Posted July 7, 2015
Are the unions using member’s dues for political purposes?
It has the unromantic title of Bill 377 but it carries a big stick. The bill, passed last week by the Senate and signed into law by Governor General David Johnston, will force public and private unions to disclose almost all of their financial activities.
These include salaries paid to senior union staffers making more than $100,000 a year, dues spent on political activities, lobbying, and activism such as funding environmental groups. Also, included are the unions’ alleged underwriting of NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair’s anti-oil sands trip in 2012.
No big deal there you may say, but members of the NDP caucus are currently under scrutiny by the RCMP for alleged illegal expenses charged by members of the NDP caucus. In fairness, they aren’t the only members of the House of Commons and Senate who have accepted largess from lobbyists and outside sources.
Canadian Unions annually collect some $4.5 billion in dues. The Income Tax Act forbids unions from levying dues for any purpose not directly related to the ordinary operating expenses of the union. In fact members are allowed to deduct the cost of dues on their personal income tax returns. In effect, this makes union membership a publicly supported entity. That is, the taxpayers are funding the unions’ operations in which union management can exercise its use of those funds.
An example of how union dues are manipulated is support of the Working Families Coalition of Ontario, a labour front organization. It has been a major participant in the last two provincial elections purchasing advertising that denigrated the Progressive Conservative opposition when, also behind the scenes, supported the governing Liberals.
In Guelph, it is no secret that the Guelph and District Labour Council supported the “We are Guelph” members and sponsored the website in the 2014 civic election. This union subsidized organization supported a select list of pro-labour candidates. What we don’t know is how much of the union member’s dues, was spent supporting individual candidates for Guelph city council?
Ward three Coun. Phil Allt’s 2014 election financial statement revealed that the former NDP candidate for the Provincial Legislature, received money from out-of-town members of a union.
The irony remains because of the election campaign complaint by Karen Farbridge’s friend and supporter, Susan Watson. She challenged the right of ward six candidate Glen Tolhurst, to receive a donation of $400 from the citizen’s activist group GrassRoots Guelph. The result of this vexious complaint will cost the taxpayers possibly more than $12,000 after an outside accountant audits Mr. Tolhurst’s election financial report. It amounts to less that $4,000 and he lost his bid for election.
The auditor has indicated it will take him two months to complete the audit. The finding will be announced in September.
The truth is that the city staff is 80 per cent unionized. They are organized in every department of the city. As such, their leadership has a vested interest in supporting the administration that determines their wages and working conditions. Experience has shown in the past eight years that the leadership of those unions enjoyed a cozy relationship with the Farbridge administration.
The transit workers struck last summer, which was the only break of solidarity in the union/management relationship.
Bill C377 will provide better access to how the unions across the country spend their member’s dues. It won’t be perfect but it will cause union leaders to think twice about getting involved in the political process.
The bill will require unions to file detailed disclosures with the Canada Revenue Agency and the reports will be posted online for the public to see.
Leveling the playing field, could affect the Guelph civic elections in 2018.
But it’s probably too late to curtail the union’s collective political support of favoured NDP and Liberal causes and candidates. The dilemma Thomas Mulcair faces is will the unions come through?
Looking back at previous Federal elections, the NDP has not managed to gain power despite the support of the Left and the unions. They are good at by-elections but rarely have the horses to win the big one.
The late NDP leader Jack Layton was instrumental in electing his party in 2011 as the official opposition for the first time in the party’s history.
With the help of the unions and public disapproval of the Harper government policies, this could be their best chance to form the next government of Canada.