Canadian labour unions will have to file financial statements annually with Revenue Canada, if a new private members bill drafted by MP Russ Hiebert becomes law.
Hiebert (South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale) introduced his Union Public Disclosure bill in the House of Commons Monday, and said it was in line with the Federal Accountability Act, which increases the transparency in government agencies, crown corporations and aboriginal reserves.
The bill would extend that accountability to labour organizations as well, Hiebert told Peace Arch News Monday, adding that unions should be included because they receive a “public benefit.”
But NDP MP Jinny Sims (Newton-North Delta) – former B.C. Teachers Federation president – lashed out at the bill, saying she was mystified by its timing and its apparent implication that unions’ financial affairs aren’t sufficiently transparent.
“It’s a disturbing thing, a divisive thing and it gives the impression that there is something going on in the union movement,” Sims said Monday from Ottawa.
“Unions are 100 per cent funded by their members, and they have some of the most stringent regulations in the country concerning financial accountability.
“I wish the Conservative government would apply some of the same requirements to its own members of Parliament.”
If successful, the bill would result in annual union statements being posted online “for the benefit of all Canadians, including union members, prospective union members and public policy researchers,” Hiebert said.
Public disclosure, Hiebert said, will allow the public to “gauge the effectiveness, financial integrity and health of their unions,” as well as track the use of benefits the unions receive from the federal government.
“Just like charities, labour organizations receive a public benefit and the public should be informed how that public benefit is being used,” he said, pointing to tax exemptions received by union members, which he estimated amount to between $300 million and $400 million per year.
He also cited a Nanos poll conducted on Labour Day that found 83 per cent of Canadians and 86 per cent of union members surveyed, are in favour of financial disclosure by unions.
Sims, however, questioned the Conservatives’ priorities.
“Once again, we’re really puzzled by this government,” she said. “They keep telling us their main priority is the economy and jobs, but we’re getting this volley of bills from backbenchers.”
Hiebert rejected the notion his bill was motivated by Conservative concerns over union funding of political campaigns (Tory MP Dean Del Mastro has questioned labour union sponsorship of the NDP’s spring convention in June), adding he began drafting it before the May 2 federal election.
Nor was it, he said, a punitive reaction to recent labour issues.
“Had I known this would be the topic du jour, I might have done (the bill) a little differently,” Hiebert said. “But this is something I’ve been thinking about for some time.”
In announcing his bill, Hiebert acknowledged that unions are “among the most valuable and influential institutions in Canadian society.”
“Public disclosure will affirm and increase Canadians’ awareness of this important role,” he said.
“And this can all be done at very little expense to the unions or government.”