House of Commons 2nd debate Bill C-377

House of Commons – March 13, 2013



[Private Members' Business]

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Income Tax Act  


The House resumed from February 6, consideration of the motion that Bill C-377, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (requirements for labour organizations), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

[Table of Contents] 

Mr. Rodger Cuzner (Cape Breton—Canso, Lib.):  

Mr. Speaker, I rise to address Bill C-377 on behalf of the Liberal Party and put on record some concerns around the bill. It is apropos that the bill has come forward today, as the Conservative government is bringing forward back to work legislation. Most Canadians will see this as just another brick on the load, another attempt to handcuff organized labour in this country. I see that in this piece of legislation.


The Liberal Party of Canada understands the importance and is supportive of measures that lend themselves to openness, transparency and accountability. We can look at the other type of organization in this country that is governed under a set of rules similar to that being put forward in this piece of legislation: charities. Charities are asked to post their financial statements for public view. We know it was a Liberal government that brought that forward in 1977. The legislation has served fairly well. But when we compare the provisions around charities in comparison to what would be asked now of organized labour, the provisions in this bill go far beyond what is expected of charities.


One thing that we can agree on in discussion of the bill is that this piece of legislation would be truly burdensome on organized labour and unions. It begs a great number of questions. If the intent of my colleague who put this forward is to try to ensure accountability and transparency in organizations that receive a tax benefit through the Income Tax Act, a question has to be asked. Why in drafting the bill did he not include professional organizations? Between organized unions and professional organizations, there is about $800 million in tax benefits. Professional organizations actually garner a greater share of that $800 million than do unions. If we are looking for accountability, we should ask for accountability for all those groups that benefit under section 149 of the Income Tax Act. The tax exemption is allotted for charities, professional organizations and unions.


We know that the burden would be placed on accounting for every expenditure over $5,000 not just on the current accounts, but on trust accounts of unions and union locals. We would end up with pensioners making small amounts of money and drawing small pensions from those trust funds. They would have to post the amounts being drawn from the trusts, creating concerns around privacy. 




For anyone who does business with a union, those accounts would be posted. The small contractor who does maintenance and janitorial work at the local union hall would have to post what he draws from the union for services rendered. The next time they called for janitorial services, his competition would see what he is making. It will not be fair.


A number of concerns arise. The most egregious, and this brings us back to the discussion and debate we are having today on the back to work legislation, is how it would tip the field in disfavour of organized labour by making it necessary to bare all accounts.


If a company and a union local are in the midst of contract negotiations which are coming to a head, there is potential for a strike. The union then looks at what fiscal shape it is in. It has full access to the books and understands how long it could sustain any kind of a strike benefit. It goes forward to find a fair resolve through the open and fair bargaining process. However, knowing what is in the books and accounts of that union would be of particular benefit to the company. We do not believe that we can support any legislation that contains a measure which would give an unfair advantage to one group over another. 


A number of different aspects of the bill are of concern. Certainly, we fully support the provisions with respect to openness and accountability.


There was an accountability bill brought forward in the last Parliament by our former colleague Albina Guarnieri. There were a number of issues surrounding the amount of salaries of some heads of charities at the time. The bill required that any salaries over $100,000 being drawn from a charity had to be posted and made public. Of course that bill died on the order paper with the coming of the last election.


Professional associations are much like unions. Members of associations receive a similar tax exemption to members of unions. We know that it is a requirement in most professional organizations. If people want to practice in a particular profession, then they have to become a member of that professional organization. There is a mandatory aspect to it. Therefore, it escapes me why professional organizations have not been included in the drafting of the bill to make it fair for all parties.


In closing, we support accountability and transparency. Over the years we have shown that we believe in those aspects. Many of the provisions for organized labour and charities are now in place. Had the member come forward with a bill that did not focus only on organized labour, but looked at professional organizations and professional associations as well and was even across the board, then we would be supportive of it. However, the way the bill is written now, we will not be able to stand and support it when the time comes to vote.






[Table of Contents] 

Mr. Claude Patry (Jonquière—Alma, NDP):  

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-377. I myself am a former union president and vice-president. The way a union works is that members are consulted at the general meeting once a year. In my union, we managed the collective agreement and prescription drug insurance for blue-collar and white-collar workers. 


