Jun
29

Debate on Motion to dispense with Senate rules and force vote on Bill C-377

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Hon. Elizabeth Hubley: Honourable senators, I would like to add my voice to those speaking out against Bill C-377. I have serious concerns about this legislation, just as I did two years ago when we last considered and then amended this bill. I am not the only one with concerns.

The Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs received a letter dated April 28, 2015, from my home province of Prince Edward Island, and I would like to share this particular letter with you. It was signed by Faye Martin, who was then Manager of Labour and Industrial Relations at the Department of Environment, Labour and Justice and is now Director of Consumer, Labour and Financial Services at the Department of Justice and Public Safety.

The letter reads:

This correspondence is written in response to your invitation to submit written commentary on Bill C-377, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (requirements for labour organizations) which would require detailed public disclosure of union finance.

In earlier correspondence from this jurisdiction to the Honourable Kellie Leitch, Minister of Labour and Status of Women, concern was expressed and caution urged regarding Bill C-377. This jurisdiction fully supports the principles of transparency and accountability in the management of funds. However, balance and fairness are crucial in dealing with organizations which will be subject to the provisions of the proposed Bill C-377. Specifically, requirements such as these amendments propose, may result in disparate regulation of the activities of unions. Unfortunately, these circumstances may negatively impact a relatively stable labour relations climate in Prince Edward Island.

I respectfully request that the Government of Canada discontinue efforts in this regard subject to further discussion amongst Federal / Provincial / Territorial Labour counterparts.

Sincerely,

Faye Martin

Manager

Labour and Industrial Relations

P.E.I. joins a chorus. At least seven provinces have voiced opposition to this legislation, and with good reason. There are a variety of ways this bill is a bad bill. Indeed, the Canadian Bar Association calls it “fundamentally flawed.”

First, it is absolutely unnecessary and outside the scope of Canada’s Parliament. As the Honourable Erna Braun, Minister of Labour and Immigration for the Government of Manitoba, stated in her testimony before the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs:

Our view is that this bill is unnecessary and that it infringes on provincial jurisdiction. Responsibility for labour relations in Canada rests with provincial governments. Under 10 per cent of workers in Canada work in federally regulated workplaces. Otherwise, the provincial governments throughout the country can and do independently set their own legislative priorities in the area of labour.

Other provinces agree with this assessment, including, as you heard earlier, my own. Also in agreement is Bruce Ryder, a professor at Osgoode Hall Law School, who appeared as an individual before the committee:

My answer is it’s quite clear that the law in pith and substance is in relation to promoting transparency and accountability for labour organizations, a matter that simply does not fall within Parliament’s jurisdiction and is therefore ultra vires.

There are also significant privacy concerns. We all know that the result of this bill will be the public naming of any business that is paid more than $5,000 by a union. Individuals, small businesses and corporations will find themselves in public, and that has some experts worried.

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Mr. Michael Mazzuca, Past Chair of the National Pensions and Benefits Law Section of the Canadian Bar Association, spoke to the privacy aspect:

. . . the Canadian Bar Association is concerned that the disclosure of salaries and wages of employees and contractors of independently governed organizations required by Bill C-377 goes well beyond what has previously existed in Canadian law and is inconsistent with the privacy protections embodied in the numerous privacy laws and constitutional jurisprudence in Canada.

Ms. Laurie Channer appeared on behalf of the Writers Guild of Canada, a small national association that represents about 2,100 professional screenwriters working in English-language film, television, radio and digital media production in Canada. She spoke about how the legislation would affect the privacy of its members:

Payments to almost every party we transact with, including the writers’ insurance and retirement carrier, will be reportable, thereby exposing our members’ income. Also, our landlord, our Internet provider and office cleaners, et cetera, will have their invoices disclosed for public scrutiny. Additionally, who would want to provide services to us when we are forced to collect intrusive information on their political and non-labour relations activities?

Finally, there will be significant costs to the labour organizations, specifically the smaller ones. Ms. Channer spoke to this as well.

We are already stretched thin. This bill is punitive to us. If this legislation passes, we will have to spend significant resources out of our budget on new staff to gather and enter all the additional data required.

This view has been expressed by a number of small locals since this bill was first introduced years ago.

We also know that there is significant cost to the Canada Revenue Agency. They provided the estimates to the Parliamentary Budget Officer in 2012, and the numbers were almost $11 million for the first two years, and more than $2 million every year after. For what?

Mr. Paul Cavalluzzo, Senior Partner at Cavalluzzo Shilton McIntyre Cornish LLP, had strong words about Bill C-377 when he testified before the committee:

It’s an intrusive, paternalistic piece of legislation that is an insult to the working people of this country, because it implies that workers cannot — cannot — ensure that their own trade unions are accountable and transparent. A trade union is a voluntary association. It is made up of its members. Its responsibility is to its members. It seems to me — and the Supreme Court noted in a case very similar — that the trade union is a very democratic organization, and the state has no interest in intervening in its internal affairs.

I agree. The federal government has no business imposing this type of disclosure requirement on labour organizations. The Honourable Kevin Flynn, Minister of Labour for Ontario, summed it up best.

. . . this bill is redundant, unnecessarily burdensome for unions and their members, threatens to derail collective bargaining and good labour relations across this country, and raises serious privacy and constitutional concerns. It does all of that without any perceptible gain for Canadians.

I cannot support this bill, and I would urge others to do so as well.

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