MPs give Hiebert’s bill rough reception

Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale MP Russ Hiebert - File photo
Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale MP Russ Hiebert
— image credit: File photo

MP Russ Hiebert’s private member’s bill aimed at increasing public disclosure of unions’ financial affairs received a bumpy ride from Opposition politicians in the House Of Commons Monday.

Speaking on second reading of his bill to amend the Income Tax Act (C.377 – Requirements For Labour Organizations), Hiebert (South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale) argued that requiring unions to file statements with Canada Revenue Agency that would also be available to the public is a move toward greater transparency and accountability.

He predicted it would, in fact, confirm to union members that public monies (through tax exemptions to unions) are being well-spent on their behalf.

But Opposition House leader Joe Comartin, NDP MP for Windsor-Tecumseh – who attacked the proposed legislation when it was introduced in October – labelled some of Hiebert’s comments “disingenuous… a frontal attack on the labour movement.”

He added it would actually threaten the rights to association, privacy and freedom of speech.

“It’s not about transparency,” he said.

Comartin compared it to legislation introduced by the Republicans during the George W. Bush administration in the U.S. – legislation, he said, that doesn’t go as far as Hiebert’s bill in the level of disclosure and reporting required.

Documents authored by right-wing policy advisors prior to the U.S. legislation’s adoption, Comartin said, point to a strategy that “every dollar spent on disclosure and reporting” was a dollar not spent on other union activities.

The U.S. experience, he said, had shown a large increase in administration costs, noting it will be “worse” here and is part of a pattern seen even further afield.

In Russia, he said, it has had the effect “of demolishing a number of (human rights) groups and driving others underground.”

Opponents also charged that the information reported would be much less likely to be accessed by the general public than employers and other union-busters.

NDP labour critic Yvon Godin (Acadie–Bathhurst) argued that if government was interested in transparency it would also focus on complete disclosure by oil and gas companies and banks, which also receive public benefit through undisclosed tax exemptions.

Hiebert, noting he was “baffled” by opposition, said he believes the disclosure will strengthen confidence in unions. He cited polls that indicate 83 per cent of Canadians want the information published, and 86 per cent of Canadian union members favour it.

Hiebert compared his proposed legislation with the reporting and publishing of financial statements that is required of charities.

He said the bill would not increase administration costs.

Hiebert received support from MP Shelly Glover (Saint Boniface), who cited positive feedback from academics, economists, commentators and union members that the bill would improve transparency and fairness.

“As a proud member of a union – the Winnipeg Police Association – I’m 100 per cent behind this,” she said. “Anyone on that side of the House who is against transparency and fairness should explain what the heck they’re doing in the House of Commons.”

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