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Bill C-377 is an assault on unions

October 22, 2012

Bill C-377 is an assault on unions

By Steven Schumann | Oct 22, 2012 4:54 am | 2 Comments

Steven Schumann is the Canadian Government Affairs Director for the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE). The IUOE is “a progressive and diversified trade union representing approximately 50,000 members primarily in the heavy construction sector”.

Over the past few months, several articles have been written calling on the government to pass a Private Members’ Bill (Bill C-377) which requires only unions to disclose all their financial transactions over $5000. Recently Terrance Oakey, President MERIT Canada, wrote that union “bosses vehemently oppose this legislation and will spare no expense in trying to defeat the Bill (iPolitics, October 18, 2012).”

Unions vehemently oppose this legislation because they understand and know the true motives behind it. If Canadians actually knew what was driving organizations like MERIT Canada to have this legislation passed and knew the actual cost of implanting and maintaining this legislation, Canadians would also oppose it. Mr. Oakey and others hide behind the argument that unions need to be more transparent. Supporters of Bill C-337 also fail to mention that this legislation only goes after unions and not other organizations covered under the same section of the Income Tax Act.

Every union supports honest and true transparency. In fact, union financial records are available to all their members and many union constitutions require strict financial reporting requirements. In 8 of 10 provinces, unions already adhere to provincial legislation and must provide financial records to provincial governments who have the power to scrutinize those financial records.
Yes, unions are lobbying Members of Parliament to defeat this unfair, harmful, and discriminatory legislation aimed solely at unions.

The purpose of this legislation is not to make unions more accountable but rather an effort to open the financial records of unions to those who oppose unions and their efforts to protect their members. Organizations who compete with unions, like MERIT, want this information to gain unfair advantages when they deal with contractors and use other information obtained in these records against unions. Terrance Oakey fails to mention his organization is spending money hand over fist to promote this legislation by running nation-wide television commercials and newspaper advertisements. How much money has MERIT Canada spent on their efforts to support the legislation; whose money are they spending on their campaign; who are they accountable to? Where is their transparency?

The Canadian Bar Association has written a letter to the chair of the Finance Committee expressing their concerns regarding this bill; they state it is unclear what issue or perceived problem the bill is intended to address…the bill lacks an appropriate balance between legitimate public goals and respect for privacy of interests protected by law. There are no legitimate reasons for his legislation.

Bill C-377 imposes significantly onerous and costly obligations on labour organizations. The bill requests that information must be filed on every transaction over $5,000 but only for unions. Supporters of Bill C-377 argue since union dues are tax deductible, unions receive some sort of advantage and therefore their information should be made public. Actually, the Income Tax Act (which addresses this issue) allows any taxpaying Canadian citizen who is a member of a professional organization such as medical associations, bar associations and professional engineers’ societies to deduct their professional fees (dues) as well but yet none of these organizations are targeted in this legislation.

This legislation only requires unions to report their information on salaries, death benefits, pension contributions and contracts with third-parties like maintenance services. Why would the government or any person need to know this information unless you are looking for information to weaken the rights of unions, their members, and their member’s families. In those other jurisdictions that have similar and far less rigorous legislation the information is seldom used by either union members or the public but rather by those who use the information to undermine unions.

Unions are member-based organizations. Local unions have frequent meetings where all members are entitled to attend where they can make their Executive accountable for their decisions and answer questions on how they spend their members’ money. And these executive members must stand for election/re-election. If the membership is unhappy with the decisions of their executive, they can vote their executive out of office. It is their democratic right. Does MERIT Canada have that much accountability?

Unions in Canada have been and will always be very transparent and very accountable to their membership. This legislation has nothing to do with transparency but rather is an attempt by anti-union groups, like MERIT Canada, to weaken and hinder the union movement in Canada.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by all iPolitics columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of iPolitics.

Retrieved from on Monday, October 22, 2012 from <>.


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