The “Union Transparency” Bill: How Transparent is This?

Back in March of this year, Conservative MP Russ Hiebert introduced the so-called “union transparency” bill in Canada’s federal House of Commons. Bill C-377 is a private member’s bill that would require unions to file financial statements with the federal government that would be made publicly available through the Canada Revenue Agency. The statements would have to provide, among other things, the details of any union financial transactions worth more than $5,000, as well as the salaries of union officials and staff.

The bill received initial support in the House of Commons and most recently has been the subject of discussion in Parliamentary committee hearings. But this story from the CBC indicates that Hiebert, through some dealmaking with another MP, has managed to change the priority of the bill’s scheduling so that it will likely move through Parliament without further debate.This means the bill might go to Canada’s Senate for approval as early as this Thursday – which means it could become law before Parliament closes down for the holidays.

My colleague David Doorey, on his Workplace Law Blog, has provided a very thorough analysis of the anti-union implications of this legislation, as has columnist Thomas Walkom. Since notable anti-union activist John Mortimer of LabourWatch was commissioning public opinion surveys about unions’ alleged lack of accountability last year – so it’s not too surprising that this bill was put forward, given the Conservative party’s own consistent record of anti-union activity. (I’m also not too surprised that Mortimer himself appeared as a witness at a Parliamentary hearing into the bill to express his support for the bill’s provisions.)

The government’s own accountants have estimated that administering Bill C-377 would cost taxpayers $10.6 million over two years. A government overseeing a federal debt of nearly $6 billion might be expected to not support legislation that incurs costs rather than generating revenue. One could also ask why the bill proposes these financial reporting requirements for unions, but not for the employers and/or the companies where union members work.

But that’s not the greatest irony in this situation. What’s most ironic is that a bill allegedly promoting transparency and accountability is being fast-tracked through the legislative approval process by quiet manipulation of obscure Parliamentary procedures. And these behind-the-scenes deals are being carried out when most Canadians are probably too busy with the upcoming holidays to notice what’s going on – or to speak out about it.

Transparency? Accountability? I don’t think so.

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