Thank you very much. It's a real pleasure for me to be here with so many of my colleagues who are obviously interested in one of the most important areas of our work, the welfare of Canadians.
One of the relationships that's very important is our relationship with organized labour, and so we will be talking about Bill and exactly that, building a stronger relationship with our organized labour movements in Canada.
I'm proud to be here today to present for your consideration Bill , an act to amend the Canada Labour Code, the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act, the Public Service Labour Relations Act and the Income Tax Act. This bill, if passed by Parliament, would repeal Bills and , both of which have been a detriment to unions and labour organizations.
Bill helps deliver on our commitment to restore a fair and balanced approach to labour relations in this country, one that balances the rights of unions with the rights of employers. Bill and Bill , two bills adopted during the last session of the 41st Parliament, upset that balance, and we believe must be repealed. These bills have serious ramifications for workers and unions in Canada. They put unions at a disadvantage. They also bypass the tripartite consultation process involving employers, unions, and governments, a process that has traditionally been used for federal labour relations law reform in Canada and which contributed to stable labour relations in the federal jurisdiction.
Fair, balanced, and evidence-based policies must be developed through real consultation and engagement. Our government believes this is essential for the prosperity of workers and employers, Canadian society, and the economy as a whole. When it comes to labour law reform in the future, we are firmly committed to meaningful engagement with unions, employers, other stakeholders, the provinces, the territories, and the Canadian public.
To make sure the federal labour policy works in the best interest of Canadians, we felt it was our duty to seek the repeal of Bill and Bill . These bills were a solution in search of a problem. First let me explain what these bills do. I'll start with Bill .
Bill amended the Income Tax Act to require all labour organizations and labour trusts, including those under provincial jurisdiction, to file detailed financial and other information with the Minister of National Revenue which would then be made publicly available on the CRA website.
This raises significant privacy concerns because it would include detailed information on organizations, assets, and general financial health as well as liabilities. This includes individual transactions over $5,000, the salaries of certain officers, directors, and trustees, as well as time spent by certain personnel on political or non-labour relations activities. Failure to comply with these reporting requirements could result in a fine of $1,000 for each day of non-compliance up to a maximum of $25,000 per year.
In addition, Bill creates unnecessary red tape for unions that are already financially accountable to their members. Section 110 of the Canada Labour Code requires unions as well as employer organizations to provide financial statements to their members upon request and free of charge. Most provinces have similar requirements in their labour laws, so Bill duplicates accountability measures that already exist. The bill also puts unions at a disadvantage during the collective bargaining process by giving employers access to key information about unions without being required to reciprocate.
Bill has tilted the playing field in favour of employers. For example, employers would know how much money the union has in a strike fund for a possible work stoppage and how long they could stay out if it came to a strike; so, the union's most important negotiating lever is undermined. There have also been concerns raised about the constitutionality of Bill C-377, because the objective of the bill could be seen not as taxation, but as the regulation of unions, which is in large part a matter of provincial jurisdiction. Seven provinces spoke out against Bill C-377 for that very reason. Bill C-377 is problematic for many reasons, but if it is inconsistent with the Constitution then that alone should be reason enough to repeal the legislative changes it made.
This brings me to Bill . This bill changed the unions' certification and decertification systems under the Canada Labour Code, the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act, and the Public Service Labour Relations Act. The bill replaced the existing card check system with a mandatory vote system, despite the fact the old system worked well for decades and there was little pressure to change it. Bill C-525 makes it harder for a union to be certified as a collective bargaining agent, and makes it easier for a bargaining agent to be decertified. Previously, the Canada Labour Code required at least 35% support to trigger a union certification vote. If the organization could show they had the majority's support, they were automatically certified as a bargaining unit. Now under Bill C-525, a party seeking to become a certified bargaining agent faces more difficult odds. To be certified as a bargaining agent, they need to demonstrate the support of at least 40% of the employees and must proceed to a certification vote in all cases, even if majority support is expressed. Previously, decertification was possible if the party seeking the revocation of the unit certification demonstrated majority support. Now representation votes must be conducted in all cases when at least 40% support for decertification is demonstrated.
