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Evidence of meeting #2 for Subcommittee on Private Members' Business in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was senate.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Michel Bédard  Committee Researcher

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

I feel like calling a point of order. It would be nice to get back to the actual substance of this bill, when you're done with the structure of the Taxpayers Federation.

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Fair enough. I appreciate that, Mr. Reid.

We are creating provisions for an organization with a constitution that falls under the auspices of many federal and provincial laws as it is. There are already criteria for them to be responsible to their membership; it is a form of responsible government in fact.

The criteria being proposed here are quite onerous and, frankly, I think these would be very, very detrimental to the ability of unions to fulfill their obligations.

As far as freedom of association is concerned, I think we have to make that freedom of association vital. If an organization is constantly having to report back the minutiae of its daily activities, I don't see how that in any way is in the public interest. It certainly isn't in the interest of the union as a judicial entity. Again, they already have reporting mechanisms. It's a democratic institution. Members are free to ask questions of their leadership at any given time, and disclosure is already done.

What we're talking about is creating public disclosure for all Canadians to see, and frankly there are even accounting principles of the House of Commons that aren't that publicly disclosed. I don't see why we would benefit from a certain degree of interpretation of accounting rules whereas unions would not.

I think it's putting a very heavy burden on associations, which, quite frankly, I think violates their constitutional right to exist. If we have a union that has that level of burden, I'm not sure that people would even want to join it. This would put in doubt a union's ability to gain membership. The provisions being proposed here are so onerous that, personally, I would think twice about becoming a union member, and I think a lot of people would agree.

Again, we are attacking the very foundation of a constitutional right to freedom of association. I think this bill takes that a step too far. We've had decisions in the past where the courts have ruled regarding the importance of the unions having the right to exist. In one particular ruling, Berry v. Pulley, one of the questions that came out of it was the loss of control of the union over its ability to represent its members.

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Excuse me, this was in the Supreme Court, was it?

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

This was Chris Pulley. It's a B.C. Supreme Court ruling.

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Was that subsequently appealed?

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Not to my knowledge.

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

What date was this, if you don't mind my asking?

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

This was 1975. I can give you the reference.

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

It was 1975, so it's not a charter case.

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

It's not a charter case, but the ruling is still indicative and useful for the debate. We have a question of whether a loss of control over internal affairs would undermine the ability of a union to present a united front to employers and pursue the collective interests of their members.

I think this would undermine the ability of the union to represent its members, because we'd be divulging internal information to the very people they're supposed to be protecting their members from.

I don't agree with this bill, and if we go back to the criteria, I think it's a clear violation of freedom of association.

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

Are there other comments?

Mr. Reid.

December 8th, 2011 / 12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

I haven't had a chance to look at that particular case. In fact, I hadn't heard of it before, although I'd be happy to read it.

The relevant part of the charter being referred to—and this is the only constitutional argument, I think, Mr. Toone is making—is section 2 of the Charter of Rights: “Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms...”. It goes through a series of them, and then gets to paragraph 2(d) and the freedom of association. That's the constitutional issue we're discussing here.

I gather the objection is that the law, to be within the Constitution, and not to be interpreted [Inaudible--Editor], that is, broadly the protections that it offers, and that if they were merely technically...but not in spirit, you'd have an unconstitutional matter. Would that be a fair assessment of the general thrust of what you're getting at?

Yes, okay.

That's a good way to interpret the law. However, I think this does not conform with that, for a variety of reasons. I confess that, not having had the chance to review this in detail, I am working merely from what I can pull out of my head at the moment. I've just observed, with regard to the disclosure required here, that this does not strike me as being is in excess—indeed, it's substantially less, I would think—of the kind of disclosure one has to provide to the Canada Revenue Agency. The actual compliance costs or the actual costs imposed on the organization would not be novel, new, or excessive, as compared to requirements that already exist, so that unions can carry out their activities as outlined under our country's tax laws. They have a certain status, they have to report, they have to make sure they're not taking all their money and devoting it to excessive salaries. If they run a pension system, they have to make sure they're conforming with the rules that govern that pension system, and so on.

These are detailed reporting requirements. What's required here, it seems to me, is less onerous than that. On that basis, I would reject the argument that the compliance costs here are such as to endanger the operation of unions in Canada. That's the first argument that was presented.