 Can we imagine the impact this bill will have when it is enacted? Unions are being asked to disclose their labour relations activities, to report what they do and how they finance their activities, to disclose their political activities, their collective bargaining activities, and information about conventions, education and training activities, legal activities and recruiting activities. Essentially, unions are being asked to drop their pants in front of everybody. They have to show their figures. 


 How can unions develop a strategy? How can they bargain with an employer when the employer knows everything about their figures, like the strike fund, the operating fund and the staff? This is unacceptable.


 When I was president of a union in Arvida, we had prescription drug insurance for blue-collar and white-collar workers. There is strategy involved in relation to the drugs and the administrative costs. There are a lot of companies that would have liked to have access to that information about prescription drugs. This bill makes no sense because it is truly an attack on unions. 


 Why have the Conservatives not tried to require the same of companies? Let them do it for the banks and the multinationals. Let them do it for small businesses. That way there will be a level playing field for bargaining. They are not doing it because the companies will rise up and say that these are their strategies and their prices, there are competition issues, and they cannot agree to that. That is also the case for unions. They are the only organizations that working people have for organizing and defending themselves against employers and against multinational companies. 


 In Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, we currently have a lockout at Rio Tinto Alcan; the employees have been locked out since December 31. These people would like us to drop our pants and put all our files on the table. The money invested in health and safety involves cases that are going to be argued. They are legal files. The member is asking that this be put on a website. That makes no sense. This bill makes no sense.


 Honestly, I have been here since May 2 and all I have seen on the other side of the House is contempt for unions. There was Canada Post and Air Canada. We are talking about Air Canada again today. People are still being bullied. Whose interests will this bill serve? It will not serve the interests of unions and working people. It will serve the interests of the multinational companies and corporations, and not the unions that stand up for working people. 


 Currently, the unions make their figures public annually following their general meetings. I was a union president and that is what I did every year for six years. There were figures for the purchase of office equipment and employees’ wages. Everything was included. I do not see why it would be placed on a website. Recruitment is very important and strategic, so why should the unions have to include this information in documents that everyone has access to?


 If the Conservatives want to be transparent, as they say they do, then they should also be transparent with their employers.


 Transparency is important. How can a union negotiate if the employer knows all about its strike fund and is aware of how much was spent on legal fees, and on the collective agreement? Bargaining takes place for collective agreements that last three or four years. It is customary in negotiations to attempt to improve the provisions of a collective agreement.


 Bill C-377 forces the unions to show their hand. In my opinion, it is like asking the unions to drop their pants in front of everybody. That is what it amounts to, in union jargon.


 I would also like to talk about the cost of implementing this initiative. Bill C-377 will be a bureaucratic monster. We saw this in the case of firearms. We were told that everything would be electronic and run smoothly. The firearms registry cost Canadians $1 billion. How much will it cost for the implementation and enforcement of this legislation?


 This bill amounts to a double standard. It does not make sense. The unions are being asked to drop their pants and show everything, to speak plainly.




 The following things are explained to workers at general meetings: what was spent throughout the year, how much the heating, building and insurance policies cost. Why put this information on the website? Union reorganization and recruitment are confidential. If a new union were created and new members sought, all of this information would have to be displayed on a website for all to see. That does not make sense. As a former union president, I cannot tolerate that kind of practice. If the government wants the NDP to vote for this, it should ask the same thing of employers and everyone else.


 Earlier we spoke of the cost of the registry. It is going to cost some money. There are 12,000 unions across Canada, which is not easy to manage. How will the small unions with just a hundred or so members and one or two employees handle the extra work, carry out analyses, produce documents and send the required information to the government? If the unions are not up to date, they will pay fines while certain companies enjoy insurance premium and tax holidays. That does not make sense, and we do not agree with it.


 Some say that the NDP is always negative, but we want equality and justice for everyone. The government makes cutbacks to programs claiming that they are too expensive, and then creates a new bureaucracy. It takes away public servants from one place and adds them to another. I have not been in politics for very long, and I have trouble understanding that. Someone will have to explain it to me.