When we asked stakeholders what they thought of the new certification rules, many said the previous card check system not only was faster and more efficient, but it was also more likely to be free of employer interference. Some have suggested that moving away from the mandatory vote system and reverting to a card check system is undemocratic. Statistics show that from 2004 to 2014 the Canada Industrial Relations Board dealt with 23 cases involving allegations of intimidation or coercion during an organizing campaign, and only six were upheld. That's six cases in 10 years. Of these six cases, four involved intimidation and coercion by an employer. The other two were situations where two unions were competing to represent the same group of employees, and one union made allegations against the other. The card check system is a perfectly democratic way of gauging support as it ensures that an absolute majority of employees support the union, not just those who come out and vote. In addition, the Canada Industrial Relations Board and the Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board can order a vote if there are doubts about employees' support for unionization. A union will not be certified unless the labour board is satisfied that there is support for it by a majority of employees.
By repealing Bill and Bill , our government would restore a fair and balanced approach to labour relations in Canada. Successful collective bargaining and fairness in the employer-employee relationship are at the foundation of our economy. They provide stability and predictability in the labour force, two vital elements of a strong economy. To put it simply, good labour relations are good for everyone. The issue is simple: Bill and Bill diminish and weaken Canada's labour movement.
Bill would help return balance to labour relations and restore positive relations with provinces and territories. Our government strongly believes that Bill should be passed. I look forward to the committee's review of this important piece of legislation.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Madam Minister, welcome to the committee.
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.
Mr. Chair, today we are considering Bill , whose objective is to undo two bills that had been adopted under our government. These bills were based on transparency and democracy, with a secret vote and accountability.
When you join a union, you get tax credits. If we subscribe to the principle that tax credits are public, in our opinion, accountability should be as well.
Since union fees receive a big tax break, we really think they should be made public, so the unions should be required to make them public, but when we look at some clauses of the bill, they say exactly the reverse. Let's talk about clause 12, which talks about the the organization's assets, liabilities, income, and expenditures.
I am wondering why the minister wants to keep those hidden. Why does she want to be sure that those assets and that information will not be made public?
Thank you for the question.
First, the key labour organizations, including the Canadian Labour Congress, criticized Bill on the basis that it would upset the existing labour relations balance between unions and employers by requiring unions to publicly disclose key financial information, including the strike fund, without requiring employers to reciprocate. Second, it creates unnecessary and redundant financial disclosure obligations, since union financial disclosure is already addressed in the Canada Labour Code and in many provincial labour statutes. Third, the bill is biased against unions and ignores other types of organizations, such as professional associations, which also receive favourable treatment under tax law. Finally, the bill invades the privacy of labour organizations and their members.
Several labour organizations indicated their intention to challenge the provisions enacted by Bill on constitutional grounds. The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, AUPE, has launched a constitutional challenge to Bill C-377, which is before the Alberta Court of Queen's Bench. Due to the government's stated intention to repeal the Income Tax Act provisions enacted by the bill, the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees has agreed to adjourn the application without any further dates for hearings being set.
The Canadian Bar Association, not normally known to be particularly heavily unionized, and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner raised concerns that Bill could breach individual privacy rights. The Bar Association suggested the bill may be subject to legal challenges on these grounds. Many provinces—Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and P.E.I.—allege that Bill C-377 was potentially unconstitutional by encroaching upon provincial jurisdiction over labour issues. British Columbia did support the bill.
Some business organizations, such as the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, and Merit Canada, did express support for Bill . Market-orientated think tanks like the Fraser Institute and the Montreal Economic Institute had previously expressed support for expanding statutory union financial disclosure requirements.
Welcome, Minister, and congratulations on your appointment.
I want to give a big shout-out to communities right across Canada, trade unions, labour unions, and citizens groups who spoke out against the two bills we're talking about, Bill and Bill .
Having come from the charitable sector and having experienced the previous government's sort of chill on the work we did, and of course the pieces under the guise of accountability around first nations, to me this is something along those lines that we need to repeal. We're on side, and I'm glad we're doing it. It's unfortunate we have to spend time going backwards to get where we were 10 years ago. However, I commend you on that.
You did bring up the Canada Labour Code, and I did want to take this opportunity to speak about that. We know the Canada Labour Code is about 60 years out of date. There was a review with some recommendations that were never implemented. I'm wondering if I could take this opportunity to ask the minister about a possible timeline or some idea for the committee about updating and modernizing the Canada Labour Code.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I welcome all of the witnesses.
