Debates of the Senate  
2nd Session, 41st Parliament, Volume 149, Issue 161
  Monday, June 29, 2015
 
Speech: Bill C-377: An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (requirements from Labour Organizations) (Motion 117)
Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck: I rise to join in the debate on Motion No. 117. At the outset, I will say I'm totally opposed to it.

As other people have said, when you read the first part, "That notwithstanding any provisions of the rules or usual practices, immediately following the adoption of this motion," and then the various subclauses, of course as soon as you see "notwithstanding the rules," you know you're going to break them all, which we have just done by overruling the Speaker. It's not the kind of precedent you would think that a chamber of sober thought would do. As our honourable colleague here has said, it seems that sober second thought has left the building, at least on that side.

We did put on the record why we oppose this bill and why we were debating it and prolonging the debate. We have been accused of prolonging the debate and making us sit all summer long, but is it not our job to debate bills? We said why we were debating the bill because it's not a good bill.

No one on that side has articulated why they want this private member's bill passed now. What is the urgency? What great calamity will happen if we don't pass this bill? That question has not been answered. Debate would answer those kinds of questions. Maybe they will answer it after I speak or someone else speaks. That's a question that should be answered.

The second question that I brought up just a little while ago was that no one on that side who supported the amended bill has got up to say why they've now changed their mind and want to pass the original, unamended bill. No one has explained why that position has changed. Don't you think part of the debate should be that your side should get up and say, "Here is why we changed our minds"? That's being open and transparent. That's contributing to the debate. That's why we want to have this prolonged debate, so that we figure out what is going on. That's why we're here.

Those are the two outstanding questions that have yet to be answered.

When I was listening to Senators Plett and Dagenais talk about this bill, they were talking about union members who were afraid to ask questions of their union leaders. They were afraid of their union leaders. That was sort of the source of where this bill came from. But there was no indication of how many members were afraid and where they came from. These are kind of anecdotal, hearsay statements rather than any sort of documented evidence that there is a pressing need for this kind of transparency. Where is the documented evidence that shows that this bill is actually needed? Right now, it seems to me we're going on hearsay.

In actual fact, it made me think back to when we were dealing with the First Nations Financial Transparency Act, which we passed in April 2014. Again, the arguments were brought forward by the other side saying band members are afraid to ask their leaders how much their chief and council make. They were afraid to go ask. Well, of course there will always be people who are afraid, but there was no documentation of how big that problem was, none whatsoever. So the bill was passed. In the intervening time that it has been in effect, just a little over a year, what has happened? Not much. A couple of exorbitant salaries of chiefs are now published, but people knew about those anyway. There was great pressure to pass that bill because of the fear of band members, but since the bill was passed, nothing has shown that there was a great need for us to do that. It was the whole idea that somehow people are powerless and the only way they will get power is if the federal government passes a law that protects them.

Senator Jaffer: Your Honour, we are having difficulty hearing Senator Dyck on this side. There is too much going on.

Senator Dyck: Thank you, Senator Jaffer.

One of the previous senators, and I didn't record whether it was Senator Plett or Senator Dagenais, said we are going to be protecting workers who are wondering what happens to their hard-earned dollars.

Senator Mitchell: Maybe it's used for government advertising.

Senator Dyck: Yes. That sort of tinkering with the inner workings of unions, setting up a controversy or a conflict between the members and the leaders, seems to be what this bill is looking at. In fact, maybe it could even be creating a problem where there is none, because right now we have hearsay. We don't have any documented evidence as to how big this problem is whereby members are really wondering where the money went.

I'm going to read into the record some letters that I received from Saskatchewan that talk about unions and union members. This highlights the fact that the provinces do have legislation, just like the band councils and band members had rules and regulations that said they have to post all this stuff so that the band members could have access to it. Similarly, the provinces have labour legislation that says certain things have to be disclosed, and that's where the labour union members can get this information. I have some letters here from union members in Saskatchewan.