As I just said, it is a double standard. With this bill, the workers will once again have to pick up the tab. Once again, the people will have to pay the public servants responsible for all this. It does not make any sense. It is disrespectful to the union. Since I have been a member of Parliament, all I hear is how the NDP is on the side of the unions. The NDP is on the side of logical people, so that no one suffers. We are here to help people. Regardless of what party we belong to, we all do good and bad things, but we have to at least stand up for the interests of Canadians. However, that is not what the government is doing. It is dividing the people. It is telling the little people to do what they are told, to pay up and shut up. That is not what we want in Canada. It is a strange coincidence that today's debate is about Air Canada, the strategy and other things. 


What will be done with the information that is disclosed to the public? In summary, it will be costly, unfair and discriminatory. The Conservatives must redo their homework. Such a thing cannot be asked of small, medium or large unions. Some unions cannot even meet the requirements because they have only one or two employees.


In a large union, such as the one for which I worked, there are employees or an accountant who can do that work. We must think about all the bureaucracy and the logistics that will result from this bill. I do not understand how the House can say that cuts must be made. The government is purchasing airplanes and building megaprisons. It is laying off Service Canada employees and cutting services, but adding others to monitor the unions. What is this called? I will let the hon. members guess.


It is unacceptable that this is being done to workers. Unions are the only way that workers can organize and stand up for themselves.


We will vote against this bill because it does not make any sense. If the government wants us to vote in favour of this bill, it must pull up its socks and ensure that it applies to small and medium businesses, multinational corporations and banks. Only then we will approve this bill, not before.






[Table of Contents] 

Ms. Chris Charlton (Hamilton Mountain, NDP):  

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.


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Mr. Robert Chisholm (Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NDP):  

Mr. Speaker, we have heard a couple of great speeches from my colleagues. I too am going to lend a few words to debate on this bill.


 I have seen a lot of nonsense from the government, but I cannot believe why we are dealing with Bill C-377. It targets one group in our society and singles it out for unfair, onerous, burdensome treatment with no apparent reason other to make mischief, attack unions and drive them out of our communities. I do not understand.


I do not know where the sponsor of this bill comes from or if he remembers the history of his community, but I want to ask him and other members opposite to think about the freedoms that we cherish in our community and our country and to consider for a moment their history. I want to ask him as well to consider the role that working people have played in the establishment of those freedoms and of those important programs, and the work they have done to build our roads and public buildings and to ensure that we have goods and services in order to have a high standard of living. Health care, health and safety laws, workers compensation, unemployment insurance, pensions and all of the other things that have made our communities as strong as they are today have resulted from the struggles of working people and their organizations, trade unions. They do not deserve this kind of attack.


It has been said by my colleagues that this bill does not deal with other like organizations that are similar in structure, such as professional associations or law societies. It does not touch the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, for example. It does not deal with other organizations in the same way that it attempts to single out trade unions.


 As has been stated by my colleagues, I have often said that trade unions are one of the most democratic organizations we have in society. The revenues and resources that unions have to deal with are as a result of dues and contributions by members, from the pay they receive for doing their work. How that money is spent is determined by those very same workers.


 If members have any question about how these unions deal and make those decisions and hold themselves accountable, I would like to take them out to a general membership meeting. I would like them to come to any one of the annual conventions held by the trade unions in this country and see the scrutiny that the financial statements of those unions receive from their members. Members would recognize that there is far more scrutiny and transparency regarding the financial statements of trade unions than there is in corporations in this country.


 We have never had any explanation from the government opposite for what has happened to the tens of billions of dollars that profitable corporations have received from Canadian taxpayers. Supposedly it was meant to create jobs, but since January, for example, when these corporations recognized an additional $3 billion, what we have seen in this country is a further deterioration in the number of jobs.




My point is that when it comes to accountability, trade unions are one of the most accountable organizations that we have in our society.


We also hear members opposite talk about the “big union bosses” as though they are a big entity and similar to one of the big banks that make tens of billions of dollars in profit every year.


