Demonstrators take part in a public service union demonstration on the forthcoming budget and staff cuts, in Ottawa, March 1, 2012.
Credits: CHRIS ROUSSAKIS/QMI AGENCY
OTTAWA -- It's a move that would change the game board for players in Canada's labour movement.
Bill C-377, a private member's bill put forward by Conservative MP Russ Hiebert, has passed second reading in the House of Commons and appears destined to eventually become law -- a rare feat for private member's legislation.
It would compel labour unions, and their associated groups, to disclose how and where they spend money, exposing their political spending to scrutiny.
Hiebert said this is important because labour unions get a public benefit as members get tax deductions for their dues, and labour organizations are tax exempt, like charities.
"The federal government forgoes $795 million in tax revenue in union and professional dues," Hiebert told the House during second reading last week. "I believe it is only right for the public to know how that money is being spent."
He compares the disclosure to that of charities and said in a recent Nanos poll, 86% of union members support public disclosure.
Labour leaders say that most unions already reveal their spending and the federal bill is simply setting the cat amongst the pigeons, trying to get some conservative union members irked with their left-wing leadership.
"This acts as a dog whistle for the Conservative base. It's the red meat attack on unions under the false premise that we get hundreds of millions of tax dollars into the labour movement, and it's simply not true," said Sid Ryan, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour. Ryan says on paper the bill doesn't change anything.
"Our members expect us to get involved in politics. This is an attempt by the Conservatives to go after unions that help run campaigns that target Conservatives in elections."
"They are trying to create the illusion that trade unions should only be involved in the nuts and bolts of collective bargaining and stay out of politics," Ryan said.
"This is very much a pro-union bill," Hiebert told the House last week. "The bottom line in all of this is that public financial disclosure will build public confidence that the public benefits that labour organizations are being provided are being used efficiently and effectively."
The bill is now before a finance committee.