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.