Image: Flickr/Neil Moralee

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On June 30, Canada’s Senators voted on one final piece of legislation; so important that it didn’t matter that they might waste that precious extra second in the Red Chamber. They voted in favour of passing Bill C-377 into law.

The amendments contained in C-377 to the Income Tax Act are sweeping, broad and idiotic. If Canadians need any example that the Harper Conservatives care more about personal vendettas than good governance, the proof is wrapped up in C-377.

C-377 requires a ridiculous level of compliance from labour organizations and trusts. It forces unions, labour organizations, labour federations, organizations comprised of different unions, labour trusts and professional associations to publically report all expenditures of over $5000 and itemize exactly what that the money was dedicated to.

Everyone’s salaries, everyone’s timesheets and all contracts will be made public. This places an enormous burden on the bureaucratic structures of the labour movement.

Perhaps the most incredible part of Tuesday’s vote is the irony. The Senate is a house of patronage, financial mismanagement and corruption. With a spending scandal that has landed 30 senators in hot water, including nine under RCMP scrutiny (not including Duffy, Brazeau, Harb or Wallin), it’s high comedy that they think they can impose financial transparency on labour organizations.

If you read through the text of the legislation, it’s clear that this is an exercise in political harassment rather than an attempt at transparency. And, it was passed by people who either don’t understand or don’t care how burdensome it will be to implement; not just for labour organizations but also for the government.

Because of this, and because of the many challenges likely to be made based on the constitutionality of this legislation, C-377 doesn’t deserve to be treated as if it will be enforced. Labour organizations should not comply. Instead, C-377 should be seen as a measure of the massive attack being waged on our freedoms of assembly and association.

C-377 is meant to stop unions from engaging in political action despite the fact that unions only exist to engage in political action. Fighting for fair and decent working conditions is a political struggle. Prohibiting them from taking political action is to stop unions from doing what they exist to do.

The reality is that it’s much easier to involve oneself in the affairs of one’s union than to change the course of one’s government and the dispensation of one’s taxes. Union leadership present financial documents and members debate them. They aren’t the ones with a transparency problem.

It’s not as if the leadership of the CLC presented their budget in 500 pages with dozens of other significant amendments to non-budget policies and procedures. It’s not as if the budget was passed with the approval of just 136 people. That’s the kind of democracy that exists on Parliament Hill, not on a union’s convention floor.

Which is why C377 isn’t about transparency at all.

It’s easy to see why the Harper Conservatives hate unions. Unions are the final major roadblock in their campaign to fully transform Canada. Unions demand rights for working people, decent wages and benefits, all which constitute barriers towards full-scale and unregulated resource extraction and international trade deals.

Unionization and labour rights are fundamental within a free and democratic society. The ability of working people to gather, elect their own leadership and direct their own political campaigns is a tenet of democracy. It is the membership who has the right to make demands of the leadership; no one else.

And if there exists problems within the organization of the union, it is the membership who has the right and the responsibility to fight for change internally; no one else.

Which is why C-377 must be viewed through a broader lens. Regardless of what the extremists at LabourWatch or the CFIB say, C-377 is dangerous and is another example of how our fundamental right to assemble is evaporating.

Now that C-377 has received Royal Assent, unions will have to become compliant as of January 30 2016. Between now and then, there’s a federal election and the Tories might be booted from office. But they also might slither back into government.

How will Canada Revenue Agency ensure compliance to C-377? It’s not as if an accompanying bill was presented to boost the agency’s resources.

In fact, the Liberals allege that the Harper Conservatives have cut $314 million from CRA since 2012. This, plus the resources required to harass progressive charities means that there are fewer resources available to carry out the normal operations of CRA, let alone implement C-377.

And, Canada’s richest people continue to stash billions of dollars outside of Canada and away from the eyes of CRA. Rather than refocusing CRA’s efforts on recovering some of that money, the Harper Conservatives have instead cut the most senior CRA staff, the ones who would have the expertise to even go after this money at all.

Unions have always been enemy number one within fascist societies. C-377, combined with Canada’s increasing militarization, surveillance legislation, attacks on civil liberties, new citizenship rules, new prison sentences and attacks on Indigenous people and organizations, all add up to a frightening slide to the extreme right.

Clearly, C-377 isn’t about good governance at all. It’s an attack on unions that all Canadians should be concerned about. Not just because of the tremendous waste that it will cause, but because it’s another example of the true intentions of our current government.

For the Harper Conservatives, democracy is a meaningless buzzword and progressive organizations, including unions, need to be eliminated.


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Image: Flickr/Neil Moralee

Nora Loreto

Nora Loreto is a writer, musician and activist based in Québec City. She is the author of From Demonized to Organized, Building the New Union Movement and is the editor of the Canadian Association...