Labour leaders are applauding the first steps by the Trudeau government to do away with federal legislation that would have required extensive public disclosure of union spending. Irene Lanzinger, B.C. Federation of Labour president, said the bill was shepherded through by the Conservative Harper government, despite being sent back from the senate with revisions ignored.
"It was really a piece of anti-union legislation designed by Harper," she said, adding that the intent was to undermine the ability of unions and associated groups to work. Lanzinger explained that the stringent requirements would have eaten up time, resources and money. She noted that other organizations and non-profits don't have the same requirements, which she sees as unfair targeting of unions.
"I think transparency is very important and unions are transparent particularly with our members," Lanzinger said. "They all have democratic processes to make decisions."
Labour groups extensively lobbied members of parliament and both parties opposing the Conservatives in last year's election.
Both the NDP and Liberals committed to fighting the legislation. "This is really Prime Minister Trudeau keeping that campaign promise," she said. The federal government waived requirements for unions to track all spending more than $5,000 for release.
It would have gone into effect on Dec. 31. The requirement was part of the controversial Bill C-377. The private member's bill, sponsored by B.C. MP Russ Hiebert, was passed last June amidst criticism from unions, seven provinces, the Canadian Bar Association and trade federations.
The bill would have forced unions to track and disclose all spending more than $5,000 and salaries more than $100,000 to the Canada Revenue Agency. The information would then be posted online.
Tom Sigurdson, executive director of the B.C. Building Trades, explained that the legislation mirrors requirements in the U.S. that are so onerous that some unions have hired several extra staff just to keep up with the reporting. He said proponents of the bill were arguing that since union dues include a tax break, that entitles the public to view the union spending. "Full disclosure is available to membership," Sigurdson said. "(The bill) was designed to come after unions because they know it would limit our ability to have confidential transactions."
However, other groups are not as excited to see the bill on its way out. "If the Liberals want to give union bosses a break on transparency, then they should introduce a bill, explain why it is needed and let Parliamentarians vote on it. Today's action is an affront to our democratic system," Terrance Oakey, president of Merit Canada, said in a release.
"Canadians should be alarmed that their new government does not want any public scrutiny of union spending on political and social causes." According to Merit Canada, the national voice for eight different provincial Open Shop construction associations, unions benefit from more than $400 million annually in tax breaks and 86 per cent of unionized workers support greater financial transparency for unions. The group believes that "the union model of forced contributions and generous tax breaks will be enhanced when the general public is able to see how unions spend their money."