McLeod supports bill forcing unions to open books

'It's really an opportunity for some additional transparency in how they spend, and where they spend, the money from the membership'

Jason Hewlett / Kamloops Daily News
December 12, 2012 01:00 AM

Citing the importance of transparency, Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo MP Cathy McLeod says she supported a private member's bill that would force unions to open their books to the public.

McLeod said concerns about personal information being made public have been addressed, and the Conservatives' Bill C-377 will require unions to reveal financial details such as salaries and expenses.

"Privacy was a concern. I believe it was addressed," she said Wednesday. "It's really an opportunity for some additional transparency in how they spend, and where they spend, the money from the membership."

Russ Hiebert, the Tory MP behind the bill, said he introduced it because he believes unions ought to be subject to the same public reporting requirements as charities as they enjoy the same tax-exempt status.

Like donations to charities, union dues are tax deductible.

"I believe there is a genuine public purpose served by requiring financial transparency in all institutions that receive a substantial public benefit," Hiebert said during debates on the bill.

"It exists in government, Crown corporations, charities and most recently on native reserves. Now we are extending transparency to another set of institutions that enjoy public benefits, that being labour organizations."

McLeod agrees. She said some unions are better at being transparent than others. Bill C-377 will even the playing field.

But union leaders and opposition politicians say the bill imposes onerous, costly reporting requirements and in many provinces, unions already report this information to the people who need it, that is, their members.

"The Conservatives want their corporate friends to have access to this information so that they can undermine unions," the United Food and Commercial Workers Canada said in its campaign against the bill.

While it's unusual for a private member's bill to become law, Hiebert's appears to have the blessing of the Conservative leadership.

Labour Minister Lisa Raitt said she is in favour of the bill as it will help inform union members before casting their ballots for leadership.

"What we're focused on is making sure that Canadians have the right information they need in order to make good decisions," she said.

At least one Tory has expressed reservations about the bill and said he intends to vote against it.

"I do not see that non-members of unions such as myself have any interest in how the unions spend those dues," said Brent Rathgeber.

The Conservatives have repeatedly been accused of using their majority muscle to overpower union rights in Canada.

They've used, or threatened, back-to-work legislation in labour disputes in the airline industry and at Canada Post, arguing the economy could not afford disruption in those services.

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