I have a letter from Burstall, Saskatchewan; one from Leader, Saskatchewan; one from Gull Lake; one from Hallonquist, Saskatchewan; and two from Maple Creek, Saskatchewan. They are all from union members. The first one reads:

Dear Senator Dyck,

You may soon be voting on Bill C-377, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (Requirements for Labour Organizations).

Bill C-377 has already been debated by the Senate. In 2013, Senators voted to amend the worst elements of this badly drafted legislation. Now it is back in its original form.

I am concerned about this Bill for a number of reasons which I ask you consider.

The Bill wrongly violates Canada's Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Senate Banking, Trade and Commerce Committee heard from constitutional experts who testified that Bill C-377 falls outside Parliament's jurisdiction. These include not only independent constitutional experts but also the Canadian and Quebec Bar Associations.

My union already provides regular financial statements and every three years, delegates to the union's national convention review, amend and adopt a detailed budget. In addition, most provinces and the federal government already have legislation that require unions to make financial reports available to union members automatically or on request.

At a time when the budgets of federal departments and agencies are frozen and jobs are being cut, the Canada Revenue Agency will need to set up and maintain an expensive and unnecessary reporting system to process detailed records from over 25,000 unions and labour organizations if C-377 is passed.

Canada's former Privacy Commissioner has also raised concerns about Bill C-377.

The Bill will also require making public the details of commercial contracts that small- and medium-sized businesses have as suppliers to 25,000 unions and labour organizations. This will provide their competitors with an unfair advantage.

I'll just add in here that's exactly the same kind of thing that bands were telling us. By posting their financial concerns, it would put them at a disadvantage competitively.

Back to the letter:

I have to wonder why Bill C-377 singles out unions for this treatment out of all the non-profit and professional organizations that exist in this country. It will do nothing but cause unions to divert resources from providing services to their members, which I think is its only purpose.

I urge you to consider the testimony of the independent witnesses who called for the Bill not to be passed when they appeared before the Senate Committee last year.

Legal obligations and union constitutions ensure that unions are accountable to their members. Bill C-377 is unnecessary and should be defeated. However, if it advances, it should proceed to full committee hearings to remind Senators of the many good reasons for the Bill not to become law.

I look forward to receiving our response,

That's from union members. You can see there is already provincial legislation that will do what the members apparently are afraid to ask for.

I'm going to read into the record a letter I received on January 8. This comes from a number of different people. The top signature is that of Larry Hubich, President of the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour, who writes:

I write to you as the President of SEIU-West (Service Employees' International Union). We are a province-wide local in Saskatchewan with approximately 13,000 members who work in health care, education, municipalities, retirement homes, light industrial, allied and the community-based sector. My interest in corresponding with you, on behalf of our membership, is to remind you that the people of Saskatchewan are counting on you to participate, in a thoughtful and responsible way, in the upcoming debate on Bill C-377 and, in doing so, to vote against this bill.

Like many of the witnesses who appeared before the Standing Senate Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce in 2013 when the Senate first considered Bill C-377, and many who will soon appear before you when the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs considers it, SEIU-West has serious concerns about the constitutionality of Bill C-377, both on jurisdictional and Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms grounds.

SEIU-West appreciates the need for all leaders, whether they are from organized labour, provincial, municipal or federal government, or Senators, and others to be both transparent and accountable to their constituents. As we strive to diligently meet the needs of our membership, in disclosure and accountability for our decision making, we do so in the spirit of fulfilling our oath of office and our legal and moral duty of fair representation. Currently, provincial labour legislation already requires unions to share detailed financial information with their membership. SEIU-West is required by section 6-61 of The Saskatchewan Employment Act to provide members with detailed audited financial statements every year. Our long-standing practices are built upon our recognition that being open and answerable to our members is both morally and ethically the right thing to do.

In our respectful view, this Bill, in spite of its title, is not income tax legislation. In pith and substance, in purpose and effect, it is labour legislation. Its main effect, (an effect not intended by its sponsors and proponents) will be to alter the balance of labour-management relations across Canada.

Prime Minister Harper has insisted in the past that his party respects federalism, that he opposes new federal intrusions into provincial jurisdiction, and that he favours "being clear about who does what." Bill C-377 is an intrusion into provincial jurisdiction over labour relations, developed without provincial consultation or consent.

