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.