Christmas arrived early for Canadian unions and labour organizations – and other affected stakeholders – who had opposed former South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale Conservative MP Russ Hiebert’s controversial private member’s bill, C-377.
Liberal National Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier announced Monday that she has waived reporting requirements for labour organizations and labour trusts imposed by the legislation – passed by Parliament in June – as a first step to repealing it completely, which is expected early in the new year.
Under the bill – an amendment to the Income Tax Act, which Hiebert had argued was necessary to ensure full “transparency” of union dealings – the organizations would have had to start detailed tracking of their activities including all expenditures over $5,000.
The information-gathering would have commenced with the fiscal year starting Dec. 31, the day after the legislation comes into effect, and details of activities and expenditures would ultimately have been published on the Canada Revenue Agency website.
Hiebert’s bill, first introduced in Parliament four years ago, had come under sustained fire from unions, the Canadian Bar Association, seven provinces and the federal privacy commissioner. Critics had accused it of being a transparent attempt at ‘union-busting’ that was unconstitutional and would be liable to legal challenge. It divided Conservative senators, but was ultimately backed and, last June, passed in Parliament.
Hiebert was not available to answer Peace Arch News’ request for comment, but his successor in South Surrey-White Rock, Conservative MP Dianne Watts, said the repeal is not unexpected, given it was among Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s campaign promises.
“It was something the Liberal government has said it was going to do and I think it was top of mind for them,” Watts said Tuesday, noting that while she is not in the position to comment on details of C-377, she acknowledged she has no specific concerns about the reporting of union information.
“I think there are measures in place currently that address that issue.”
Hiebert’s former administrative assistant in Ottawa deferred comment to John Mortimer, president of LabourWatch. Mortimer suggested the move is part of a Liberal government commitment to groups that supported it during the election.
“They’re not going to address any issues with unions, or with First Nations finances,” Mortimer told PAN. “Trudeau took money from charities and he also took money from unions who openly backed him, and now he’s going to hide their financial activities.
“We are the only nation left on earth where we force membership of unions to pay dues for non-bargaining purposes.”
Mortimer blasted PAN and other media for publishing negative articles on Hiebert’s bill without “reporting the true facts on unions.”
Sean Tucker, a University of Regina business administration professor who co-authored a 2014 study critical of the bill, said he believes Hiebert’s project failed because it was “blatantly ideological and unfair to unions.”
“I think those behind drafting and lobbying for C-377 – Mr. Hiebert and a small number of anti-union groups, including Merit Canada and LabourWatch – made a strategic error in taking an all-or-nothing approach to their bill,” he said. “In particular, their failure to effectively demonstrate the need for the bill, weak responses to legitimate criticisms of the legislation, and insistence on pushing through a seriously flawed bill ultimately sealed the law’s fate with the change in government.”
Canadian Labour Congress president Hassan Yussuff told PAN that financial information on activities is already available to union members, and that dealings of unions are “under the purview of the provinces to legislate and regulate.”
“It was an ideological assault on the labour movement,” Yussuff said of the bill. “There was never a justification of why this was necessary.
“Russ Hiebert could not point to one single instance of a constituent in his own riding coming to him with a concern about this. If you have the opportunity to present a private member’s bill, would you not try to address the concerns of your own constituency?”
Labour Minister MaryAnn Mihychuk said this week the legislation would be repealed “as soon as possible.”