in no small part to the battles that unions have been fighting for decades now.

Bill C-377 is obviously an odd bill because it is not transparent in the least. Generally speaking, a piece of legislation or legislative proposals are introduced to right a wrong, improve a situation, remedy a flaw or bring in measures that will benefit our constituents. It is not very clear what problem this bill is attempting to solve.

First, what is the objective or the goal of this bill? Where is it headed? It is not at all obvious. We have been told that more transparency is needed. The Canada Labour Code already requires unions to provide financial reports to members who request them. That is the law in seven out of 10 provinces. Last year, there were 4.1 million unionized workers and six complaints were filed. Six people said that they did not have access to documents and information to which they were entitled. Few organizations have a complaint rate as low as six out of 4.1 million.

There really is no problem. The Conservatives are trying to solve a problem that does not exist. This bill will create red tape and a bureaucracy and be very costly, not just for the unions, but also for ordinary citizens. Canadians will have to pay for the Conservative Party's whims. That is what is truly unfortunate about Bill C-377.

I mentioned it a few times when speaking in English to journalists who were scratching their heads. They were wondering what the government was doing and why it introduced the bill. I told them that I could not figure it out myself.

It is a really costly solution for a problem that does not exist.

I very much like the expression “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Everything is fine, so I do not know why anyone would insist on imposing an additional administrative burden on labour organizations, which are the economic mainstay of our country and contribute to the vitality of our production. These are the people who produce our goods and services. They are also the ones who drive our economy, by living their lives and consuming goods.

So what are the mission and purpose of this bill? We do not really see its usefulness. Nor does the Canadian Bar Association, which, in its presentation, had a wonderful sentence about not really understanding what this bill was trying to accomplish.

I mentioned the costs, and that is definitely the first thing that needs to be discussed. This bill will be very costly for the organizations involved and for all taxpayers. The Canada Revenue Agency conducted two assessments. It did a cost analysis and estimated that it will cost $2 million for first two years, and then $800,000 a year indefinitely. That is the figure for 1,000 reports, since it assessed only about 1,000 organizations that would be affected.

According to the Parliamentary Budget Officer's review, some 18,000 organizations will be affected. So that means it will cost not $2 million, but $2 million times 18. And that is just the initial budget forecasts. We have already seen estimated costs increase over time, instances when the cost seemed rather low or reasonable at first. We have seen that here at the federal level, but the municipal and provincial levels have seen it, too.

I think this is a slippery slope of red tape, paperwork and extra bureaucracy that will serve no purpose and will only be a waste of money.

We have a federal government that is slashing public services to Canadians. We have a Conservative government that wants to eliminate nearly 20,000 jobs, even though those employees are there to serve Canadians. At the same time, the Conservatives want to create new administrative obligations, even though they are making cuts.

How can the Canada Revenue Agency possibly take care of these 18,000 reports—18,000 copies' worth of fastidious, useless work—with fewer employees? I cannot wait to see that. How can it be done? No one has been able to answer that simple question. Actually, I do not see how this can be accomplished.

This legislation is aimed directly at democratic and transparent labour organizations: they are required by law to provide their members with this information. The bill creates a pointless burden. Why are these organizations targeted while others are not?

The other side argues that, since union dues are tax deductible, labour organizations' accounting books and financial reports should be open to everyone. Please note, however, that the people who need to know how their money is spent are those who pay union dues, and they already have that information.

In the interest of fairness, and to avoid discriminating against union organizations, the same rules should apply to everyone. For example, professional associations that also collect union dues and benefit from tax deductions, are not targeted by this bill. Apparently, it is not important for them to be because the tax benefit they receive should not force them to disclose all of their financial reports, even though the unions have to do so.

Why such a double standard? Why such a direct attack against unions?

We received part of an answer in parliamentary committee, when a Conservative member clearly said that this was not a matter of transparency at all and that it was a matter of what kind of involvement unions and the labour movement had.

Such is the basis of the Conservatives' thought process. It is not a matter of transparency. What they want is to stick their noses into the business of the labour movement. They want to know how much a particular union has spent on an awareness or public information campaign, a safe workplace campaign or a campaign to improve the pension plans of all Canadians. They want to stick their noses into the business of labour organizations and snoop around.

A fair rule should be applied to all organizations in Canada: as soon as they receive a tax benefit of some sort, their books should be open. That would be just great: thousands of organizations, businesses and companies would be required to disclose everything. It does not make any sense. If this does not make sense for companies and other organizations, then why impose it on the labour movement?

In closing, I am going to point out a few things. There are still major problems in this bill relating to privacy.

We have a Conservative government whose ideology is that government should not interfere in people’s lives. We have colleagues who are really libertarians. They like small government, but suddenly, when it comes to the labour movement, it is time for big government. They want to know everything; they want to see everything. If someone receives a benefit of some sort, like pension or disability benefits, their name is going to end up on a website. People will be able to do a search and see it.

What is the public interest? How does it enhance the common good in our country and how are we a better society if personal information about people’s lives is disclosed?

From the standpoint of the Constitution, this is a serious invasion, and I do not understand why a Conservative government is getting involved in it. Quite aside from what it will cost, this is not a bill that deals with the Canada Revenue Agency as such.

This is not a bill that deals with tax policy. It is a bill that deals with the organization of our labour movement and unions, and ultimately with labour relations. Under section 92 of the Constitution, those areas are subject to provincial legislation. We are going to end up in court. That will cost taxpayers more money, because of mismanagement and bad decisions on the part of the Conservatives.

Motions in AmendmentIncome Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

December 7th, 2012 / 2:15 p.m.
See context

Cypress Hills—Grasslands Saskatchewan

Conservative

David Anderson ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, I hope to put a little light on the subject. The member opposite seems to have been more interested in fear-mongering than in actually dealing with the content of the legislative proposal.

I want to thank you, Mr. Speaker, for the opportunity to speak about Bill C-377, which is sponsored by the MP for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale.

Before I get into the details of the bill, I would like to begin today by taking a few moments to speak about the importance of labour organizations. All of us know that they play a crucial, multi-faceted role in our society.

Motions in AmendmentIncome Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

December 7th, 2012 / 2:25 p.m.
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NDP

Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, first of all, let me help my friends learn a little about how this actually works, as I am probably the only member of the House who was the financial officer for a large union. I spent eight years of my life doing that.

This whole idea that the government is suggesting, that there is this lack of transparency and that unions do not tell anyone anything and all of this information is hidden away from the membership somewhere in a secret vault, is absolute hokum. I will explain how this works, especially to my friend who lives nearby.

Any expenditure beyond $100 needs ratification not only from the executive board but from the membership. That is right, all of the membership gets to vote on any expenditure beyond $100. The limit of any local union, and any union pretty much across the country, to expense money on behalf of its members is only up to $100.

