Last week, I posted an exchange I had with Senator Eaton relating to Bill C-377. This is the private members’s Bill being pushed through the Parliamentary system by the Conservatives requiring unions to prepare a long list of forms describing their disbursements and activities, which would then be compiled, monitored, and posted on government run websites.
I understood the Senator to be suggesting that Bill C-377 would simply impose requirements on unions that already apply to charities and other such organizations. I responded by pointing out neither charities nor any other organization in Canada is required to disclose anything near what Bill C-377 requires of unions. This raises the question then of why it is only unions that are singled out by the Bill.
Dear Senator Eaton:
Thank you for your follow up letter in relation to Bill C-377. Once again, thank
you for your engagement on this issue.
My interpretation of what Bill C-377 would require differs from yours, but that
will be sorted out by the courts. The Bill is far from a model of legislative
However, my main point remains the same. I, and many other commentators, believe
that this Bill is little more than a government targeting one of its political
foes for special harassment, at excessive cost to taxpayers like me. In your
follow up letter, you acknowledge that Bill C-377 would impose far more onerous
disclosure requirements than is required of charities. Therefore, we now appear
to agree that the argument the Conservatives have made to justify this Bill,
that the Bill would bring unions into line with existing rules on transparency
by charities, is false. It would do not such thing.
With respect, your argument that the charities’ laws are old is no answer.
Update them then, and sweep in all organizations that receive taxpayer
benefits: corporations, charities, non-profits, religious organizations,
professional associations. If the Conservative claim is to be taken seriously,
and all organizations that receive taxpayer benefits should be required to show
taxpayers how they spend their money, then do that. Simply extend Bill C-377 to
However, I haven’t heard one Conservative argue that any other organization
should be subject to the onerous red tape that is Bill C-377. I apologize if
you have made that argument. If so, perhaps you could send me your comments.
If you haven’t argued that, then could you explain why? This would be the
logical conclusion if you are indeed just pushing for greater transparency of
taxpayer subsidized organizations, and not interested in singling out unions
for special, adverse treatment.
I appreciate your claim that you are a transparency advocate. I too am a
supporter of principled, balanced, and cost-effective transparency laws. This
Bill is none of those things. It will cost taxpayers like me tens of millions
of dollars that could better be used to fund health care and education and
other useful public goods and services. Where are the Conservatives’
priorities? The benefits of disclosure regulation must offset the costs of
administrating the law. Bill C-377 falls far short of this common sense
That is the most galling thing about this Bill. It is taxpayers like me that are
forced to fund this Conservative lark that will produce thousands of pages of
information that might occasionally be useful to antiunion corporate lobby
groups like The Fraser Institute and employers preparing for collective
bargaining, but that is completely useless to “the public”.
To the millions of lost taxpayer dollars being diverted to maintain the huge
administrative bureaucracy this Bill will require we need to add the expense of
defending the Bill in courts against obvious Constitutional and privacy
challenges that will follow. And for what ends? How is the average Canadian
made better off by burying unions in administrative red tape? Would not every
Canadian taxpayer be better off if the tens of millions of dollars this Bill
will syphon from public coffers were spent on health care or education, or on
collecting the millions of unpaid taxes owing to taxpayers right now? That is
one of Senator Segal’s main points. The answer is obvious.
In any event, thank you for your engagement. I will be watching your speeches in
the future, looking for arguments in favour of greater transparency by
corporations and other organizations, and not just unions. I also look forward
to your public opposition to the Conservative’s “Right to Work” bill, which
will be the next shoe to drop in their ongoing effort to weaken their political
Professor David Doorey