Saturday, January 5, 2013

Bill C-377 and the year ahead for the labour movement

By Dave Coles 
January 4, 2013

In late December, the Conservative majority in the House of Commons passed Bill C-377, an Act to Amend the Income Tax Act (requirements for labour organizations), which was designed to challenge unions' involvement in political activities and divert their resources to busy work.

Like so many other actions on the part of the Harper government, Bill C-377 will inevitably turn out to be a purely political and ideological attack on his opponents. Its adoption fits right in with funding cuts to the women's, environmental and international development groups of the past few years.

If passed by the Senate and if the courts don't strike it down, Bill C-377 will require every trade union to file a public information return with the Canada Revenue Agency on expenditures over $5,000. It also mandates that labour organizations detail the percentage of time employees dedicate to political and lobbying activities.

Some commentators still feel the need to justify the adoption of the bill, basing themselves on nothing but flawed logic. The bevy of distortions in Ian Lee's op-ed  (Ottawa Citizen, December 16, 2012) could be laughed off as absurd if they weren't part of a government effort to weaken a leading force for equality and democracy in our society.

Justified on the grounds that unions are tax exempt or that they have a fiduciary responsibility for someone else's assets, other professional associations that collect fees or dues from their members, such as the Canadian Medical Association or Law Societies, are not required to follow the terms of C-377. What's more is that the Conservatives voted down an amendment to the proposed bill from a Liberal MP to extend its reach to all not for profit organizations, including business lobby groups, involved in labour relations issues and workplace advocacy.

Notwithstanding Ian Lee's claim that unions spend without oversight, almost all provincial labour codes require unions to provide standard financial reporting to their members. This is one reason why Québec and Ontario have criticized the bill with the latter province asking the Senate to vote C-377 down.
There is a lot of information out there for anyone looking for more information on the impacts of such a bill and on why it is against the interest and well-being of working people. CEP's submission to government and opinion piece are a good place to start.

What is certain is that the Conservative government's attacks on workers seen in 2012 (and before) will not end now that the year has passed. Those of us fighting for social justice have our work cut out for us in the year ahead.

I wish you all a year full of peace, solidarity and justice.

Dave Coles is president, Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada.

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