When is that information reported to union members? It is reported monthly. This information is related both verbally and in writing. In my case, that is exactly what I did.

There is that dreaded audit that all of us fear on our income tax, but unions audit themselves continuously. These audits are conducted by outside auditors. In my case, KPMG used to do the audit. At one time, KPMG did an audit every six months because the organization was so large, but it eventually became a yearly audit.

Who else comes to visit unions? The folks who collect provincial taxes come to visit. They want to find out if the union has a hall that it rents out because taxes have to be paid on those things. They come and check the taxes as well.

Therefore, this idea that somehow there are no checks and balances in the system, that somehow the membership does not understand where the money is spent, or somehow we just collect the money, give it away and never tell anybody who we give it to is just false. That is not true. The membership always knows exactly where its money is spent. Members have the absolute democratic right when they do not like a particular expenditure to say no to it. They also have the right not to vote for a person the next time.

I can tell my colleagues across the way that I guess we did this so well, at least in my union, that I was elected three times as the financial officer. The members had no fear about how their money was expensed because they were always told how their money was expensed. In fact, we were more open than this government when it comes to the budget. The government had an omnibus budget bill that had less amendments to it than Bill C-377. That bill was so poorly put together in the first place that the Conservatives almost had to rewrite it to make it conform and be palatable to someone, but I have no idea who.

Clearly, this is not a bill that is supposed to be informative for union members or the general public. This is simply a bill that attacks unions across this country. There is no need for it and it should not be passed. It should just die on the order paper—

Bill C-377—Income Tax ActPoints of OrderRoutine Proceedings

November 27th, 2012 / 10:10 a.m.
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NDP

Sadia Groguhé NDP Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order with respect to Bill C-377, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (requirements for labour organizations), introduced by the hon. member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale.

My hon. colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie has already risen in this House to bring to your attention the fact that this bill requires royal recommendation in order to pass. My colleague's arguments were all very clear and perfectly illustrated the NDP's concerns regarding the implications of this bill. I am raising this issue once again here today because some new information has become available to MPs, and I feel I must bring it to your attention as well.

Indeed, and as my colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie already mentioned, the Canada Revenue Agency received an order from the Standing Committee on Finance to answer some questions regarding new and distinct funds that will result from Bill C-377 if it is passed. Those answers were sent to the members of the Standing Committee on Finance yesterday. I will submit the document containing those answers following my speech.

First of all, the Canada Revenue Agency confirmed that the new and distinct funds that will result from Bill C-377 were not included in the most recent supplementary estimates, as is always the case with private members' business.

The Canada Revenue Agency also confirmed that this bill will result in expenditures that are not currently authorized by legislation. In response to the third question, the agency said that Bill C-377 amends the Income Tax Act to give the minister authority over these new expenditures.

My colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie also pointed out that clause 1(4) of the bill, which requires the minister to make the information collected available to the public, will also result in new expenditures. The Canada Revenue Agency confirmed this in the answers forwarded to us.

The answer we received today from the agency is that, “Changes will be made to the CRA website to fulfill the requirements of the bill.”

The agency even provided an estimate of the costs resulting from system changes. For the Canada Revenue Agency, the estimated incremental costs arising from the required system changes, including changes to the Canada Revenue Agency website, are $8.5 million for 70 full-time employees in the first two years and $1 million in subsequent years for nine full-time employees.

These costs represent new expenditures because the Canada Revenue Agency is not currently committed to disclosing the information, as required by the bill. The answers obtained also refute the argument of this bill's sponsor to the effect that the agency is already doing similar work as part of the charities program.

In fact, the agency confirmed that it is not currently committed to disclose such an exhaustive amount of information as required under Bill C-377. This is what the agency had to say in this regard:

The Charities Directorate does not provide partial information to the public. The directorate gathers only the minimum amount of transactional information from registered charities, and not all that information is disclosed.

I would like to close by sharing some information obtained from the agency that says a lot about the new and distinct costs associated with Bill C-377. As it is now worded, the bill requires the implementation of an entire system that includes electronic processing, validations and automatic posting to the Canada Revenue Agency's website. The estimated incremental cost for the Canada Revenue Agency is $10.6 million for the first two years, including 91 full-time employees, and $2.1 million for each consecutive year, including 21 full-time employees. These costs are attributable mainly to information cross-referencing requirements.

It is important to note that these are the estimated costs for 1,000 respondents, but Bill C-377 is written in such a way that it includes all labour organizations and trusts, which represents close to 25,000 tax filers. The costs incurred would therefore be 25 times higher than these estimates.

I believe that it is now clear that Bill C-377 requires a royal recommendation in order to be voted on at third reading since the exorbitant costs that would be incurred by cross-referencing the large amounts of information gathered by the Canada Revenue Agency are new and distinct.

In order to make it easier for you to examine this important issue, Mr. Speaker, I will make the answers obtained from the Canada Revenue Agency available to you. I would like to thank you for the attention you will give to this important matter.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

March 13th, 2012 / 5:30 p.m.
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Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, I rise to address Bill C-377 on behalf of the Liberal Party and put on record some concerns around the bill. It is apropos that the bill has come forward today, as the Conservative government is bringing forward back to work legislation. Most Canadians will see this as just another brick on the load, another attempt to handcuff organized labour in this country. I see that in this piece of legislation.

The Liberal Party of Canada understands the importance and is supportive of measures that lend themselves to openness, transparency and accountability. We can look at the other type of organization in this country that is governed under a set of rules similar to that being put forward in this piece of legislation: charities. Charities are asked to post their financial statements for public view. We know it was a Liberal government that brought that forward in 1977. The legislation has served fairly well. But when we compare the provisions around charities in comparison to what would be asked now of organized labour, the provisions in this bill go far beyond what is expected of charities.

One thing that we can agree on in discussion of the bill is that this piece of legislation would be truly burdensome on organized labour and unions. It begs a great number of questions. If the intent of my colleague who put this forward is to try to ensure accountability and transparency in organizations that receive a tax benefit through the Income Tax Act, a question has to be asked. Why in drafting the bill did he not include professional organizations? Between organized unions and professional organizations, there is about $800 million in tax benefits. Professional organizations actually garner a greater share of that $800 million than do unions. If we are looking for accountability, we should ask for accountability for all those groups that benefit under section 149 of the Income Tax Act. The tax exemption is allotted for charities, professional organizations and unions.

We know that the burden would be placed on accounting for every expenditure over $5,000 not just on the current accounts, but on trust accounts of unions and union locals. We would end up with pensioners making small amounts of money and drawing small pensions from those trust funds. They would have to post the amounts being drawn from the trusts, creating concerns around privacy.