Let me tell members that the largest union in this country is the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which has over 600,000 members. However, that union is made up of nearly 3,000 small locals. Those locals may consist of two people, five people, ten people. There may be upwards of 10,000 in some of them, but the majority of them are tens or hundreds of members.


Every single month, one of those union locals holds a general membership meeting. Whoever the fortunate or unfortunate person is, depending upon one's perspective, who has taken the secretary-treasurer role has to stand in front of the members and account for how those dues are being spent. 


Let me tell members that there is not a treasurer I know of in a trade union who gets off lucky. They have to be able to account for every single penny, because working women and men know what it is like to be frugal, they know what it is like to be accountable, and they want to know how their money is being spent.


In fact, that is what drives me and that is what drives many members on this side: the concerns that working women and men in this country have about how the government is spending its resources.


Why would we not expect the government to be attacking unions through a bill like this? It attacks working people. We see now that we are dealing with back to work legislation for a dispute that has not even started. We have seen it with the postal workers and we have seen it with Air Canada ealier. We have seen that whenever the government has had an opportunity to put the boots to working people, it has taken that opportunity.


Senior citizens, whether they are seniors now or whether they will be seniors in the future, are going to be asked to shoulder a greater burden by having the age of eligibility for OAS extended from 65 to 67 years old. That is going to be a burden for low-income senior citizens. That is an attack by the current government on seniors.


It is the same with veterans. We talked in this House about how the government is attacking veterans and slashing the budget of Veterans Affairs. 


Ninety per cent of the budget of Veterans Affairs goes to programs and services; the government is going to cut upwards of 10% out of that budget, and it says that it is not going to affect services to veterans and their families and to RCMP members, people who have sacrificed themselves and continue to sacrifice themselves for this country.


It is the same with voters. The government is attacking voters. We see every day a new revelation of what the Conservative government has done in terms of trying to suppress the rights of Canadians to vote for the people they want to vote for. That is another group that has been under attack.




The military post living differential is another example. The post living differential has been brought up to me by people in my constituency, who have said that the government is intending to cut the living allowance that compensates military families that have to move to different parts of the country or to other countries. It is going to cut it in half. That is another group that the government has its sights on.


Let me tell members that Canadians are getting sick and tired of the government picking out a group of people and deciding that it is next. They are wondering where the government is going to stop.


Our job in this House, whether in debating Bill C-377 or in dealing with the government's attack on Canadians' privacy through Bill C-11, will be to stand every single day and use every breath to fight the government, stand with Canadian families and ensure that the government backs off. 


Then, in 2015, that is it. The Conservatives are gone. 




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Mr. Pat Martin (Winnipeg Centre, NDP):  

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to follow my colleague from Nova Scotia, my fellow NDP caucus colleague, to express our points of view about this appalling piece of legislation, Bill C-377. 


Usually when a bill is private member's business, other members of Parliament are less likely to attack it, because they understand it is the single hobby horse of a single MP who has a right to put forward his or her point of view. In this case, there is strong reason to believe that is a planned, orchestrated plant of this offensive, odious piece of legislation, using the member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale as a vehicle for the government to express its views of contempt and prejudice against the labour movement that has given us so much throughout the history of this country.


My first observation is it is too bad this document is not written on softer paper, because then we could put it in the outhouse next to the Eaton's catalogue and use it as it more properly deserves to be used. 


This is a gutless piece of legislation put forward by a cowardly member. If the Conservatives are so serious about attacking labour on the left, let them put forward a piece of legislation that is a government piece of legislation and put this—


Some hon. members: Oh, oh!


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The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bruce Stanton):  

Order. The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development is rising on a point of order.


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Mr. Greg Rickford:  

Mr. Speaker, I would respectfully ask my colleague and fellow parliamentarian to exercise some restraint, notwithstanding our enthusiasm for the issue, and to specifically avoid calling members “cowardly” members. That is out of line and not consistent with the spirit and theme of the rules as they are laid out. It was very clear what he said.


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The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bruce Stanton):  

I thank the hon. parliamentary secretary for his intervention. 


