Madam Speaker, there has been a lot of talk about support for unions and so forth. I grew up in a union town, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. My dad was a union executive, and I was very proud of him, and I was a union member myself. I find it rather offensive that just because I am a Conservative and particularly a fiscal Conservative that somehow I am anti-union or we are all anti-union. We have to realize that is just a red herring.
I am pleased to rise in this House today to stand up for good hard-working Canadians, including union members, and speak against Bill C-4. I believe, as do my Conservative colleagues, that transparency and accountability are the pillars of our policies. In fact, it was our former Conservative government that created the Federal Accountability Act, and we did not stop there. As well, we created and passed legislation to ensure unions were accountable to their members and to all Canadians. Bill C-4 would threaten accountability and transparency in labour negotiations and labour relations. All Canadians should know where their money goes and be entitled to accountability.
The member for Kildonan—St. Paul told the House the legislation reflects the Liberal government's “commitment to restore a fair and balanced approach to labour relations in this country”. However, in fact this bill would remove the balance struck between big union bosses and Canadians. Bill C-4 perhaps would better reflect the uncomfortably close relationship between the Liberal government and union bosses.
I would like to review the content of both bills that would be repealed by Bill C-4.
We are looking at Bill C-525. Bill C-525 addressed the concerns the union members themselves had with the previous card check system. The card check system allows for a workplace to be unionized without allowing all employees to express their opinion. In fact, the unionization of a workplace could occur without a significant proportion of the bargaining unit having been made aware. That is just wrong. In the current system, if a certification drive were to be conducted for a bargaining unit of 100 employers and the union were able to obtain the signatures of 51 members, the bargaining unit would be certified. There is not a requirement for the remaining 49% of members to be notified that a unionization drive is even taking place or to be given the opportunity to express their opinions or opposition. That is just wrong. The card check system is susceptible to abuse wherein workers could be pressured by unions and/or their their colleagues into signing a union card. A secret ballot vote allows employees to provide an honest and accurate indication of support, free from the threat of pressure or intimidation from both unions and employers.
Now let us look at Bill C-377. It also took steps to improve transparency with union funds. Previously, labour organizations that enjoyed substantial public benefits were not required to publicly disclose their financial activity. Labour organizations operate tax free, and their members receive full income tax deductibility for their dues and payments, and receive their strike pay tax free. Dues deductibility alone costs the federal treasury in the range of half a billion dollars a year. That is a staggering amount of money. Financial transparency occurs in institutions receiving substantial public benefit. This is not a new concept. Bill C-377 addressed this gap in financial accountability, extending transparency to unions. In short, the bill required that every labour organization in Canada file a standard set of financials each year, which are posted on the CRA website, much like Canadian charities already do. It was not radical legislation.
It is a fact. Canadians, union members, stakeholders, and at least members on this side of the House, support transparency and accountability.
Let me share some of the widespread support that these bills have received.
With regard to Bill C-525, in a news release from April 2014, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business welcomed its passage, stating, “secret ballot votes are a cornerstone of our democracy..”. I think virtually anybody in Canada has to agree with that statement.
A poll commissioned by the Canadian LabourWatch Association found that 86% of unionized or formerly unionized workers supported secret ballot voting for union accreditation. Canada is the only country in the industrialized world that forces union dues upon workers.
Further, in his testimony before the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, John Mortimer, president of the Canadian LabourWatch Association, expressed support for Bill C-525, making the following points:
Since 1977, six provinces, including Nova Scotia, British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Labrador, have established laws guaranteeing secret ballots for union certification. The secret ballot is statutorily guaranteed for the majority of Canadians. This type of secret ballot has not caused unions to disappear, not even in Nova Scotia, where it has been in place since 1977. The rate of new unionizations is lower than before and reflects what informed employees are making as a private choice. That is what they want.
Sometimes employees are victims of inappropriate tactics and given wrong information to get them to sign a membership card. That is just wrong. For example, we know that some employees sign their card without knowing the true result, which is the unionization of their workplace. With regard to timelines for holding secret ballots, seven Canadian jurisdictions do not set timelines for votes.
Now, Bill C-377 also received significant support. I will highlight a few of them.
During his testimony before the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, in 2015, Aaron Wudrick, federal director, indicated that the Canadian Taxpayers Federation supported the bill for the following reasons. He said that given that unions enjoy a wide range of tax benefits and special tax treatment, it would be appropriate to require them to disclose their financial information, as is the case with charities.
It is a no-brainer. Transparency is very important because it acts as a deterrent and allows a broader class of people to uncover any transgressions.
In testimony before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance and the Standing Senate Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce, Terrance Oakey, president of Merit Canada, was in favour of Bill C-377. He said that the bill would enable Canada to catch up with other advanced economies when it comes to financial disclosure. That has to be a good thing.
The bill would not change the mandatory payment of dues by unionized workers, nor the manner in which that money is used. The bill only deals with the transparency requirements that should be imposed on labour organizations. Workers paying dues deserve to know how that money will be spent—it is the least that should happen—and Canadians have a right to know how their taxes are being used to influence public policy.
A 2011 poll by Nanos found that 86% of unionized Canadians supported greater union transparency. That is an opinion shared by 83% of the general public.
With this support, why does the Liberal government want to repeal these important pieces of legislation? I must ask the government where the fairness is for hard-working Canadians. It is just wrong-headed, and we cannot stand for this.