UNA President urges federal politicians to oppose passage of
October 16, 2012
James Rajotte, MP
Chair, Standing Committee on Finance
Sixth Floor, 131 Queen Street
House of Commons
Dear Mr. Rajotte:
Re: Bill C-377, An Act to Amend the Income Tax Act (Requirements for Labour Organizations)
The United Nurses of Alberta, which represents approximately 25,000 Alberta Registered Nurses, Registered Psychiatric Nurses, student nurses and allied health care workers, is deeply concerned by the apparent intention of the federal Government to use this Private Member’s Bill (C-377, An Act to Amend the Income Tax Act [Requirements for Labour Organizations]) to introduce onerous and redundant reporting requirements on unions and many other organizations involved in labour relations practice.
The Bill’s sponsor, Mr. Russel Hiebert, Member of Parliament for South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale, describes the purpose of the Act as “to increase transparency and accountability in another group of public institutions – labour unions.” But UNA believes that this description is misleading: Unions are among the most open and democratic institutions in our society, already transparent and responsive to their members, and furthermore they are not “public institutions” in the sense of that phrase used by Mr. Hiebert.
Rather, we believe the intention of this legislation is simply to obstruct the operation of unions in society, as well as to achieve certain political goals for the Conservative Party of Canada in its dealing with the Opposition party. While we understand the need of any government to advance its political position relative to its competitors in the legislature, we do not believe legislation affecting the operation of important actors in society is the right way to achieve that goal. We note that the Privacy and Access Law Section of the Canadian Bar Association has said of this proposed amendment to the Income Tax Act that, “as a threshold statement, it is unclear what issue or perceived problem the bill is intended to address.”
Based on this reasonable principal, and for the specific points listed below, United Nurses of Alberta wishes to make clear its objection to this unnecessary, politically motivated and ultimately harmful piece of legislation.
- Bill C-377’s financial disclosure provisions violate Alberta provincial privacy laws. This conflict is a serious concern to us, a membership-based organization that strives to conform with our province’s privacy laws. In other words, this legislation bill lacks an appropriate balance between personal privacy rights protected by law and legitimate public policy goals.
- Bill C-377 requires unconstitutional disclosure of targeted individuals’ political beliefs and practices in direct conflict with protections in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We believe we will have no choice but to challenge this law on these grounds in the event it is passed by Parliament – a waste of money for our members and for the taxpayers of Canada.
- Bill C-377 is redundant, as individual members’ right to information on union finances is enshrined in existing federal and provincial laws, which require the free provision of financial information to any member making a request.
- The bill also can and will be challenged under the Charter’s freedom of expression and freedom of association provisions.
- The bill’s requirement of disclosure of salaries and personal political information from independently governed organizations is unneeded and likely a violation of other laws.
- Since unions and other labour organizations are analogous to closed corporations, the governance and transparency of the organization is recognized in law as a matter for members, not the general public.
- Moreover, since the definition of labour organization in the bill is so broad that it includes pension funds, health plans and employer organizations involved in collective bargaining, direct costs will be substantial for business and will have a deleterious effect on investments and financial markets.
- Because the Bill will require the reporting of pension and medical benefit information, and therefore the disclosure of members’ sensitive personal medical and financial information, it is bound to be challenged on the grounds of citizens’ privacy rights as well.
- The cost to federal taxpayers to administer this bill will be very significant. Indeed, it is ironic that it is likely the costs of this bill, which serves no useful social function other than to strike a blow at Canadians’ right to collective bargaining, could cost as much as the Long-Gun Registry, so long maligned by the Harper Government, and now eliminated by legislation.
- In addition to concerns about member and employee privacy, nurses have the additional concern that provisions of this Bill has the potential to breach patient confidentiality in violation of other laws and professional practices.
There is already a substantial regulatory and accountability framework in place for labour organizations in Canada. UNA’s democratically elected Executive, for example, is directly accountable to UNA members for the union’s actions and its spending. Our member nurses directly control how UNA’s finances are spent through well-established transparent democratic processes that have been in place since the creation of this union in 1977. Approximately 300 nurses are elected from our membership each year to give oversight and represent members in decision-making. We disclose audited financial statements to our directors, all UNA locals and to delegates at meetings – approximately 800 in the case of our Annual General Meeting. Individual members may request audited financial statements.
In conclusion, UNA does not believe this law is well drafted, carefully thought out or designed to address an existing legislative need in Canada. Moreover, we believe it is certain to be vigorously challenged in the courts, at great expense to taxpayers, and is likely to be ultimately overturned.
UNA urges the committee to recommend against the passage of this bill because:
- Unions already provide as much or more information to members as any other private organization.
- The privacy of thousands of Albertans would be violated.
- The bill’s provisions impose onerous administrative burdens on labour organizations, labour trusts and the federal government without any need or benefit.
For these reasons, we strongly recommend that Parliament not pass this ill-conceived act into law.
In conclusion, we thank the committee for this opportunity to comment on Bill C-377.
United Nurses of Alberta
cc: Scott Brison, MP, Kings-Hants
Peggy Nash, MP, Parkdale-High Park
Mark Adler, MP, York Centre
Guy Caron, MP, Rimouski-Neigette-Temiscouata-Les Basques
Shelly Glover, MP, Saint Boniface
Randy Hoback, MP, Prince Albert
Brian Jean, MP, Fort McMurray-Athabasca
Hoang Mai, MP, Brossard-La Prairie
Wayne Marston, MP, Hamilton East-Stoney Creek
Cathy McLeod, MP, Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo
Dave Van Kesteren, MP, Chatham-Kent-Essex
Russ Hiebert, MP, South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale
Hon. Jim Flaherty, Minister of Finance
Hon. Gail Shea, Minister of National Revenue