Members will take note of Standing Order 18, which refers to unparliamentary language and, in particular, the way in which it is imputed in the House. I would say that in this particular case the reference to a specific hon. member in that way would certainly be in the category of disrespectful. I would encourage the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre to consider withdrawing that remark and to perhaps stay away from that particular narrative.


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Mr. Pat Martin:  

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I have almost made it through the whole shift and I have not apologized to anyone yet today, so I would rather not start now. However, I will suggest that it is perhaps this piece of legislation that I find gutless and cowardly and not the member who put it forward. 


I am offended by this piece of legislation, personally. I used to be the head of the carpenters union in my home province of Manitoba, and the carpenters union in my industry is the only friend a worker has. The only friend a carpenter has is the union that is looking after his fair wages, his pension plan, his health and safety, his apprenticeship and his training. I started my carpenter apprenticeship indentured to the carpenters union because I could not find a private employer who would sign my apprenticeship documents, and that was the vehicle by which I got my post-secondary education, which is my journeyman carpenter's papers. 


I started my career in the asbestos mines, as a labourer. I was 17 years old. Believe me, there was no friend in that mine except for the union too, because we were the ones going to the company and saying “Isn't it true that asbestos is bad for you?” They said, “No, get back to work; this is Canadian asbestos; this is benign asbestos; this asbestos won't kill you”. The only friend a working person has, frankly, is the union.


Let me take this opportunity to use this completely meritless piece of legislation to celebrate some of the contributions the labour movement has in fact made and explain why this war on labour on the left that the neo-conservative right wing zealots and reactionaries are so intent on pursuing is in fact folly economically. There is no business case for smashing the labour movement. 


I challenge members to look south to the United States. The United States' greatest strength and greatest asset was a consuming middle class that received fair wages that could feed and sustain a family, which led to consumerism and led to the greatest economic powerhouse the world has ever known. Somehow, in their wisdom, the neo-conservatives during Reaganomics decided they should smash the labour movement. By cowardly, gutless legislation like this, they systematically, by legislation, dropped the unionization rate in the United States from 33% down to 6%. With that went fair wages. With that went the right to organize, the right to free collective bargaining, pension plans and health and welfare benefits. All these things are just a pipe dream now. The American dream is over. If we were to talk to working people in the United States, those lucky enough to have a job, we would find they are earning $8 or $9 an hour with no benefits. In whose best interest is that? 


In the short time I have, let me give one illustration of how far we have come and how far we have fallen. This year will be the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire. In New York City, in 1912, 700 women were working in a sweatshop in the Triangle Shirtwaist factory. A fire started and hundreds of women were killed. That was the impetus of the workplace safety and health movement that led to the cleaning up of workplaces all across the United States, and by extension, all across North America. It was the birth of the trade union movement in the garment industry.


I had 43 garment manufacturers in my riding. I know full well the contribution that UNITE and those unions have made to the safety of those workers. That was a hundred years ago. Then we got cleaned up. We had health and safety provisions, clean workplaces and fewer accidents. Then Reaganomics came along and smashed the labour movement.


In 1995, in Durham, North Carolina, there was a chicken processing plant, non-union of course, with mostly black women working in there. The assembly line would go so fast that, with the number of cuts they made per minute, often they would not even know they had cut themselves until they saw the blood on the floor. A fire started. They had locked the doors from the outside because the women were taking home giblets and pieces of neck and wing tips to make soup with, to supplement the crappy minimum wage they were getting. What happened? They had bolted the door shut from the outside so the women could not steal the goddamn byproducts of the chickens. And what happens? Another fire—


Some hon. members: Oh, oh!




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The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bruce Stanton):  

Order, please. 


The hon. member for Winnipeg Centre will know that particular coarse language is also in the category of unparliamentary. I would insist he not make use of profanity and encourage the hon. member to consider withdrawing the remark, if he could. 


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Mr. Pat Martin (Winnipeg Centre, NDP):  

Mr. Speaker, I do withdraw the remark. In my enthusiasm I used profane language, but I will finish the story.


