New rules are about making unions more accountable for their tax benefits

By Kathryn Marshall, City Hall

This week’s topic: Is Bill C-377 good for Canada’s union members?

Who wins this week? Columnist Kathryn Marshall and guest columnist Laila Yuile battle over the issues of the day. Send us an email at van24feedback@sunmedia.ca — max 150 words.


I donate money to charities a few times a year. Not as much as I would like, but every bit helps. When I donate to a charity I like to make sure the money I give is actually spent on good work.

The sad truth is that some charities spend more than others on administration, travel or fundraising and less on meeting their actual goals than I would like. Others do an amazing job and nearly every penny they raise is spent meeting their goals and making Canada and the world a better place.

But how do you know if a charity is a good one or an inefficient one? You have a look at their financial statements. For more than 30 years, charities in Canada have been required to file a public information return. You can go online and get some idea of how a charity spends its money. Having this information available promotes accountability and better governance.

Unions occupy a special place in our society. Like charities, millions of Canadians give part of their paycheques to unions. The difference, of course, is that the union dues are not voluntary. Unionized workers have to pay their dues.

Like charities, unions enjoy certain tax benefits from the federal government. But unions do not have the same reporting requirements as charities. The fact of the matter is that unions are not private organizations in the same way as a community association or company. There are two big differences — those tax benefits and the fact that union dues are mandatory.

For these reasons, making sure that unions file a simple information form and publicly disclose how they spend money is perfectly reasonable. This is why Bill C-377 is good legislation. This sort of disclosure has promoted accountability and efficiency among charities — so who wouldn’t want to see unions operating more accountably and efficiently?

Laila seems to think this sort of accountability is some sort of nefarious Conservative plot. What she fails to mention is that countries like France and Australia that have arguably left-wing pro-union governments also have union disclosure legislation. Also there is very little new about this for the many Canadian unions with headquarters in the U.S., which have been publicly reporting under U.S. laws for more than 50 years.

Everyone wins when there is more accountability, and that should include unions.

Read Laila Yule's column.

Kathryn Marshall is a columnist, blogger and political commentator. Read her blog at kathrynmarshall.ca.


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