For anyone who does business with a union, those accounts would be posted. The small contractor who does maintenance and janitorial work at the local union hall would have to post what he draws from the union for services rendered. The next time they called for janitorial services, his competition would see what he is making. It will not be fair.

A number of concerns arise. The most egregious, and this brings us back to the discussion and debate we are having today on the back to work legislation, is how it would tip the field in disfavour of organized labour by making it necessary to bare all accounts.

If a company and a union local are in the midst of contract negotiations which are coming to a head, there is potential for a strike. The union then looks at what fiscal shape it is in. It has full access to the books and understands how long it could sustain any kind of a strike benefit. It goes forward to find a fair resolve through the open and fair bargaining process. However, knowing what is in the books and accounts of that union would be of particular benefit to the company. We do not believe that we can support any legislation that contains a measure which would give an unfair advantage to one group over another.

A number of different aspects of the bill are of concern. Certainly, we fully support the provisions with respect to openness and accountability.

There was an accountability bill brought forward in the last Parliament by our former colleague Albina Guarnieri. There were a number of issues surrounding the amount of salaries of some heads of charities at the time. The bill required that any salaries over $100,000 being drawn from a charity had to be posted and made public. Of course that bill died on the order paper with the coming of the last election.

Professional associations are much like unions. Members of associations receive a similar tax exemption to members of unions. We know that it is a requirement in most professional organizations. If people want to practice in a particular profession, then they have to become a member of that professional organization. There is a mandatory aspect to it. Therefore, it escapes me why professional organizations have not been included in the drafting of the bill to make it fair for all parties.

In closing, we support accountability and transparency. Over the years we have shown that we believe in those aspects. Many of the provisions for organized labour and charities are now in place. Had the member come forward with a bill that did not focus only on organized labour, but looked at professional organizations and professional associations as well and was even across the board, then we would be supportive of it. However, the way the bill is written now, we will not be able to stand and support it when the time comes to vote.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

March 13th, 2012 / 5:40 p.m.
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NDP

Claude Patry NDP Jonquière—Alma, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-377. I myself am a former union president and vice-president. The way a union works is that members are consulted at the general meeting once a year. In my union, we managed the collective agreement and prescription drug insurance for blue-collar and white-collar workers.

Can we imagine the impact this bill will have when it is enacted? Unions are being asked to disclose their labour relations activities, to report what they do and how they finance their activities, to disclose their political activities, their collective bargaining activities, and information about conventions, education and training activities, legal activities and recruiting activities. Essentially, unions are being asked to drop their pants in front of everybody. They have to show their figures.

How can unions develop a strategy? How can they bargain with an employer when the employer knows everything about their figures, like the strike fund, the operating fund and the staff? This is unacceptable.

When I was president of a union in Arvida, we had prescription drug insurance for blue-collar and white-collar workers. There is strategy involved in relation to the drugs and the administrative costs. There are a lot of companies that would have liked to have access to that information about prescription drugs. This bill makes no sense because it is truly an attack on unions.

Why have the Conservatives not tried to require the same of companies? Let them do it for the banks and the multinationals. Let them do it for small businesses. That way there will be a level playing field for bargaining. They are not doing it because the companies will rise up and say that these are their strategies and their prices, there are competition issues, and they cannot agree to that. That is also the case for unions. They are the only organizations that working people have for organizing and defending themselves against employers and against multinational companies.

In Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, we currently have a lockout at Rio Tinto Alcan; the employees have been locked out since December 31. These people would like us to drop our pants and put all our files on the table. The money invested in health and safety involves cases that are going to be argued. They are legal files. The member is asking that this be put on a website. That makes no sense. This bill makes no sense.

Honestly, I have been here since May 2 and all I have seen on the other side of the House is contempt for unions. There was Canada Post and Air Canada. We are talking about Air Canada again today. People are still being bullied. Whose interests will this bill serve? It will not serve the interests of unions and working people. It will serve the interests of the multinational companies and corporations, and not the unions that stand up for working people.

Currently, the unions make their figures public annually following their general meetings. I was a union president and that is what I did every year for six years. There were figures for the purchase of office equipment and employees’ wages. Everything was included. I do not see why it would be placed on a website. Recruitment is very important and strategic, so why should the unions have to include this information in documents that everyone has access to?

If the Conservatives want to be transparent, as they say they do, then they should also be transparent with their employers.

Transparency is important. How can a union negotiate if the employer knows all about its strike fund and is aware of how much was spent on legal fees, and on the collective agreement? Bargaining takes place for collective agreements that last three or four years. It is customary in negotiations to attempt to improve the provisions of a collective agreement.

Bill C-377 forces the unions to show their hand. In my opinion, it is like asking the unions to drop their pants in front of everybody. That is what it amounts to, in union jargon.

I would also like to talk about the cost of implementing this initiative. Bill C-377 will be a bureaucratic monster. We saw this in the case of firearms. We were told that everything would be electronic and run smoothly. The firearms registry cost Canadians $1 billion. How much will it cost for the implementation and enforcement of this legislation?

This bill amounts to a double standard. It does not make sense. The unions are being asked to drop their pants and show everything, to speak plainly.

The following things are explained to workers at general meetings: what was spent throughout the year, how much the heating, building and insurance policies cost. Why put this information on the website? Union reorganization and recruitment are confidential. If a new union were created and new members sought, all of this information would have to be displayed on a website for all to see. That does not make sense. As a former union president, I cannot tolerate that kind of practice. If the government wants the NDP to vote for this, it should ask the same thing of employers and everyone else.

Earlier we spoke of the cost of the registry. It is going to cost some money. There are 12,000 unions across Canada, which is not easy to manage. How will the small unions with just a hundred or so members and one or two employees handle the extra work, carry out analyses, produce documents and send the required information to the government? If the unions are not up to date, they will pay fines while certain companies enjoy insurance premium and tax holidays. That does not make sense, and we do not agree with it.

Some say that the NDP is always negative, but we want equality and justice for everyone. The government makes cutbacks to programs claiming that they are too expensive, and then creates a new bureaucracy. It takes away public servants from one place and adds them to another. I have not been in politics for very long, and I have trouble understanding that. Someone will have to explain it to me.

As I just said, it is a double standard. With this bill, the workers will once again have to pick up the tab. Once again, the people will have to pay the public servants responsible for all this. It does not make any sense. It is disrespectful to the union. Since I have been a member of Parliament, all I hear is how the NDP is on the side of the unions. The NDP is on the side of logical people, so that no one suffers. We are here to help people. Regardless of what party we belong to, we all do good and bad things, but we have to at least stand up for the interests of Canadians. However, that is not what the government is doing. It is dividing the people. It is telling the little people to do what they are told, to pay up and shut up. That is not what we want in Canada. It is a strange coincidence that today's debate is about Air Canada, the strategy and other things.

