Kevin Rebeck, of the Manitoba Federation of Labour, sent this letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper regarding Bill C-377. This Bill would require labour organizations to submit detailed financial information covering salaries, revenues and expenses each year, to be posted on the Canada Revenue Agency website. The rationale for this bill, and its contents and implications, have not been widely reported in the mainstream print and electronic media. Rebeck’s letter to the Prime Minister identifies some of the key implications, and suggests that the Bill is yet another manifestation of the Conservative government’s contempt for working people and trade unions.
March 20, 2012
Dear Prime Minister Harper:
I’d like to draw your attention to a few of the concerns I have about Bill C-377, An Act to Amend the Income Tax Act (Labour Organizations).
As you are aware, Bill C-377 is a reflection of your contempt for the free trade union movement and not a response to an existing, verifiable issue with how unions in Canada conduct themselves.
If enacted in its current form, Bill C-377 will amend the Income Tax Act and require all labour organizations to make detailed annual financial filings covering salaries, revenues, and expenses. The information would be posted, on the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) website, for anyone to read.
Those who drafted the Bill and its defenders argue that workers get hundreds of millions of dollars in tax benefits through union and professional dues deductions. They argue that any organization that enjoys a tax exemption should be fully transparent so that taxpayers may assess the propriety of their actions and determine whether the tax exemption is being used for the intended purposes. But C-377’s provisions only apply to unions. What about the “any organization that enjoys a tax exemption should be fully transparent” test? Why isn’t every individual, corporation and organization that benefits from tax credits, tax deductions, tax loopholes and tax reductions listed? Clearly, those aren’t the people you want to attack and union members are!
Trade unions, through existing legislative requirements and through our self-imposed constitutional requirements and every-day practices are already the most transparent entities in Canada. Our financial statements are already available to members for their inspection and, in most cases, are formally presented at membership meetings at least once a year. But this isn’t so simply because that’s the way we wrote our organizational constitutions and by-laws. It is so because that is our natural inclination. We promote straightforward, honest relations because of the strong sense of solidarity we share. We extend honesty and we expect honesty in return.
There is nothing useful to union members or the public to be gained by passing this Bill, but there is much to be gained by employers and Conservatives. Complying with its provisions will requirement substantial financial expenditures by unions – money that can be put to more rewarding uses. But that’s the whole point of the legislation now, isn’t it? You want to force unions into spending there scant budgets on meaningless, but expensive “busy work” so those financial resources can’t be spent defending union members who are attacked by their employers, filling training gaps for their members, conducting social-economic research in support of collective bargaining and maintaining a self-defense fund for use during strikes and lockouts. If you force us to use our time and resources on crap, then they can’t be used to resist your agenda.
The Bill is also a gift to employers and professional union busters. It will give them direct access to extremely detailed information about everything a union spends money on, and how strong the union they are bargaining with or have in the cross-hairs.
MP Russ Hiebert, the sponsor of the C-377, has resorted to making statements that are completely false and designed to mislead people, in an effort to justify the Bill. For example, Hansard reports that he stated, “unions already file detailed financial returns with CRA, providing much of this information”. That statement is simply untrue. He also stated, “filing would not impose any additional outside expense on labour organizations”. Again, this is not true.
In the US, where reporting requirements are not as onerous as those contained in C-377, it is estimated by the United States Office of Management and Budget that completing the forms under their legislation requires over 550 hours of work each year – the equivalent of one person working for three months to complete the task.
This level of reporting will be beyond the ability of many of our union locals and small unions to complete. They rely on volunteers to carry out their work and simply do not have the resources to do this themselves.
C-377 is an unwarranted intrusion into the internal affairs of unions in order to provide information to employers and anti-union groups while forcing unions to take on significantly increased costs.
It may well be an unconstitutional intrusion into provincial jurisdiction since labour organizations in that realm fall under provincial labour relations Acts. But we all know that your contempt extends beyond honest working people to their provincial governments as well.
In closing, let me add the following: Shame on you.
Kevin Rebeck, President
Manitoba Federation of Labour