First of all, I want to say that I am going to be speaking French.
Madam Minister, may I thank you for your presence among us here today. I also thank you, as well as your colleagues, for the information you are sharing with us before this committee.
It goes without saying that this bill is important for the riding I represent, Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, and for the country as a whole. From coast to coast, the important role unions play in protecting the rights of Canadian workers touches all of us, directly or indirectly. And so I am going to ask you the following question.
Madam Minister, will Bill C-4 make it easier for employees to organize, and how will it affect union dues?
Will it make it easier to unionize? The answer to that is yes. I don't think businesses or Canadians need to be afraid of that.
In fact, let's reflect on the value that unions have provided. Over the decades, unions have been the stalwarts of fighting back on child labour, on improving workplace occupational health standards, on calling for equal pay for equal work, and on bringing in a place for women and indigenous people. They fight for the disabled, and of course for minimum wage.
As you know, in Winnipeg we had the big strike in 1919, when unions and the business community had two views. What resulted was a better understanding. Unfortunately, it came head to head, but unions, from that time, have been a centrepiece not only of human rights here in Canada but of human rights around the world. Even though unions are no longer as prominent and prolific as they were, they are still inspirational leaders when it comes to rights and benefits for workers, and for all workers, whether they're in a union or not.
I think this bill would facilitate unionization. I don't think we can expect to see a massive increase in unions. I think they deserve our respect. The fact is they have a strong history of representing Canadian workers, and they have a very strong role internationally. I would not expect to see a huge number of unions, and I wouldn't expect to see union dues going up either. I think things will be the status quo.
Absolutely. The disclosure of salaries is one of those controversial issues.
We used to have a radio station in Winnipeg that would read out on the radio to a million people the salary of every government civil servant. Not only was it difficult for those individuals, but it also caused strife within the workplace itself.
We're much more sensitive to privacy now and the fact that what we make, for the most part, is confidential. It seriously impacts, obviously, work sites, which I'm familiar with, personal lives, and relationships within families. This legislation would have caused much more disharmony, a situation which was clearly not required, did not benefit labour relations in any way, which was punitive, and looked to seemingly want to cause trouble for unions.
The privacy commissioners raised the issue; our provinces raised the issue, and individual Canadians felt it was outrageous. So, yes, I agree that disclosing that kind of information for anything over $5,000 is completely unwarranted.
I have one last question.
I refer to a document that we received from the Library of Parliament talking about Bill , etc., which states, “Countries like the United States and Germany have had cases of union corruption. Disclosure schemes have led to the recovery of massive amounts of money, and forced individuals who had committed offences out of the offending unions.”
It seems to be a choice of choosing accountability to combat corruption or choosing corruption, or that's what seems to be the choice for me, so my question for you as minister is, if given the choice between accountability and corruption, what would be your choice?
Mr. Chair, I want to make a comment.
My Conservative colleagues remind me of generals fighting the last war. In the last election Canadians spoke overwhelmingly against the politics of division of the previous government. There were major flashpoints, including the way in which working people and their leaders in the union movement spoke out against anti-democratic bills that were being imposed on them. It was an approach that was, I would say, profoundly un-Canadian, given that we are in a country where people benefit from the struggles that the labour movement has waged. To hear the reference that this is somehow disrespectful of private members' bills is absurd. I was here, and we saw the way in which the government touted this: yes, it was a private member's bill but it was in accord with the government agenda.
I believe it is time to move on. Like my colleague Ms. Benson, I want to signal our support for this action by the government. I want to acknowledge the struggle that was waged by many in the labour movement, from the Canadian Labour Congress to the firefighters unions, to associations representing people in sectors where they can't unionize. People overwhelmingly spoke out against this horrifying, undemocratic assault on their rights.
As we go forward, I would hope we continue to support the demands being made by many in the labour movement. While we applaud this action from the government, we realize that it's not just about repealing bad bills put forward by the previous government, but it's also about making progress.
What we are hearing about from members of the labour movement is the need to make progress when it comes to employment insurance and expanding pensions, including the Canada pension plan, when it comes to supporting the federal minimum wage, and when it comes to investing in programming, like a national child care plan. Those are things we're hearing about from the labour movement. We support them in these matters, and we hope that the government will see fit to support them as well.