What will be done with the information that is disclosed to the public? In summary, it will be costly, unfair and discriminatory. The Conservatives must redo their homework. Such a thing cannot be asked of small, medium or large unions. Some unions cannot even meet the requirements because they have only one or two employees.

In a large union, such as the one for which I worked, there are employees or an accountant who can do that work. We must think about all the bureaucracy and the logistics that will result from this bill. I do not understand how the House can say that cuts must be made. The government is purchasing airplanes and building megaprisons. It is laying off Service Canada employees and cutting services, but adding others to monitor the unions. What is this called? I will let the hon. members guess.

It is unacceptable that this is being done to workers. Unions are the only way that workers can organize and stand up for themselves.

We will vote against this bill because it does not make any sense. If the government wants us to vote in favour of this bill, it must pull up its socks and ensure that it applies to small and medium businesses, multinational corporations and banks. Only then we will approve this bill, not before.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

March 13th, 2012 / 5:50 p.m.
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NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-377, an act to amend the Income Tax Act (requirements for labour organizations).

The bill before us seeks to require trade unions to publicly disclose their financial statements. The reporting requirements contemplated by the bill are completely unnecessary, but the government knows that.

In Canada's trade union movement, financial statements are audited and reported to elected boards of directors, to all union locals, and to delegates at conventions. Annual audited statements must be filed with both provincial and federal labour boards. The Canada Labour Code requires that financial statements be available to members. Where those statements are not routinely provided to all members, individual union members can request them from their locals and directly from labour boards. The process is open, fair, democratic and accountable.

What is really being advanced by this bill is a dangerous and unprecedented move to advance the government's agenda of undermining the balance of labour relations in Canada by tipping the scales overwhelmingly in favour of employers.

Trade unions are profoundly democratic institutions. The leadership is elected by the membership and serves at the pleasure of those members. The relationship between a union's leadership and its members is one of transparency and accountability. A union is accountable to its members, just as comparable not-for-profit and tax-exempt entities, like think tanks, professional associations and trade boards are accountable to their members.

With this legislation the government is once again breaching the bounds of fundamental fairness by demanding that trade unions release their financial information to the public. Importantly, it is only trade unions that would be required to do so. Entities such as the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the law society, and the Fraser Institute, all of which enjoy the same kind of tax-exempt status as unions, are curiously not mentioned in the bill. When the member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale first introduced this legislation as Bill C-317 in the last Parliament, he was asked why it targeted unions alone, why the same provisions would not apply to other not-for-profit agencies or societies. He was unable to answer that very basic question.

Clearly the labour movement is being singled out for attack in this legislation. Equally clear, the decision to uniquely target labour is ideological, unbalanced and vindictive.

Why are we here today debating a bill which on the surface appears to remedy a wholly invented problem?

We are here to debate legislation that would have the effect of hog-tying unions as they conduct their daily business of representing and advocating for working women and men. With this bill the employer sitting across the negotiating table would have ready access to all the financial information it might need to wage a war of attrition designed to bankrupt a union.

With this legislation the employer would know exactly what resources the union has and how far those resources will stretch. The employer would be handed a report that tells it exactly how much the union can spend on a grievance, whether the union can afford an organizing drive, and precisely how much is in the strike fund. It is absolutely outrageous.

Would the government contemplate any other negotiation between two parties where one side was legislatively required to hand over financial information that provided the other side with a spectacular competitive advantage?

This is legislation that corrupts the very idea of fairness and balance in negotiations between parties and undermines the fundamental right of free collective bargaining.

In grasping this we can now see the real purpose of this legislation. It is not intended to improve transparency or accountability. It is intended to deliver to the government's corporate friends a cudgel with which to hobble Canadian unions as they seek to represent their members.

We have seen the government's determination to sabotage free collective bargaining before, and this bill represents one more breach of common sense and responsible management. Never mind that labour rights are ostensibly protected by international conventions. Never mind that the balance of labour relations in this country has been relatively stable for decades. Never mind that organized labour in Canada represents more than three million men and women from coast to coast to coast. In every major dispute since they came to power, the Conservatives have responded with heavy-handed tactics expressly designed to hand the employer a win: disingenuous referrals to the labour board; the imposition of wage settlements that are lower than the employer's offer; draconian back to work legislation announced before labour disruptions have even begun.

Employers in this country now know beyond a doubt that there is no need to engage in free and fair collective bargaining, because the moment workers contemplate exercising their rights, the government will side with the employer and legislate those rights away. To the simple-minded government this must seem terribly convenient. In fact, it is a dangerous undermining of an always fragile balance in labour relations that will further destabilize an already flagging economy.

We have seen that the government's obdurate evidence-free ideological determination to punish those it sees as its political enemies trumps good management and fairness every time. Like a spoiled child, the government's reactionary knee-jerk propensity to attack any individual or organization that has the temerity to disagree with its world view knows no limits. We have seem it lash out at civil servants, scientists, NGOs, even churches, and now Canada's labour movement is again in the crosshairs.

If the government were really interested in accountability and transparency, it would first take a long hard look inward. Its own record is abysmal, from withholding Afghan detainee documents to the member for Parry Sound—Muskoka's multi-million dollar pork-barrel extravaganza, from an inability to tell Canadians how much the omnibus crime legislation will cost taxpayers to ministers and senior officials jetting about on Challengers, from failed multi-billion dollar sole-sourced F-35 purchases to electoral fraud. The Conservative government's call for accountability is sanctimonious nonsense. Its house is made of glass.

If the government has any real interest in accountability and serving the voters who sent us here to represent their interests in sound fiscal management, in making the lives of hard-working Canadians just a little bit easier, there is a long list of initiatives for workers to which it could and should turn its attention and resources.

Unemployment and underemployment for example are growing problems which the government continues to ignore. The real unemployment rate is 11%. Almost two million Canadians are out of work. Student unemployment last summer was a staggering 17%.

Conservative Party talking points aside, the truth is that the government has no job creation plan. That is why the NDP has called on the government to take positive steps to kickstart job creation.

The government should abandon its disastrous corporate tax spending policy and instead use that $3 billion to $4 billion a year for job creation measures that work. We should be providing a new higher tax credit for every new employee who stays on the payroll for a year. We have called on the government to cut small business income tax by two percentage points to encourage local job creation and investment, and to invest in infrastructure projects to address the infrastructure deficit, create jobs and boost competitiveness and living standards.

New Democrats want to invest in green infrastructure and renewable energy to facilitate the transition to a low-carbon economy and to invest in skills training for workers in transition and leading-edge industries. Instead, the government, bereft of a job strategy, has given away billions in subsidies and tax breaks to corporations without any condition that they create or even protect jobs for Canadians. When the victims of these failed Conservative policies attempt to access the employment insurance system, one in three of them are turned away.