This is coming full circle. The unions, through free collective bargaining and the right to withhold their services in the event of an impasse, drove up the average middle class wage in the United States to where it was a living wage, a consuming wage, a wage one could raise a family on. People had workplaces that were safe and healthy workplaces, because they had enforcement of health and safety provisions, because they had a union workplace safety and health committee on that work site. Coming from the construction industry, I know that every building built in the old days was a tombstone because men died on those jobs. That does not happen anymore because we made those workplaces safe.


As the government smashes the labour movement, as clearly it has given the indication it intends to do, declare war on labour on the left, not only will workers' wages diminish. How is that good for the economy? Also, workplace safety and health provisions will diminish. People will be dying in the workplace again just like in 1912 in the Triangle Shirtwaist factory. 


Do not groan at me from over there, because I can tell members it is a fact that conditions will diminish if we do not have a strong and healthy trade union movement to protect the gains we have made in the last hundred years. Bill C-377 should go on the trash heap of history. It is an insult to working people in this country.


 I want to recognize and pay tribute to the push-back of the building trades unions, especially my own union, the carpenters union, which is doing a job trying to lobby members of Parliament and trying to point out the folly in smashing the only thing that has elevated the standards of living wages and working conditions in this country. That is a free, vibrant and healthy trade union movement. 


This is a cornerstone of any western democracy, the free and healthy trade union movement, the right to organize, the right to free collective bargaining and the right to withhold one's services in the event of an impasse. It is a cornerstone we are proud of. It is one of the very things by which we define ourselves as a free and open democracy. This piece of legislation has no place in a western democracy that prides itself on the rights of ordinary people and its citizens. It makes one wonder whose side the Conservatives are on.






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The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bruce Stanton):  

Before giving the floor to the hon. member for Pontiac, I must inform him that I will have to interrupt him at 6:25 p.m., when the hon. member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale will have his right of reply.


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Mr. Mathieu Ravignat (Pontiac, NDP):  

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the hon. member who spoke before me. He has a lot of passion for workers and the labour movement in this country, and has demonstrated a thorough understanding of the situation.


On this side of the House, we are wondering why unions are being targeted rather than all the organizations that collect dues. If we consider this motion in the context of the bill that we will be debating very soon, it seems to be an ideological attack by the government against the labour movement in this country, a movement that has achieved significant social gains. 


When my great-grandfather came to Canada to work as a stonemason, the conditions were awful. Labour movements have made it possible to live in a society with healthy working environments and with benefits that enable us to raise children, to age with dignity and to have a pension.


This bill will also make privileged information available to businesses and to the government, which will give them unfair competitive and political advantages. However, when we talk about members of labour organizations, we are not talking about a small group of Canadians. There are 4.3 million Canadians who are either union members or have family members in a union. Those people will be automatically placed at a disadvantage compared to the government and business. The government and business will actually have access to all the information about the workers whereas the workers will not have access to any of that information. So they will be at a disadvantage in a bargaining situation.


The NDP is clearly in favour of transparency as long as it applies fairly to all organizations concerned and as long as it causes no harm. While recognizing that the hon. member probably has noble reasons for promoting transparency, this bill is going to violate the right to freedom of association in this country, as well as the rights to privacy and freedom of expression.


We estimate that this bill will create about 17.5 million hours of paperwork. About 25,000 workers' organizations that will have to comply with these requirements will each need about 700 hours of work annually to do so. That is a major burden, both for the government and for those workers. It will be an obstacle to the vitality of organizations that stand up for the rights of our fellow citizens. We must remember that it is these democratic organizations that stand up for the rights of our fellow citizens. In any case, how are Canadians going to be able to find their way through these millions of pieces of data? Of what use are the data? Their use will be when they are sent to the employers and used against the workers.


Bill C-377 takes its place in the series of Conservative attacks on workers, such as the strike at Canada Post or the bargaining at Air Canada. Instead of laying into hard-working Canadians, the Conservatives should be addressing the real problems Canadians face, like unemployment, poverty and our retirement pensions.






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The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bruce Stanton):  

I now invite the hon. member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale for his right of reply. The hon. member has five minutes.


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Mr. Russ Hiebert (South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale, CPC):  

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to briefly summarize the second reading debate on my Bill C-377, which would require public financial disclosure of labour organizations.


