Conservative MP Russ Hiebert has gone on the attack against NDP critics of his private member’s bill calling for full public disclosure of spending by Canadian labour unions.
In a news release Oct. 25, Hiebert said “hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal union contributions to the NDP” add weight to his call for transparency in spending by unions.
The South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale MP added he wasn’t surprised NDP MPs on the Commons Finance Committee have been outspoken in criticizing Bill C-377.
“It has become apparent why the NDP doesn’t want transparency from labour organizations: they don’t want Elections Canada and others to know when they’ve been taking illegal donations from unions to fund their party.”
The bill returns to the committee for further hearings on Nov. 7. Under the rules of the House of Commons, it must be sent back to the House for consideration by Nov. 27.
Speaking to Peace Arch News after sending his release, Hiebert said his remarks refer specifically to the NDP’s repayment to Canadian unions of some $344,468 in contributions. The funding was ruled illegal by Elections Canada earlier this year, following complaints from the Conservatives.
The full sum, repaid by the NDP in April, came to light late in August when financial statements filed by the party became available to the public. The contributions had come in the form of advertising revenue generated by a number of unions, including the United Steelworkers and United Food and Commercial Workers, and other groups.
“What happened in August was a culmination of a variety of different activities involving eight unions and three other organizations over five years,” Hiebert said.
“If these unions had had to disclose this spending, it might not have had to take five years for this to be discovered,” he said.
“I think it’s time we levelled the playing field.”
Hiebert said he finds it ironic that one can find more information on spending by Canadian labour organizations that are affiliated with U.S. unions on the the U.S. Labour Department’s website than can be had from any source in Canada.
“That exact issue is what got me interested in this a couple of years ago,” he said.
NDP spokespeople, including MP Libby Davies, responded to Tory barbs on the issue in August by claiming that the party believed it was acting within the law when it sold unions and other groups advertising slots at party conventions going back as far as 2006.
Nathan Rotman, national director of the NDP, said it had been decided it was in the best interests of the party to return the money rather than fighting the issue in court, they said.
Davies also raised the spectre of what has been called the “in-and out scheme” in which the Conservatives moved funding temporarily in and out of ridings during the 2006 election.
But Hiebert said the comparison is invalid.
“That’s a completely separate issue, in that that was a dispute over the law, a difference of opinion in the interpretation of the (Elections) Act,” he said, adding that the issue was subsequently settled in the courts.
“Here, there was no difference in opinion or uncertainty over the law. We made (this kind of) contribution to parties illegal in 2006. Nobody’s disputing this was against the law – once it became public everybody knew it was wrong.”