That is why a previous Parliament voted to support my motion to expand and enhance EI benefits. That motion called for the elimination of the two-week waiting period for benefits, a reduction in standardization of the hours of qualification, and an increase in weekly benefits. Our caucus has tabled specific proposals in this Parliament to promote job creation, and to make EI the effective and responsive safety net Canadian workers have paid for.

Canadian families want action on jobs. When they become the innocent victims of the economic downturn, they deserve the support of their government. What do they get from the government instead? A petulant and gratuitous shot at Canadian workers that further weakens their collective position.

This legislation is as unnecessary as it is irresponsible. It is nothing but a partisan assault on the men and women who go to work every day to provide for their families and the unions who represent them.

I call on all members in the House to stand up for working families and vote to defeat this ill-conceived bill.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

March 13th, 2012 / 5:55 p.m.
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NDP

Robert Chisholm NDP Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, we have heard a couple of great speeches from my colleagues. I too am going to lend a few words to debate on this bill.

I have seen a lot of nonsense from the government, but I cannot believe why we are dealing with Bill C-377. It targets one group in our society and singles it out for unfair, onerous, burdensome treatment with no apparent reason other to make mischief, attack unions and drive them out of our communities. I do not understand.

I do not know where the sponsor of this bill comes from or if he remembers the history of his community, but I want to ask him and other members opposite to think about the freedoms that we cherish in our community and our country and to consider for a moment their history. I want to ask him as well to consider the role that working people have played in the establishment of those freedoms and of those important programs, and the work they have done to build our roads and public buildings and to ensure that we have goods and services in order to have a high standard of living. Health care, health and safety laws, workers compensation, unemployment insurance, pensions and all of the other things that have made our communities as strong as they are today have resulted from the struggles of working people and their organizations, trade unions. They do not deserve this kind of attack.

It has been said by my colleagues that this bill does not deal with other like organizations that are similar in structure, such as professional associations or law societies. It does not touch the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, for example. It does not deal with other organizations in the same way that it attempts to single out trade unions.

As has been stated by my colleagues, I have often said that trade unions are one of the most democratic organizations we have in society. The revenues and resources that unions have to deal with are as a result of dues and contributions by members, from the pay they receive for doing their work. How that money is spent is determined by those very same workers.

If members have any question about how these unions deal and make those decisions and hold themselves accountable, I would like to take them out to a general membership meeting. I would like them to come to any one of the annual conventions held by the trade unions in this country and see the scrutiny that the financial statements of those unions receive from their members. Members would recognize that there is far more scrutiny and transparency regarding the financial statements of trade unions than there is in corporations in this country.

We have never had any explanation from the government opposite for what has happened to the tens of billions of dollars that profitable corporations have received from Canadian taxpayers. Supposedly it was meant to create jobs, but since January, for example, when these corporations recognized an additional $3 billion, what we have seen in this country is a further deterioration in the number of jobs.

My point is that when it comes to accountability, trade unions are one of the most accountable organizations that we have in our society.

We also hear members opposite talk about the “big union bosses” as though they are a big entity and similar to one of the big banks that make tens of billions of dollars in profit every year.

Let me tell members that the largest union in this country is the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which has over 600,000 members. However, that union is made up of nearly 3,000 small locals. Those locals may consist of two people, five people, ten people. There may be upwards of 10,000 in some of them, but the majority of them are tens or hundreds of members.

Every single month, one of those union locals holds a general membership meeting. Whoever the fortunate or unfortunate person is, depending upon one's perspective, who has taken the secretary-treasurer role has to stand in front of the members and account for how those dues are being spent.

Let me tell members that there is not a treasurer I know of in a trade union who gets off lucky. They have to be able to account for every single penny, because working women and men know what it is like to be frugal, they know what it is like to be accountable, and they want to know how their money is being spent.

In fact, that is what drives me and that is what drives many members on this side: the concerns that working women and men in this country have about how the government is spending its resources.

Why would we not expect the government to be attacking unions through a bill like this? It attacks working people. We see now that we are dealing with back to work legislation for a dispute that has not even started. We have seen it with the postal workers and we have seen it with Air Canada ealier. We have seen that whenever the government has had an opportunity to put the boots to working people, it has taken that opportunity.

Senior citizens, whether they are seniors now or whether they will be seniors in the future, are going to be asked to shoulder a greater burden by having the age of eligibility for OAS extended from 65 to 67 years old. That is going to be a burden for low-income senior citizens. That is an attack by the current government on seniors.

It is the same with veterans. We talked in this House about how the government is attacking veterans and slashing the budget of Veterans Affairs.

Ninety per cent of the budget of Veterans Affairs goes to programs and services; the government is going to cut upwards of 10% out of that budget, and it says that it is not going to affect services to veterans and their families and to RCMP members, people who have sacrificed themselves and continue to sacrifice themselves for this country.

It is the same with voters. The government is attacking voters. We see every day a new revelation of what the Conservative government has done in terms of trying to suppress the rights of Canadians to vote for the people they want to vote for. That is another group that has been under attack.

The military post living differential is another example. The post living differential has been brought up to me by people in my constituency, who have said that the government is intending to cut the living allowance that compensates military families that have to move to different parts of the country or to other countries. It is going to cut it in half. That is another group that the government has its sights on.

Let me tell members that Canadians are getting sick and tired of the government picking out a group of people and deciding that it is next. They are wondering where the government is going to stop.

Our job in this House, whether in debating Bill C-377 or in dealing with the government's attack on Canadians' privacy through Bill C-11, will be to stand every single day and use every breath to fight the government, stand with Canadian families and ensure that the government backs off.

Then, in 2015, that is it. The Conservatives are gone.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

March 13th, 2012 / 6:10 p.m.
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NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to follow my colleague from Nova Scotia, my fellow NDP caucus colleague, to express our points of view about this appalling piece of legislation, Bill C-377.

Usually when a bill is private member's business, other members of Parliament are less likely to attack it, because they understand it is the single hobby horse of a single MP who has a right to put forward his or her point of view. In this case, there is strong reason to believe that is a planned, orchestrated plant of this offensive, odious piece of legislation, using the member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale as a vehicle for the government to express its views of contempt and prejudice against the labour movement that has given us so much throughout the history of this country.

My first observation is it is too bad this document is not written on softer paper, because then we could put it in the outhouse next to the Eaton's catalogue and use it as it more properly deserves to be used.

This is a gutless piece of legislation put forward by a cowardly member. If the Conservatives are so serious about attacking labour on the left, let them put forward a piece of legislation that is a government piece of legislation and put this—

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

March 13th, 2012 / 6:15 p.m.
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NDP

Pat Martin NDP 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 ActPrivate Members' Business

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

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat NDP 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 ActPrivate Members' Business

March 13th, 2012 / 6:25 p.m.
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Conservative

Russ Hiebert Conservative 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 ActPrivate Members' Business

February 6th, 2012 / 11:05 a.m.
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Conservative

Russ Hiebert Conservative South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale, BC

moved that Bill C-377, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (requirements for labour organizations), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to speak to my Bill C-377.

