An onerous burden on unions

By Steve Izma

In December 2012, the federal government passed Bill C-377, which amends the Income Tax Act to require labour organizations to increase the detail of their financial reporting to the Canada Revenue Agency. Most notably, this includes the names and addresses of companies and individuals paid more than $100,000 by any union.

This call for increased exposure of financial transactions might surprise some people, coming as it does from a government famous for its secrecy. More transparency about military spending anyone? How about a Parliamentary Budget Office whose questions to the government get answered?

Less surprisingly, most unions have publicly stated their opposition to the bill, pointing out the increased bureaucratic load on their staff. And most of us who are members of a union know that our representatives already have a fairly long list of things to do. Ken Georgetti, president of the Canadian Labour Congress, claims that “legal and privacy experts have testified the bill is likely unconstitutional, infringes on provincial jurisdiction, and constitutes a violation of personal and commerical privacy laws.”

But more of a shock comes from hearing opposition to the bill from less likely sources. The Federal Privacy Commissioner managed to have the bill modified so that the original tipping point of $5,000 was increased to the $100,000 mark that passed with the bill. And the Ontario Minister of Labour at the time, Linda Jeffrey, wrote a letter to various members of the government and the Senate complaining about “the inexplicitly intrusive nature” of the bill's obligations. She continued, “The requirements would impose an onerous administrative burden on both organized labour and on government to collect and file these returns, potentially compromise the privacy of individuals, and could represent an unwarranted interference with the collective bargaining process in Canada.”

While the Federal government argues that the bill will expose corruption and misuse of funds within unions, Jeffrey points out that Ontario, at least, already has sufficient legislation for its labour relations board to properly investigate any complaints from members of unions, including those of misuse of funds. She also pointed out that the previous Tory government in Ontario had enacted intrusive legislation similar to Bill C-377. These laws not only “failed to promote productive labour relations,” they also “used up scarce government resources and were a poor use of taxpayers' dollars.” The Ontario Liberals scrapped the laws in 2005.