Again, this sounds like the First Nations Financial Transparency Act no consultation; no consent.

Back to the letter:

Moreover, it adds unnecessary complexity and confusion to the unions' management of their finances.

We believe that Bill C-377 is constitutionally flawed by design; it offends our freedom of speech, our freedom of expression and our freedom of association. It is an invasion of the privacy of individuals. Simply put, Bill C-377 discriminates against unions. Why should there be such a huge inconsistency between the level of disclosure required for salaries of government members of the House of Commons, senior public servants, and Crown Corporation employees on the one hand, and union leaders and employees on the other?

In the prior Senate Banking Committee Hearings on the bill Senator Hugh Segal, in expressing opposition to the Bill, noted that Conservatives should "believe in less government" and oppose government "sticking its nose into different private parts of life, corporations, trade unions and others." According to Senator Segal, the same Canadian values that are the basis of corporations' right to plan in private for product development, marketing, and labour relations are also the basis of unions' right to plan in private to protect their members' interests. Bill C-377 ignores these values.

Could I have five more minutes, please?

The Hon. the Speaker: Will the chamber offer five more minutes to Senator Dyck?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

Senator Dyck: The letter continues:

Bill C-377 ignores these values, and forces unions to disclose internal information that could jeopardize their competitive position with respect to employers and with respect to other unions.

Bill C-377 is a major departure from Canada's traditions of parliamentary government. No private member's bill passed since Confederation has imposed such significant ongoing compliance costs on such a targeted group, nor such major ongoing administrative costs on the federal government. The Bill's proponents say that it promotes transparency and accountability; however, in light of Bill C-377's far-reaching implications, transparency and accountability demand at the very least that the Bill be introduced and scrutinized as a government bill, as opposed to a private member's Bill.

Now we have essentially made it a government bill, but of course it's not a government bill. It's a private member's bill. Back to the letter:

As was established at the previous Senate hearings, Bill C-377 is a solution in search of a problem. Union members who have questions or concerns about their union's spending or other decisions have multiple ways within the union's internal democratic processes to obtain transparency and accountability. As indicated previously, these are supplemented by provincial legislation. Complaints by union members about access to their unions' financial information are rare and are dealt with adequately at the provincial level. Any legitimate public interest in the political activities of unions is already addressed at the federal level by the provisions of The Canada Elections Act and by corresponding provincial legislation.

The remarks made by Bill C-377's sponsor Mr. Hiebert before the Standing Senate Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce in 2013, expressed his personal view that "bargaining, organizing, and labour relations" are a union's "core" activities. The implication is that these are easily separated from other activities and that other activities are somehow illegitimate for unions to be engaged in, even if approved by the union's internal democratic processes. These views fly in the face of the Supreme Court of Canada decision in Lavigne (1991), where the majority wrote, "It is . . . for the union itself to decide, by majority vote, which causes or organizations it will support in the interests of favourably influencing the political, social and economic environment in which particular instances of collective bargaining and labour-management dispute resolution will take place."

In the broad and vague range of organizations to which it applies and the sweeping amount of information it requires of them, irrespective of the organization's type, size, or governance, Bill C-377 lacks the careful tailoring between means and ends needed for a law to pass constitutional muster. It appears the government's intention is to create unnecessary work and expense for unions costs that will lead to us having fewer resources to do the valued work that our members rely upon.

In May 2004 the Supreme Court of Canada heard Saskatchewan Federation of Labour v. Saskatchewan, a momentous case whose central issue is the extent to which the Charter protects union activities. The court has not yet released its decision.

This was in January.

It would be exceedingly risky and an abnegation of the responsibilities implicit in the mandate of the Senate in general and the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee in particular to proceed with Bill C-377 without the benefit of the Supreme Court's reasons in this case. We urge you, as a Saskatchewan senator, to adopt a perspective beyond the window of partisan politics and to take your responsibility seriously within the "chamber of sober second thought".

Sincerely,

Barbara Cape

President

SEIU-West

Honourable senators, I do not support this motion. I do not support the bill.