I want to touch on a theme raised by my colleague and reflected on by the minister, namely, the rise in part-time, temporary, and self-employed workers in our country. We know that this is changing the nature of work and the workplace. What we're talking about is a rise in precarious work. We know that precarious work, certainly at the rate we're seeing it, leads to growing inequality and threatens the future of an entire generation. We're seeing that the trend is particularly acute in my generation, the millennial generation.
There are major barriers to people claiming what they deserve, whether it's the recognition of independent contractors or the way in which EI is currently set up. I'm wondering what the minister can tell us about her plans to address the situation that many young people and many Canadians are facing when it comes to the rise of precarious work.
I want to welcome the department officials. You're not sitting in the order that I have written down here, but that's okay.
From ESDC, we have Chantale Clarke, policy officer, strategic policy and legislative reform, labour law analysis, labour program. You must have a very large business card. We also have Anthony Giles, assistant deputy minister, policy, dispute resolution, and international affairs, labour program.
From CRA, we have Costa Dimitrakopoulos, director general, legislative policy directorate, legislative policy and regulatory affairs branch.
From the Department of Finance, we have Blaine Langdon, chief, charities, personal income tax division, tax policy branch.
Thank you all for joining us today. We have you for only about 20 or 25 minutes because we have some other business that we have to attend to before the end of the day.
I believe our first question goes to Mr. Deltell.
We could continue a long time like this.
Clauses 7, 8 and 9 discuss matters that are left to the discretion of the board. Clause 11 states that the board would have discretionary powers. We can see that a lot of subjective powers are being given to an independent organization. We cannot really oppose that as such, but we want to highlight the fact that decisions which may be the object of a secret consultation by the members of a union using secret ballots could be subject to the discretion of unelected people who may decide if a provision is advantageous for the members or not.
Let's go back to clause 12, which was discussed earlier in the questions addressed to the minister. The minister has said repeatedly that this makes no sense, that this is red tape, and that a lot of research has to be done.
Clause 12 refers to the assets, liabilities, income and expenditures of the organization. I would like the officials to tell me whether the unions must disclose that information to their members.
Is this information already in the public domain?
Thank you, Mr. Chair. Thank you to the folks for coming to help us look at the issue a bit further. I'm not sure whom to address this question to, so perhaps you can share your expertise.
My background is in the charitable sector, and I know about the idea that you are receiving some kind of benefit through donations. People are getting the benefit. They're applying for a credit. There's this obligation to file information so it's transparent. It gives people some good information about where those charitable dollars are going.
It's also my understanding there was opposition to some of those changes in there and sharing more information than was felt necessary. I feel like this is a continuation of that.
To me there's no difference. Large corporations receive tax credits, and they receive subsidies and all kinds of exchanges with government funding in order to do things. There's a requirement that they file their income tax, and we see that.
I'm wondering if someone could comment on some of the differences. This was going to be around reporting requirements for the fact that individuals were getting...like if you were an engineer in the engineering association. You were a professional. You were part of the accounting association. You paid your annual dues to be a part of that group, and you got a tax credit. That's the individual piece, and then you participate in your association, and that kind of thing.
I'm interested in your general comments on the differences I feel are going to be overly burdensome. That's a hard word late in the day.
Maybe I'll take that one.
You're right. In terms of registered charities, there is public disclosure of the information. We saw a copy of the return here earlier. It's a 10-page form that is available on the Canada Revenue Agency's website. The reason registered charities are required to file and have their information publicly posted is that there is an enhanced public interest in knowing where donations go and knowing which organizations the public wants to support. That's part of the rationale.
In terms of the overall reporting requirements for registered charities, there's a particular set of rules that registered charities have to abide by in order to maintain their registered charity status. They file that information, and the CRA uses that for the purposes of determining whether or not they're complying with the rules.
In terms of other types of organizations, there are a number of different types of taxes and organizations. There are non-profit organizations, labour organizations, and a variety of other exempt organizations. Different reporting requirements apply to them depending on what rules apply to them and on generally what information the CRA needs in order to determine whether or not they continue to qualify for the exemption or whether or not they're meeting the particular rules.
With the exception of charities, and currently for labour organizations and labour trusts, the information about those organizations is not generally available to the public. As with other taxpayers, be it an individual, a corporation, or a non-profit in the sense of the true non-profit, that information is not disclosed to the public. It wouldn't be available on the CRA's website or anything like that.