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Without clear guidelines, the government's declaration that a possilbe strike by Air Canada flight attendants would be harmful to the economy amounts to selective meddling. (Della Rollins/Della Rollings for The Globe and Mail)
Without clear guidelines, the government's declaration that a possilbe strike by Air Canada flight attendants would be harmful to the economy amounts to selective meddling. (Della Rollins/Della Rollings for The Globe and Mail)

Conservatives set to table bill forcing unions to open books Add to ...

The Conservatives are set to take another hit at labour organizations, this time through a private member’s bill designed to force Canada’s unions to open their books to the public.

The legislation is set to be tabled in the House on Monday afternoon by Conservative MP Russ Hiebert, who has won a draw allowing him to be the first parliamentarian to present his private member’s bill.

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The bill’s content is still confidential, but its title shows it will seek to change the rules governing labour organizations under the Income Tax Act, which exempts unions, along with charities and municipalities, from paying taxes. If adopted, the bill will force unions “to apply financial disclosure rules” that are already in place for charities, said a source, given the tax benefit that they receive.

The proposed bill is part of continued efforts in recent months by the Conservatives to take on Canada’s unions, which are key backers of the NDP.

The Conservatives have accused the NDP of illegally accepting union sponsorships at its recent party convention in Vancouver, with Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro accusing union leaders of “seeking to buy influence” within the Official Opposition.

The NDP is rejecting allegations of wrongdoing, saying unions paid commercial rates to place advertisements at the convention this spring.

The Conservatives have also started to attack the main contender in the NDP leadership race, Brian Topp, over his union roots. Mr. Topp, who works as the head of the actors’ union ACTRA in Toronto, has argued that the labour movement is essential to the successes of the NDP, through its organizational force and the values that it espouses.

However, the Conservatives are aiming to portray Mr. Topp as a “union boss” who is not looking out for all Canadians.

“How could Brian Topp speak on behalf of all Canadians, when he is so tied to big union special interests,” a Conservative said in a recent memo.

In addition, the Conservative government sided against unions at Canada Post and Air Canada during recent labour disputes, while the NDP engaged in a filibuster to try to stop back-to-work legislation of postal workers.

By attacking unions, the Conservatives are trying to neutralize what will be one of their major opponents in a coming round of government cutbacks.

In that context, Mr. Hiebert’s bill dealing with the Income Tax Act, for which he gave official notice last Thursday, seems part of a concerted strategy. Mr. Hiebert is planning to lay out the specifics of his proposal at a news conference on Monday.

Private members’ bills are usually free votes, but there is growing evidence that the Conservative Party is using the tool to push its agenda through Parliament.

Last week, rookie Conservative MP John Carmichael presented a bill that would fine or jail Canadians who prevent others from flying the Maple Leaf. Expressing the government’s approval for his plan, Heritage Minister James Moore was present at a news conference to unveil the bill, which included a display of flags and Canada pins set up by the government.

Meanwhile, Mr. Topp held a fundraiser in Toronto over the weekend that was attended by many players in Canada’s cultural industry who appreciate his work on their behalf.

“Brian’s 10 years with ACTRA Toronto have made him a real friend to artists,” actress Fiona Reid said.

The evening attracted the likes of Gordon Pinsent at the home of actress Wendy Crewson, and raised about $10,000 for Mr. Topp’s NDP leadership campaign.

However, Mr. Topp accused the government of using divisive tactics by attacking the union movement.

“It does seem to be the case that [Prime Minister Stephen]Harper and his team have identified the labour movement as a new opportunity to make people angry and to divide them, which is the essence of their approach to politics,” Mr. Topp told The Globe and Mail.

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