Bill C-377: What you need to know about the latest Conservative attack on civil society| October 2, 2012
The Conservatives have aggressively targeted civil society organizations that articulate a worldview different from their own.
Feminist groups, international NGOs and environmental organizations have all faced Harper government efforts to weaken their functioning. Now the Conservatives are targeting labour unions through an arcane bill known as an Act to amend the Income Tax Act (Labour Organizations).
Sponsored by Conservative MP Russ Hiebert, Bill C-377 is set for a third and final reading in the House of Commons this fall. Opposed by the opposition parties, almost all Conservative MPs have supported the Private Member's bill.
Promoted as a way to improve transparency (not their own, of course), the bill is designed to challenge unions' involvement in political activities and divert their resources to busy work.
C-377 would require every trade union and labour trust (pension plan, training fund as well as health and welfare funds) to file a public information return with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) on all expenditures over $5,000. It also mandates that labour organizations detail their disbursements to officers, directors and trustees and the percentage of time these individuals dedicate to political and lobbying activities.
The Conservatives are not requiring other professional associations that collect fees or dues from their members, such as the Canadian Medical Association or Law Societies, to follow the terms of Bill C-377.
The bill would allow employers and anti-union groups, at taxpayer and union expense, to get detailed information about a union's spending. This could help them understand how strong the union they are bargaining with is and provide them with information to threaten collective bargaining rights and organizing drives. A similar database set up by George Bush's administration in the U.S. is used by anti-union businesses to weaken workers.
C-377 is the latest in a long list of Conservative attacks against civil society organizations that articulate a worldview different from theirs. Because each sector of civil society has different vulnerabilities the Conservatives have taken a different angle in each case.
Early in the Conservatives' first mandate they moved to weaken organizations pushing for gender equality. Most notably, the government cut funding to Status of Women Canada, which forced the organization to close most of its regional offices and cut support to many women's groups.
Many of the more progressive-minded international development organizations have also seen their funding severed. Development and Peace and the Mennonite Central Committee believe they were targeted for calling on the government to better regulate Canadian mining companies operations abroad while the Canadian Council of International Cooperation, an umbrella group that represents 90 organizations engaged in aid efforts, lost its government funding after criticizing the Conservatives' foreign aid policies.
Groups in any way associated with the Palestinian cause have also been openly attacked. The government chopped $7 million from Kairos, a Christian aid organization that had received government money for 35 years. During a December 2009 visit to Israel immigration minister Jason Kenney said Canada "defunded organizations, most recently like Kairos, who are taking a leadership role" in campaigns to boycott Israel (while sympathetic to Palestinians Kairos Canada, unlike the unaffiliated Kairos Palestine, did not endorse the boycott campaign).
Conservative ministers have leveled a number of well publicized broadsides against environmental organizations. They've accused them of being foreign funded "radicals," "extremists" and former Conservative Party president and senator, Don Plett, even asked "would they [environmental organizations] take money from Al Qaeda, the Hamas or the Taliban?" In conjunction with these verbal attacks the Conservatives gave the CRA $8-million in March 2012 to audit the charitable status of environmental groups. Postmedia described it as "an $8-million plan to crack down on conservation groups."
Even young Conservative Party activists have been instilled with Harper's crush-all-other-social-voices attitude. At the start of 2009 two students, Ryan O'Connor and Aaron Lee-Wudrick, who previously worked for Conservative MPs, held a series of workshops advising young Party activists on how to get rid of campus public interest research groups (PIRG).
Organized through the Ontario Progressive Conservative Campus Association, their workshop at Wilfred Laurier was titled "challenging and defeating PIRGs". Conservative Kitchener-Waterloo MP Peter Baird also spoke at the event. As part of this campaign, over the past few years a handful of PIRGs have faced a serious challenge to their funding and at least one lost its student support.
Now labour organizations, which are relatively autonomous as they are financed entirely by members' dues and have a well-established legal footing, are in the Conservatives crosshairs. As most labour policy is a provincial matter, they've moved to rewrite the Income Tax Act to specifically target unions.
The Conservatives are only requiring the institutions created to represent the interests of millions of workers across the country to file these detailed records. There is no other way to interpret C-377 than as an attempt to disarm a political opponent.
Dave Coles is the National President of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP).
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Alexandre Boulerice: Targeting unions is hurting the financial marketsAlexandre Boulerice, Special to National Post | Oct 16, 2012 12:01 AM ET
Canada’s economy is in a fragile state. Just last week, the IMF lowered its forecast for global growth due to ongoing instabilities in the United States and the Euro Zone, as well as the slowdown of the Chinese economy. Meanwhile, TD Bank lowered its estimates for economic growth here in Canada for 2012, and is projecting only modest growth for 2013 and 2014.
You would figure that in times like these, the federal government would be cautious in the legislation that it supports. But sadly, the Conservatives’ partisan instincts have taken precedence.
Take bill C-377 for example. On its surface, it aims to bring transparency to union finances. Yet, to achieve this aim, the Conservatives could be imposing a massive clampdown on our financial markets and costing business — both big and small — millions in lost revenue.
