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Linda Jeffrey, Ontario labour minister
Linda Jeffrey, Ontario labour minister

Ontario Labour Minister warns Ottawa about 'serious concerns' with union finance bill Add to ...

A federal bill that would require unions to make detailed financial information public is “inexplicably intrusive” and could derail the collective bargaining process in Ontario, the province’s Labour Minister says.

Linda Jeffrey made the comments in a letter sent to members of the Senate on Monday, less than one week after Bill C-377 passed third reading in the House of Commons and was sent to the upper chamber for review. Quebec’s labour minister wrote separately to her federal counterpart last week expressing concern about the legislation.

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If passed, the bill would require labour unions to give the Canada Revenue Agency information including salaries and benefits for top earners, details of some transactions over $5,000 and an accounting of time and money spent on lobbying. The data would eventually be posted online.

Russ Hiebert, the Conservative MP who introduced the bill, says unions should be held to higher standards because they, like charities, receive tax benefits. He said the bill would bring Canada’s disclosure laws in line with those of the United States and clear up any perceptions that unions are misusing the money they collect from their members. Unions argue the bill targets them unfairly while leaving other groups that receive tax breaks untouched.

In her letter to Senators, Ms. Jeffrey wrote that the proposed legislation raises “serious concerns” for Ontario.

“The Government of Ontario wishes to convey to you and the Government of Canada our serious concerns regarding the inexplicably intrusive nature of Bill C-377’s financial disclosure obligations,” Ms. Jeffrey wrote.

Ms. Jeffrey said the new requirements would impose a heavy burden on both unions and the federal government and could compromise the privacy of those whose names and salaries are made public. She added that Ontario’s labour laws already require unions to provide copies of their audited financial statements to any member who asks.

And she suggested the bill could cause significant trouble in future labour negotiations if it is passed.

“This bill, as passed in third reading, has the potential to drastically derail collective bargaining in Ontario,” Ms. Jeffrey wrote in the letter. “In these tough economic times we need governments, organized labour, and management to work together, and this bill as passed through the House needlessly intervenes in that process.”

Copies of the letter were also sent to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, Labour Minister Lisa Raitt and other provincial labour and finance ministers.

On Monday afternoon, Mr. Hiebert said he is unfazed by Ontario and Quebec’s concerns. “I believe that this legislation is drafted in such a way that it reflects the interests of the nation,” he said.

A spokesman from Alberta Human Services said the province is watching the proposed legislation closely but would not say whether it supports it.

“The Alberta government is aware that some of the submissions made to the standing committee [on finance] expressed a concern that the federal government may be using tax legislation to otherwise regulate the relationship between unions and their members, including those subject to provincial jurisdiction,” Jay Fisher wrote in an e-mail.

Among other changes, Bill C-377 would compel unions to list the name and salary of anyone who earns more than $100,000 or holds a position of authority. They would also be required to list any benefits, bonuses, gifts and other compensation those individuals receive. In addition, the legislation would require unions to report financial transactions worth $5,000 or more that are spent on some activities, including education, training and lobbying.

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