Labour organizations play a valuable role in Canadian society, representing and defending the rights of workers.

Four million, three hundred thousand Canadians are currently union members, and millions more have been during their working lives.

There are thousands of Canadians in my riding of South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale, British Columbia, who pay dues to labour organizations. Because of the valuable role unions play in the lives of many Canadians, our federal tax system has provided benefits to support the work of unions. Key among those benefits are a 100% tax deductibility for the union dues that workers pay and tax exempt status for the labour organizations themselves.

I would like to put the value of the dues deductibility into perspective. The federal government forgoes $795 million in tax revenue each year for union and professional dues. The majority of this amount is claimed by union members, probably in the range of $400 million to $500 million. This is a substantial public benefit. I believe it is only right for the public to know how that money is being spent. Therefore, my bill would require the public disclosure of the finances of labour organizations.

This measure is in line with the greater transparency that we are demanding from government departments, public agencies and native reserves. It is in line with the public disclosure required of other Canadian institutions that benefit from significant public funding.

For instance, public disclosure has been required for Canadian charities since 1977. The filings of charities are easy to find on the Canada Revenue Agency website.

I have based my requirements for public disclosure for labour organizations on the long existing provisions for charities in the Income Tax Act. With the passage of the bill, the public would be empowered to gauge the effectiveness, financial integrity and health of any labour union. This is something that Canadians want. According to a Nanos poll taken on Labour Day of last year, 83% of Canadians and 86% of union members want public financial disclosure for unions.

I would like to take a couple of minutes to run through the various provisions in the bill.

Clause 1 is the heart of the bill and can be considered in three parts.

First, there are three new definitions that would give greater clarity to terms already used or proposed in the bill. They are “labour organizations”, “labour relations activities” and “labour trust”.

Second, comes the lengthiest part of the bill: the statements of income and expenditures that must be submitted annually to the Minister of Revenue by labour organizations.

I have received plenty of input concerning the statements that would best illustrate how unions use their public benefits to help their members. The list is a long one, reflecting the often complex financial character of unions and the broad range of activities they undertake as they represent and serve their members.

Among these activities may be organizing, collective bargaining, education and training, conferences, political activities and lobbying. The required statements would also include disbursements to directors and to staff. As Jim Stanford, economist for the Canadian Auto Workers, recently pointed out, these figures are already published by the CAW. I believe that this level of detailed public disclosure would increase the confidence of Canadians that the public subsidy for labour organizations is warranted.

Third, subclause 1(4) would require that the information submitted be made available to the public by the minister, including posting on the Canada Revenue Agency website.

Clause 3 would have this act come into force six months following royal assent.

Since this bill was announced last fall, it has been interesting to receive feedback from various sources including union leaders themselves. First is a comment from Lerona Lewis, president of the Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill, representing over 3,000 employees. She said her union already publicly discloses. She said, “You can go online to look to see what was spent, when it was spent, and so on”. And she says transparency is “something we believe in anyway”.

Ken Georgetti, president of the Canadian Labour Congress, sees things a little differently. He agrees with public disclosure generally, saying, “We're not opposed to transparency. We're more than happy to supply [the member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale] or anyone else with our financial statements and our balance sheets as corporations file”. However, he goes on to say that, because my bill would ask for more detail than is currently requested from other institutions, “it's not fair and it's not equal”.

Mr. Georgetti may be correct that it is time to review the public disclosure requirements for other types of institutions receiving public benefits to determine if they also need improving. The finance committee is looking at the question of increasing the level of transparency for charities. However, this private member's bill deals specifically with labour organizations which have never been subject to public disclosure, unlike charities, that have been subject to public disclosure for over 35 years.

Mr. Georgetti also raises a concern that compliance with this bill may be costly for unions. I disagree for three reasons. First, unions already file detailed financial returns with the CRA, providing much of the information that would be required by this bill. This is a point Mr. Georgetti has acknowledged. Second, this bill would not require audited statements. Therefore, filing would not impose any additional outside expense on labour organizations. Filing could generally be prepared by their own bookkeeping or financial personnel. Finally, because of bookkeeping software and electronic filing, the cost of compliance with these sorts of requirements has dropped considerably from where it might have been in generations past.

The government's document production cost will be minimal once the electronic production system, the database and the website are in place.

Members do not have to take it on faith, though. We have an independent and qualified watchdog in the form of the parliamentary budget officer, who examines private members' bills and gives feedback on their estimated costs. I believe that the PBO's analysis will confirm that this bill would not create significant costs to the government.

The comments from other Canadians are also interesting. A columnist for The Windsor Star, a strong union town, is supportive of the bill. He only regrets that it is not retroactive, as he would like to see how his union dues have been spent in the past. The communications director of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, David Climenhaga, said the following of unions:

Many publish their complete audited financial results, in spite of the fact this is not required by law, and distribute them to 100 per cent of their membership. Any member of the public, of course, may access that information. Such complete openness seems to do them no harm.

Mr. Climenhaga suggests that the same level of transparency be extended to think tanks and private corporations that benefit from tax breaks and subsidies.

Of course, usually the member introducing a private member's bill is granted the privilege of introducing and speaking to his or her bill before any other members. Unfortunately, as members will be aware, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh jumped the gun and started the debate before this allotted hour under the guise of a point of order. Despite the positive comments of various union leaders, union members and others who I have just referenced, the NDP House leader suggested last fall, in debating my earlier bill, that he was very disturbed by the idea of public accountability for labour organizations. He stated that this bill was a matter of ideology. I would ask him if the introduction of public disclosure for charities way back in 1977, 35 years ago, was a matter of ideology.

If there is an ideology, it is based on the principle that organizations that receive public benefits should be accountable to disclose how they use those benefits. Does the member believe that charities should no longer have to publicly disclose their spending? What about government departments, crown corporations or even members of Parliament? Where does the opposition to this bill logically lead? As I stated earlier, I believe that public disclosure would increase the confidence of Canadians that the several hundred million dollars in public benefits they provide to unions each year is money well spent. Does the NDP not agree that public disclosure would indeed prove this?

Further, the member complained about the additional costs he believed disclosure would cause unions to incur. As I mentioned, using tax software and electronic filing, the costs to labour organizations would be quite minimal. Filing is not a new activity for unions. Unions already file tax returns each year. Much of the information proposed to be collected under this bill is already required. The difference, of course, is that this information would be made public. However, that difference alone would create no cost for labour organizations.

