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Bill C-377 has no bite: Merit Canada

Kelly Lapointe

The Senate’s amendments to Bill C-377 render it "toothless," says the head of Merit Canada.

 

“These amendments don’t have any sort of solid public policy basis,” said Terrance Oakey, president of Merit Canada, the national voice for eight provincial open shop construction associations.

“I think it’s more the Senate wanted to send a signal that they’re independent.”

The amended Bill C-377, An Act To Amend the Income Tax Act (Labour Organizations), would now only apply to unions with more than 50,000 members.

The original bill would have forced unions to make public any expenses over $5,000, which the amendment changed to $150,000.

The bill would have disclosed the salaries of union employees making more than $100,000, which has now been raised to $444,661.

The amended bill passed with a vote of 48-35, with several Conservatives voting against it and some abstaining.

>“I think it’s fair to say that a significant number of senators, including people from the Tory side of the House had a look at the bill and realized it was actually bad legislation, so by supporting the amendments, what they have done is said ‘this isn’t such a good idea’,” said Bob Blakely, director of Canadian affairs for the Building and Construction Trades Department AFL CIO.

Published reports indicate that Prime Minister Stephen Harper is preparing to abandon the bill and re-introduce it as government legislation.

“I expect that when the House considers the amendments that were put forth by the Senate, they will be rejected because the House did amend the bill quite significantly during the legislative process in the House of Commons,” said Oakey.

Conservative Russ Hiebert introduced C-377 as a private members bill in 2011, arguing that public disclosure of union expenses and salaries should be mandatory because union fees are tax deductible.

The bill would require unions to provide detailed financial filings to the Canada Revenue Agency, which would then make the information public in the same way it does for charitable organizations.

Amendments were made in the House of Commons to address privacy concerns, though Blakely said some still exist.

Oakey is pleased with the government’s response to the Senate’s amendments.

“A year ago no one was even talking about this issue… I think the debate now is no longer whether there needs to be public union financial transparency, but what’s the appropriate threshold,” he said.

Since the amended bill would only affect unions with more than 50,000 members, it would only affect a few of the 14 Building Trades unions, said Blakely.

“The bill itself, as it now is amended, is something that’s liveable for the small local union in Kitchener, Ont. or in Lethbridge, Alta. Their trust funds aren’t going to have to report. The local union, unless it’s quite a large organization, isn’t going to have to report,” he said.

“Is it liveable? Yes. Would I prefer the bill had never seen the light of day? Yes.”

Blakely said the motive behind the bill is to mine data on Canadian unions so their opponents can spin that information.

“They will know if a local union is weak — they don’t have a lot of members, they don’t have a lot of money — so in the certification campaign they say ‘why would you want to join this union, they’ve got no money, they can’t do anything’,” he said.

“The people who are asking for it, it doesn’t affect them, they’re just using it as a whip to try and beat us. There’s a good chance it’s not even constitutional.”

The legislation will return to the House of Commons in the fall.

Both sides will continue to meet with government officials and present their sides of the case throughout the summer.

“The Senate had an opportunity to defeat the bill and that would have been the end of C-377,” said Oakey.

“I’m glad that the Senate actually passed the legislation, albeit with amendments.”

with files from The Canadian Press

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