The second argument presented was that the disclosure of internal information to a company with which you are negotiating would reduce the negotiating clout of the union. I've only been involved in union negotiations on one occasion, when I was one of the negotiators with the steelworkers. I am mystified as to how the steelworkers would have been at a disadvantage in dealing with the organization. One of their locals negotiating with a company had to disclose the information laid out here, which is about how the steelworkers operate, not about the budget that had been used for the actual negotiations. This certainly doesn't require them to reveal their negotiating strategies, what their plans are, and those internal discussions.

In fact, it seems to me that it's very much like the kind of information that a publicly traded company has to disclose in order to comply with securities regulations, which are far more onerous and time-consuming than these would be. Nobody thinks that a publicly traded company is therefore unable to function or negotiate effectively with its trade unions, and therefore that trade unions and collective bargaining ought to be restricted to privately held companies. We make no such restriction.

I personally don't think either of those two arguments have much weight. I could provide further information, if I had more time to research it and to dig up the reference cited by Mr. Toone. The essential point here is that these are really such insubstantial arguments they can be disregarded.

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

Mr. Dion.

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

May I ask Philip to repeat all that for us, without reading his notes or anything? What is the basic reason this committee should block this bill?

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

Mr. Toone.

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Yes, of course.

Before responding, I would like to highlight what Mr. Reid brought to our attention. We didn't have a lot of time to discuss and analyze this bill. We were really down to the wire. I would like to come back to that. What should our time frame be to debate a bill and determine whether it is constitutional? I had barely 24 hours to think about it, and I don't think that's enough. I know that it's an exceptional situation, that there was the decision of the Speaker of the House of Commons and all that. But we didn't have time to really think properly. Having said that, I would like to come back to this a little later, Mr. Chair. So we could talk about the time frames we expect when a bill is presented to us.

To come back to Mr. Dion's question, the freedom of association is constitutional and fundamental in Canada. Unions must have the right to benefit from all the opportunities to properly represent their members. It's the law of trusts, in the end. It's as if they were trustees. Their responsibilities are extremely heavy. But they must do everything they can to properly represent their members, the same way as members must do everything they can to represent the constituents in their ridings. We cannot keep them from doing that.

I would say that it's the same as tackling the law of privilege. Of course, the law of privilege isn't the same thing; it concerns elected members. All the same, the unions must represent their members, which is even recognized in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I don't want to encroach on that freedom, and I also don't want to encroach on those responsibilities. It's a basic freedom.

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

What's wrong with the bill from this perspective?

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

There are a number of requirements that are so heavy that I cannot see how the unions could really represent their members properly. We have heard that the bill did not make government accountability to the public overly burdensome. We have heard that it didn't harm the representations, the negotiations between unions and management.

For instance, though, unions will have to declare the state of their disbursements relating to staff relations activities. It's a heavy burden, which could enable management to be aware of something that the unions would not have access to from the other side. It's a burden that would be carried by only one party.

I'll give you another example. There's the state of disbursements relating to the payment of overhead. It's so vague we would be able to accuse unions of infractions for all kinds of reasons. But, once again, management's burden in this respect isn't as heavy.

The state of disbursements relating to the organization or activities, what's that? It's very heavy. What we're asking the unions is exceptionally heavy, while what we're asking management, even if the corporations are publicly listed, is not an equal burden. The freedom of association is [Editor's note: inaudible].

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

I apologize, but on a point or order, I'd just like to find out which sections you're referring to.

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

I can specify exactly. Now we're looking at subparagraphs 149.01(3)(b)(ix), and 149.01(3)(b)(xvi).

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

I apologize for interrupting.

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

Mr. Dion, is this a point of order?

Mr. Toone, are you through with your intervention?

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

I have one more point.

The personal liability issue of the fiduciary responsibility has to be looked at very attentively as well. The simple ability to recruit members and obtain certification is put in doubt because of the onerous criteria involved here. The ability to bargain collectively is certainly put into doubt.

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

We're wandering into some areas that could be debated when the bill comes forward.

Mr. Dion.

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

I agree with that, Mr. Speaker. I think these are valid preoccupations, but they are a matter of interpretation. On your own part, you are using words like “one may think”, “one may consider”, or “one may not consider”. I think our colleagues will have an opportunity to look at this very carefully, and your points will be discussed in the House and in committee.