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.