First let me express my appreciation to my colleagues on both sides of the House for their comments and their interest in this subject. I commit to you, Mr. Speaker, and this place that I will not say anything that would force me to apologize because of my remarks.


My purpose in introducing the legislation is to create financial transparency in a group of institutions that are receiving substantial public benefits. All members here and the general public know the value in financial transparency for public institutions and for institutions that receive public benefits. That is why, for example, financial transparency for charities, which has existed for over 35 years now, is fully accepted by charities themselves, as well as the public.


Some members across the way have raised the point that some provinces have labour codes that require limited financial disclosure to union members only. This, however, is an irrelevant point that has nothing to do with this bill.


The purpose of the bill is not about requiring disclosure to union members. Rather its purpose is requiring disclosure to the general public because the public is providing a financial benefit through the tax system. The public has a right to know how the benefit they provide to labour organizations is being used.


Some MPs and several leaders and labour organizations have also raised the issue of the cost of compliance with the legislation. Again, I believe the cost to labour organizations of compliance with Bill C-377 to be quite minimal in this age of electronic bookkeeping.


Clearly, labour organizations already track their finances internally and translating this data into a format which can be filed with the Canada Revenue Agency is largely a question of technology and software. Compiling and filing a single unaudited information return once a year is not going to unduly encumber any labour organization. Any actual cost to the labour organization will be far outweighed by the benefits of transparency.


The NDP House leader stood in the House during the first hour of debate and made some wild claims that the bill was about to strip Canadians of their charter rights. He actually called the bill “an attack on the labour movement.”


Contrary to the NDP House leader's wild claims, transparency for unions is no more an attack on unions than transparency for charities is an attack on charities. We know, with 35 years experience of the matter, that financial transparency for charities has been a positive development and not an attack.


The truth is the vast majority of Canadians, a full 83%, as expressed in a recent Nanos poll, support financial transparency for labour organizations. I know those numbers are even higher in Quebec. As for the labour movement, according to the same poll, 86% of Canadians who identified themselves as unionized employees supported financial transparency. Clearly, the broad labour movement does not regard the bill as an attack on themselves. It is quite opposite in fact. 


The NDP member for Acadie—Bathurst also complained during the debate that it did not apply to other types of organizations. We have heard that here as well. In fact, in ratcheting up the rhetoric, he suggested that transparency for a wide range of organizations was a matter of justice.


When drafting my bill, I chose to focus on addressing public financial disclosure by labour organizations, because they were unique institutions with a specific purpose and function, distinct from the other types of institutions that he mentioned. However, there is nothing in Bill C-377 that would preclude another member from seeking financial disclosure by other types of organizations that receive a public benefit. Some members, even this afternoon, mentioned the CFIB and I note that as a non-profit it does not receive a public benefit, unlike charities and the labour movement.




Despite the fact that a handful of union leaders and NDP MPs have suggested otherwise, this is very much a pro-union bill. The bottom line in all of this is that public financial disclosure will build public confidence that the public benefits that labour organizations are being provided are being used efficiently and effectively.


 I appreciate the opportunity to share my input and I seek the support of all my colleagues at the second reading of the bill so that it can go to committee for further review.


[Table of Contents] 

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bruce Stanton):  

It being 6:30 p.m., the time provided for debate has expired. 


 The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion? 


Some hon. members: Agreed. 


Some hon. members: No. 


The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bruce Stanton): All those in favour of the motion will please say yea. 


Some hon. members: Yea. 


The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bruce Stanton): All those opposed will please say nay. 


Some hon. members: Nay. 


The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bruce Stanton): In my opinion the yeas have it. 


And five or more members having risen:


The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bruce Stanton): Pursuant to Standing Order 93 the division stands deferred until Wednesday, March 14, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.


News Release

Bill C-377

 Bill C-377 is a bill introduced as the Income Tax act, to require labour unions to provide more financial information to the government.

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Myth and Facts

Building Trades survey

Second Reading vote count(pdf)

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Bill 80

Bill 80 is the Saskatchewan Party’s attempt to destabilize the construction industry in SK and is a direct attack on Building Trades Unions.

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