Most private member’s bills live and die in obscurity, as they have no chance of passing. C-377, however, appears to have the blessing of both the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister, and could become law by the end of the year.
Essentially, this Conservative bill would require any labour organization, including pension funds and health plans, to publicly disclose all aspects of any expenditure over $5,000. The bill does this by prying open business contracts and causing the confidential details to be posted on the Canadian Revenue Agency’s website. This includes everything from office rental and photocopier leases to consulting, legal and financial services. This would force businesses to either turn down valuable customers or have their entire business model disrupted.
The potential damage of this Conservative bill is even more dangerous when it comes to the financial markets. The reporting requirement applies to all market transactions by union pension funds and any firms managing their assets. These pension plans make up the second largest source of investment capital in Canada, after chartered banks, with assets of over $1-trillion dollars. Amongst these assets are significant amounts of Canadian stocks, bonds and real estate.
Beyond imposing obvious difficulties associated with reporting all transactions on billions of dollars in financial assets, the bill likely will lock pension funds out of engaging in private-equity deals. This will drastically reduce the flow of Canadian dollars into such deals, decrease Canadian ownership, and hurt the bottom line of Canadians’ pensions.
The reporting requirements also will create a massive bureaucracy for all involved. For a mid-sized pension fund covering several thousand workers, C-377 would mean over 11,000 financial transactions would need to be reported a year. For the largest pension funds, this could run into the millions.
Putting aside the economic impact, this bill would represent a massive invasion of privacy, as pension funds that come from union plans will be forced to report the name and address of hundreds of thousands of pensioners to the government every year. That, too, will also be made public.
At a time when the economic recovery in Canada and around the world is still precarious, New Democrats condemn the economic recklessness in this bill. For the sake of our economy and the stability of our markets, C-377 cannot be allowed to pass.
MP Alexandre Boulerice represents Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie as a member of the New Democratic Party.
The above link is to UFCW Canada and their letter-writing capaign against this bill. I have included the website's information as well as the text of the letter. The website enables you to send it directly to your MP.
Canada’s union movement is under attack by the extreme right-wing policies of Stephen Harper's Conservative Government. Through the legislative backdoor, the Conservatives have submitted Private Members Bill C-377. The purpose of this Bill is to require unions to make their finances public, including assets, liabilities, and expenses. Unions already provide this information to their members through financial audits, reports, and regular membership meetings. The Conservatives want their corporate friends to have access to this information so that they can undermine unions.
Bill C-377 will create the same expensive administrative costs as the Long Gun Registry. The Harper Conservatives argued that the Registry was a costly burden to taxpayers, so why do they want Canadians to pay even more to implement ideological, union-busting legislation?
With over 25,000 unions and labour organizations in Canada, the government will have to spend huge amounts of money to process the financial information that Bill C-377 requires to be disclosed.
The additional accounting costs to benefit and pension plans will mean less funding for benefit and pension plan payouts to members. For unions, the bill will make less funding available for sponsoring community events, charitable organizations, and amateur sports.
Please read and send the letter below to tell your local MP to vote against Bill C-377.
C-377 - I want my voice to be heard
As one of your constituents I am writing to express my concern over misconceptions that are being spread about Bill C-377, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (requirements for labour organizations).One major misconception put forth by proponents of the Bill is on the issue of labour organizations having to file financial audits by stating that “much of the information C-377 is asking for is already filed by labour organizations when they prepare their income tax submissions”. This is simply wrong, as labour organizations are non-profit entities and as such are not required to file with the Canada Revenue Agency.
All of the information required by this bill will force unions and labour organizations to completely revise accounting procedures and implement new software programs. The cost of this to national and local unions and other labour organizations will be in the millions of dollars to ensure ongoing compliance with reporting procedures required under the bill.
For the government, the cost of implementing Bill C-377 will be astronomical. In 2010, a study commissioned by the RCMP found that cost savings from the government scrapping the now-defunct long gun registry would be approximately $1.5 million. Annual administration costs associated with Bill C-377 for tracking and monitoring the activities of more than 25,000 unions and labour organizations to ensure compliance with the bill will far exceed the savings accrued from ending the long gun registry. The overall costs associated with this bill are estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. For Canadian taxpayers, that is money that could be better spent on promoting job creation.
The author of the bill, Conservative MP Russ Hiebert, claims it will bring accountability to unions. This is another false statement as unions already utilize accountability mechanisms such as financial reports, which are delivered to, discussed, and voted on by members at regular membership meetings and conventions. Unions are democratic and transparent organizations as their financial records are audited annually and the audits are made available to union members.
This bill not only discriminates against unions and other labour organizations in its reporting procedure; it also burdens Canadian taxpayers and union members with unnecessary costs. To argue that Bill C-377 is intended to ensure union transparency is a sham. The bill is an explicit attempt to interfere in the labour relations process and is designed to give significant advantages to employers at the expense of Canadian taxpayers and unions.
I strongly encourage you to vote against this unnecessary piece of legislation.