The member has raised the concern that the filing requirement could be onerous for small locals of perhaps a few dozen members. That is again not so. Small locals are, by definition, small spenders and may not have spent anything in several of the categories mentioned in the bill. What can be easier than putting a zero on several pages of an electronic form? I believe that the experience of charities over the last 35 years is instructive. The process has not bogged down charities, which, unlike unions, are often run by volunteers alone. The process has not cost them significant sums of money, and the same would be true for labour organizations.

The debate on this bill is just getting under way. Some have already taken a position on it. I would encourage those who have already stated opposition to the bill to consider the following facts. The bill would not tell union leaders how to spend their money or restrict them in any way. The bill would not place a substantial burden or expense on unions. Unions are already engaged in responsible accounting. Many unions are already publicly reporting this financial information to members and others. Finally, all unions are already filing much of this information with the Canada Revenue Agency through their tax returns.

Simply put, this bill would require that information to be made public. As I said before, people want to know how unions use their public benefits.

I believe that asking for that type of transparency is legitimate. Both the public and MPs can learn more about this bill on a dedicated website I have set up. The address is www.c377.ca.

I would encourage all members of this House to consider the merits of this bill and support it going forward for further study at committee.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

February 6th, 2012 / 11:20 a.m.
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NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, in spite of the protest of innocence by the member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale, let there be no doubt at all that this is a frontal attack on the labour movement in this country. It is also an indirect but very clear attack on a number of other rights that Canadian citizens and residents have in this country: the right of association; the right, quite frankly, to privacy; and the right to freedom of speech within the right of association. The bill undermines all of those rights, if not completely doing away with them in some cases.

To stand in this House, as the member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale just has, to say this is all about accountability and transparency and not about ideology is totally false.

Let us understand the context of the bill. The Bush Republicans did the same thing in the United States. However, they did not go nearly as far as the bill before us does. I have two quotes on the ideology, strategy and tactics behind this. The first is by Newt Gingrich, one of the leading members of the ideological right in the United States, who said that requiring detailed disclosure on union advocacy activities would “weaken our opponents and encourage our allies”.

Another right-wing U.S. activist, Grover Norquist, said:

Every dollar that is spent [by labour unions] on disclosure and reporting is a dollar that can't be spent on other labour union activities.

This was designed from an ideological standpoint, and in the case of Canada, from a big business, multinational standpoint. The support behind the bill comes from that same group, and that is what is driving it. This is not about accountability and transparency. The level of hypocrisy of the government in this regard I think speaks clearly to that. This is an attack on the labour movement in this country.

The bill, to a certain degree, is modelled after the legislation at the federal level in the United States, but it goes much further. For instance, the law in the United States only covers the national unions and the national association of unions. In Canada, it would cover every single union organization, even some of the trusts they have set up around health and safety and the environment and a number of activities they carry on for which they have trust funds. It would cover every single one of those organizations, including the small union local, several of which I have in my riding and that have an executive of four or five people with no full-time staff.

The member is being disingenuous at the very best with the House when he suggests this is not much more than what unions already have to prepare by way of reporting. That is absolutely false.

I repeat, the bill in the United States does not go nearly as far as this one does. However, even in the United States the national unions found they had to assign two people to it for almost half the year to do the additional reporting the bill required.

I cannot be much clearer than this in estimating the consequences of this, just as some of the labour movement cannot be much clearer, because the bill before us would allow for more information to be required of unions by way of legislation. Of course, we have not seen those regulations and would not see them for some time. However, just in terms what is being required of unions to report, it would increase dramatically the amount of reporting they have to do.

There is another pattern that I see here. I happened to be in Russia when Putin was still the head of the government, where he had developed a strategy that required a lot of human rights groups, a lot of NGOs, to do an excessive amount of reporting. It was phenomenal. I will give the member from Surrey credit for not going quite as far as Putin did in that legislation. However, it was clearly designed to undermine the human rights groups in Russia because of the amount of material they had to report.

The bill, to some degree, is modelled after the same type of experience, which has had the effect in Russia of destroying a number of the groups. Some have gone underground because they could not do the reporting.

Therefore, we have two nice models here, that of the right-wing Republicans in the United States and that of Putin in Russia. In both cases, they are very clearly attacking those specific groups. In the U.S. it is the labour movement; in Russia it is the human rights movement and those NGOs.

The other point I want to make in terms of the context of this is that it is quite clear, including from the survey the member mentioned, that the information is available and the Canadian public and union members are not aware of it. In addition to that, according to the Fraser Institute, which analyzed the U.S. legislation, the information required was extensive and highly complex. Again, here I would point out that the bill before us would at least double the amount of information that unions in Canada will have to provide.

The Fraser Institute, in September 2006, when it looked at the legislation and its effect in the U.S., stated that due to the large amounts of information available:

It is very difficult and time-consuming for an average person to easily obtain a realistic idea of the financial performance of a union—

Thus, while the U.S. legislation does disclose a great deal, it does not do so in a way that facilitates analysis and comprehension by average, interested citizens.

When the labour movement did the analysis, what happened there, as was the intention right from the beginning, was that large corporations wanted to know about the organizing activities of the labour unions that might be trying to organize the work force or the collective bargaining process. They got the information and used it extensively. This was really private information that in the past had never been disclosed and they used it against the labour movement, quite effectively in a number of cases.

In this case, Bill C-377 goes much further in terms of organizing activities. It even requires the disclosure of expenses with regard to whom they hired as their lawyer. That part of the bill is going to get struck down by a court fairly early on; no court in this land is going to allow that part of it to stay. The bill simply does not accomplish the purpose the member talks about, because it is so complex in terms of the amount of detail that unions will have to give. That was the U.S. experience, and ours is going to be even worse if we go ahead.

However, the people who are really after this, the people supporting the bill, the large corporations and the right-wing in our country, would be able to do so because they have the resources to use this data effectively to thwart organizing drives and other campaigns that a union may take on. That is what it is designed to do. It has been a very effective mechanisms in the United States to in fact accomplish that, and it is going to be even worse here. That is what this bill is all about.

It is important to appreciate as well that the Canadian people understand that information from the current reporting is available to all union members, either by way of provincial legislation or union constitution. Again, we have a problem with the bill because it probably extends itself into provincial territory, which will probably result in part of it to be struck down as well. Seven of the ten provinces require this information to be given to union membership. Every union constitution that I am aware of also requires consolidated financial statements to be given and made available to every single member of that union.

Let me finish with one final point and that is about the costs, which I believe the member is being disingenuous about with the House. There would be a huge increase in red tape from this file. If the government in fact follows through to enforce this, the number of people it will have to hire, we estimate, is somewhere in the range of at least a hundred people. A whole new data system would also have to be developed to analyze all of the data. We are talking of tens of millions, if not into the hundred million dollar range on an annual basis, of what it is going to cost.

