This is not the first post I’ve done on Harper’s latest Hoeppner Bill*, and it won’t be the last, I suspect.
Here is the text of the Bill, which I shall get to in a moment.
But first, Global News has buried any nonsense that this is a lowly so-con backbencher’s personal hobby-horse. Closed high-level meetings to discuss it, held in the PMO with representatives of a notorious and well-heeled anti-union advocacy group? Not exactly your average PMB.
It behooves us all to read the text of this Bill very carefully. The aim, quite simply, is to choke unions with mountains of paperwork every time anyone lifts a finger.
It’s apparently not good enough that a complex but democratic and transparent process sets a union’s budget, reflecting its upcoming priorities, and that, like other middle to large organizations, unions keep strict control of variances through third-party audits and internal reports. Now the day-to-day spending would not only require a pile of official paperasse, but also the public disclosure of a considerable amount of personal detail—a requirement that the Canadian Bar Association, for one, considers illegal and unconstitutional.
The CBA is not alone in finding the Bill riddled with illegalities and Charter violations. There’s no need for me to go into detail here, or about the many other problems with this smelly bit of conservative wankery: that work has already been done. Check out David Climenhaga’s commentary last October. And again. In fact this Bill is too much even for Conservative MP Brent Rathgeber, who raises a host of hard questions.
Reading the Bill, especially the proposed new Income Tax Act language at 149.01.(3), anyone with the slightest experience in running a union or a business or any other organization would see what is plainly intended.
From my own experience in office at the Public Service Alliance of Canada, let me give just a couple of instances of how such a Bill could affect our operations.
The Bill contains a requirement for “a statement of loans receivable, including all loans to officers, employees, members or businesses exceeding $250.” Many PSAC Locals (there are approximately 1200 of them) have hardship funds, from which small interest-free loans or grants are made to needy members. There are also regional funds for this purpose, and a National Hardship Fund as well.
Those asking for this help are guaranteed complete privacy: they meet with a committee, make their case, and the records are kept confidential. Under Hiebert’s law, their names would be made available to the general public on a Canada Revenue Agency website.
Here’s another gem: Hiebert wants the union to adopt his own reporting categories. These are far from the ones trade unionists use, because they don’t reflect the way trade unionists think. For example, “a statement of disbursements on political activities” seems simple enough. But is it?
What, exactly, is a “political activity?” The PSAC does have money set aside for “political action,” something anyone can see for themselves since annual financial statements may be found online. But what about a donation to Haitian hurricane relief from the PSAC’s Social Justice Fund (established and funded by Convention)? Demonstrating outside a government building (coffee and muffins provided) to protest the slow pace of collective bargaining? Taking out newspaper ads to protest the presence of asbestos in federal government workplaces? In the final analysis, most of what we do is “political.”
Who would decide? How much litigation would be involved, the union forced to use members’ dues in long and expensive legal battles?
On behalf of the Harper government, Hiebert and his anti-union partners in crime, Pierre Poilievre and Shelly Glover and Lisa Raitt, are simply seeking to paralyze and destroy organized labour: there are no other public policy objectives evident here at all. Nothing remotely similar, for example, is proposed for Canada’s rapacious corporations. Can anyone imagine forcing businesses to disclose information at this level of detail, and post it all on an easily-accessible public website?
Labour is in the fight of its life with deadly foes. Perhaps we have grown complacent over the years, as I have suggested elsewhere, but “when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” The union-hating Harper regime has our full attention—and labour will not be hanged without a fight, whether it’s in the courts or on the streets.