Transparency and C-377

Earlier this week, John Geddes looked closer at Conservative MP Russ Hiebert’s bill on union disclosure.

The bill’s union opponents protest that if the tax deductibility of dues means their finances must be fully transparent, the same should go for professional and business organizations—from lawyers’ and doctors’ groups to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business—whose membership fees are also deductible. In any case, labour law is largely a provincial jurisdiction, and labour codes in most provinces already require unions to disclose financial information to their members. The Canada Labour Code does the same for unions under federal jurisdiction. Hiebert argues, though, that the public, not just the union rank and file, deserve access to that information. As well, he points out that U.S. law requires detailed disclosure, which means the best source of fine-grained financial data on any Canadian unions affiliated with American unions is often the U.S. Department of Labor’s website.

Still, while Hiebert professes to be for transparency, and not against unions, his allies are hardly friends of organized labour. Merit Canada, the national lobby group for the “open shop,” or non-unionized, construction industry, has thrown its support behind Bill C-377. Merit has mounted a campaign under the slogan, “Why is big labour afraid of the light?” According to a publicly disclosed report filed with the federal lobbyists’ registry, Merit’s representatives met on Oct. 23 with Hiebert and Nigel Wright, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s powerful chief of staff. Also attending that top-level lobbying session were Alykhan Velshi, Harper’s director of planning, and two senior officials from Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s department.

Amy Minsky has dug further into Merit Canada’s meetings with Conservative MPs and government officials. Conservative MP Brent Rathgeber has said he won’t support the bill unless it’s amended.

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