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.