Madam Speaker, I have a question for the Liberal government. Since it was elected in October last year, the new Prime Minister has promised more accountability, more transparency, and more openness, yet even though he put this in the mandate letters for his ministers and in fact he said, “We have also committed to set a higher bar for openness and transparency in government”, why is it that this, one of the Liberals' first pieces of legislation, in fact, would gut transparency and accountability that was created by legislation that we, as the Conservative government, brought in?
Repealing Bill C-377 and Bill C-525 sends a very clear message: The Liberals care more about thanking union bosses who helped them get elected than they care about the hard-working union members. These union members are the ones whose dues were spent without consultation. Union leaders need to be held accountable, and they need to tell their members and the public how their tax-advantaged income is spent.
Our Conservative government was a strong supporter of accountability. Our Conservative government introduced the Federal Accountability Act and other legislation designed to increase transparency in government agencies and crown corporations. Bill C-377 was simply about transparency requirements that fall upon entities that enjoy public trust and will allow Canada to catch up with other advanced economies when it comes to financial disclosure.
It is important to note that the union funding model itself delivers over $4.5 billion annually to labour organizations in Canada. If individuals work in a unionized workplace, they are required by law to pay dues. If they refuse, they are fired. This financial power alone should be reason enough to require enhanced transparency, and I will say a little more about that shortly.
The workers are forced to make these contributions, including those in my riding of Haldimand—Norfolk. They deserve to know how their money is being spent, as do members of the general public who subsidize this revenue through the tax system.
It should come as no surprise that a Nanos poll found that 86% of unionized Canadians support greater transparency for labour organizations, and a 2013 Leger survey said that 83% of all working Canadians want our union leaders to follow the example set by other nations' union leaders who joined with government to achieve public disclosure. Many of Canada's labour unions publicly supported Bill C-377. This is what Marc Roumy, a member of the Canadian Union of Public Employees had to say:
...many of my colleagues and [I] 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 they should be able to get detailed financial statements, which they have fought for, for years.
If we are looking for support for these measures, look no further than the former head of the AFL-CIO, which is the largest labour organization in the United States. George Meany, who testified at the U.S. Senate union disclosure hearings said:
All of these [transparency] bills are based on...the goldfish bowl theory, the concept that reporting and public disclosure of union finances...will either eliminate or tend to discourage the abuses.... The AFL-CIO firmly believes this theory to be sound.
Even a former Liberal cabinet minister, Jean Lapierre, voiced his support for Bill C-377, stating:
Frankly, I agree with that bill because I think now every organization has to be transparent. The unions, a lot of times, have acted like they were private clubs. And so I think everybody should go to more transparency and I think that the initiative is welcomed by the membership and also by the public at large because why would you hide your financial statements if you get all those tax credits and what have you? So no, I think it's long overdue.
Canadian labour organizations receive over $400 million every year in tax benefits. The union dues are tax deductible and all revenues are tax exempt. These tax-exempt funds, drawn from mandatory dues, are funnelled into a wide range of causes, many of which have nothing to do with the collective bargaining process.
Canadians have a right to know how their tax dollars are being used to influence public policy, since, unlike charities, no constraints are put on the political activities of labour organizations. Sadly, unions are able to force employees to pay for the funding of political parties and lobbying activities they do not even support. For example, the president of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada stated after the vote to merge his union with the CAW, “Can you imagine what it will mean to the CEP, the CAW when we’re the first unionized party that governs a country?”
I think Canadians deserve to know how the so-called super-unions plan to use the hundreds of millions of dollars at their disposal to achieve that end.
Labour organizations, quite frankly, enjoy a more privileged position in our society and economy than any other entity, yet they have no public reporting requirements, unlike charities; publicly traded companies; federal, provincial, and municipal governments; government agencies; boards; crown corporations; first nation bands; foundations; political parties; and MP, senator, and MLA offices.
Bill C-4 also sets out to repeal Bill C-525, which was passed by our Conservative government. Bill C-525 required the holding of a secret ballot for the creation and abolition of trade unions. According to four surveys by Labour Watch, support for secret ballots ranged from 86% to 92% among currently unionized Canadians.
The proposed abolishment of a secret ballot is an attack on the democratic process. All members of Parliament are elected by secret ballot, so why take this away from unionized workers? How can the Prime Minister say this is undemocratic when he and his entire caucus were elected by secret ballot?
The sad reality for many union members is that professional union organizers exert unacceptable pressure on employees, give false information, and will even resort to fraudulently signing cards on behalf of employees in order to get signed cards. Only secret ballot votes can counter such tactics. How can the Liberal government argue that this is what the majority of union workers want?
John Farrell, executive director of the Federally Regulated Employers, Transportation and Communications, told the Senate that “A secret ballot vote is the essence of a true democratic choice and is entirely consistent with Canadian democratic principles.”
What is the problem? What is the issue? The Liberals want to be legitimized, so why are they taking this away? Without any credible rationale, or really any legitimate discussion with union members, the Liberal government is gutting two significant pieces of legislation that were a victory for union members.
Perhaps the motive for Bill C-4 is quite simple. This is an opportunity to repay the union leadership that helped get the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, an NDP MLA in Manitoba, elected.
Bill C-4 goes against the principles of transparency and accountability. It goes against the fundamental principle of democracy: the secret ballot. It goes against the wishes of hard-working union members themselves. This is why I will be joining my Conservative colleagues in voting against Bill C-4.