If the government does not follow through, the information would simply be available and the big corporations would be able to use it against unions. That is what it is all about. One way or another, it would have the effect that the member wants, which is to give his “allies”, as Newt Gingrich put it, this information to fight their enemies.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

February 6th, 2012 / 11:40 a.m.
See context

Saint Boniface Manitoba

Conservative

Shelly Glover ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I stand here before the House as a very proud 20-year union member of the Winnipeg Police Association, and I support the bill wholeheartedly because it is fair and it is transparent.

I congratulate the member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale for his work on the bill. Since being elected in 2004, that member has been a very effective MP in the House and a great representative for his constituents. He also founded the all party parliamentary border caucus and he has been an important voice on border issues.

It is clear that today's bill has been very well researched, is highly informed and has already generated widespread support. I will share of that feedback later in my speech.

I would first like to briefly summarize the bill. Bill C-377 requires labour organizations to publicly disclose their finances. They would be required to produce standard financial information that would then be posted on the Canada Revenue Agency website.

This requirement would be similar to the one that already applies to charities. Members of labour organizations and the general public would therefore be able to assess the efficacy, financial integrity and health of all unions.

I encourage all Canadians to visit www.c377.ca, the website created by the member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale in order to inform Canadians about this bill. Canadians can also download the petition, sign it and forward it to their neighbours to show their support for Bill C-377.

We all recognize that labour organizations play a key role in Canadian society by supporting workers' health and safety and ensuring that their members are appropriately compensated. However, we also acknowledge that the government provides substantial support to labour organizations through their tax-exempt status. Many have suggested that because the government provides financial support to these organizations, Canadians are entitled to accountability.

As we know, our Conservative government has been a strong supporter of great accountability. Our Conservative government introduced the Federal Accountability Act and other legislation designed to increase transparency in government agencies and crown corporations.

Bill C-377 would force labour organizations to make public certain information in order to allow their members and all Canadians to better assess the efficacy, financial integrity and health of labour organizations. In that regard, it is important to reiterate that charities that benefit from a similar tax exempt status have been required to publicly disclose this kind of information for decades.

As this bill goes through the legislative process, the Standing Committee on Finance will be able to give it a more thorough examination in order to ensure that it will achieve its objectives as effectively and efficiently as possible. To that end, the Standing Committee on Finance will hear from a number of groups with various perspectives. Many Canadians have already expressed their opinions regarding this bill.

It is important to share some of these insightful and well-informed opinions with the House and with all Canadians. Indeed, support for this bill extends well beyond partisan lines and has come from academics, labour, business, and everyday Canadians.

Even a former Liberal cabinet minister has voiced his support for Bill C-377. I want Canadians to listen to what a minister in Paul Martin's Liberal government had to say about this legislation. This is what Jean Lapierre, a former Liberal MP and cabinet minister from Quebec, had to say on the CTV news program Power Play:

Frankly, here in Quebec we have had that debate about the lack of transparency of a lot of unions. Frankly, I agree with that bill because I think now every organization has to be transparent. The unions, a lot of times, have acted like they were private clubs. And so I think everybody should go to more transparency and I think that the initiative is welcomed by the membership and also by the public at large because why would you hide your financial statements if you get all those tax credits and what have you. So no, I think it's long overdue.

This is what Louis Fortin, a certified human resources professional and associate researcher at the Montreal Economic Institute, said about this bill:

This bill will allow unionized employees to have a better understanding of the way in which the money from their union dues is managed and spent. Even though they already have the right to ask their representatives for [financial statements], union members could have easier and anonymous access to this information thanks to this new law.

Jasmin Guénette, vice-president at the Montreal Economic Institute, has also added that Bill C-377 is “good news for Quebeckers, who are 94.6% in favour of the detailed disclosure of unions' financial information, according to a recent Nanos poll”.

Niels Veldhuis and Amela Karabegovic, two economists with the Fraser Institute, from whom we will likely hear at the finance committee, have written extensively regarding the issues raised in this bill. They wrote a detailed op-ed in the National Post about this issue in the fall and offered some very interesting points. Let me quote in detail a somewhat lengthy passage from the op-ed that explains why this bill is so important for Canadian workers in particular:

The provision of publically disclosed information about the financial status of unions enables workers to assess more accurately the financial position, activities and performance of their representatives. The public disclosure of financial information allows workers and interested parties to determine the appropriateness and effectiveness of union spending. The increased transparency that comes from public disclosure is also essential for accountability and provides an incentive for union leaders to manage membership dues properly.

As I mentioned earlier, even unions have come out in favour of this bill. I am a union member, darn proud of it, and I support this bill 100%. Let me share with the House and Canadians what some of Canada's labour unions have been saying publicly about Bill C-377. For instance, this is what Lerona Lewis, president of McGill University's largest on-campus union, the Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill which represents over 3,000 members, had to say: “You can go online to look to see what was spent, when it was spent, and so on...transparency is something we believe in anyway”.

Even media commentators are in favour of this legislation. This is what Windsor Star columnist Chris Vander Doelen had to say about it:

[Bill C-377] would require unions to file all their income and expenses, with the Canada Revenue Agency posting the results online just as they do for charities. Seems fair to me, since it's my money, and since unions are currently tax free, at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars annually in forgone government income that could go to pay for, say, health care.

Of course, the member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale is counting on many Canadians to support his efforts to increase transparency and accountability. I look forward to the results of the work done by the Standing Committee on Finance on this proposal.

Once again, I am a proud union member of the Winnipeg Police Association. I support this bill because it brings fairness and transparency to this issue. Any members on that side of the House who claim to be against transparency and against fairness ought to explain why the heck they are sitting in the House of Commons. That is what the business of this House is all about, fairness and transparency for all Canadians.

Income Tax ActRoutine Proceedings

December 5th, 2011 / 3:05 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Russ Hiebert Conservative South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale, BC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-377, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (requirements for labour organizations).

Mr. Speaker, it is my privilege to introduce a bill that would amend the Income Tax Act for labour organizations.

Labour organizations play a valuable role in society, representing and defending the rights of workers to health and safety on the job and ensuring that they have proper compensation for the work they do. As a result of the valuable role that they play, our government has provided substantial benefits through the Income Tax Act to support the work of labour organizations.

This bill would amend the Income Tax Act to require the public disclosure of labour organization finances. Public disclosure will help the public better understand how the benefits that are provided are being utilized. This is in line with the increased transparency we have introduced for government departments, agencies and native reserves. It is also in line with the public disclosure required of charities and political parties, which also receive substantial public benefits through the tax system.

I want to note that public disclosure is strongly supported by the Canadian public and by union workers themselves.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)