In 2011, Conservative Member of Parliament Russ Hiebert put forward a private member’s bill to amend the Income Tax Act and force unions to publicly disclose their spending. The bill faced widespread scrutiny from IUOE Local 115 and other unions across Canada.
Part of the problem was bill C-377 set out conditions that would require union staff salaries, lobbying and political activities, expenditures over $5000, and other information be publicly disclosed. This would have violated the privacy of union members, and undermine the labour movement. Hassan Yussef with the Canadian Labour Congress said transparency wasn’t the real issue as union constitutions as well as federal and provincial labour laws require unions to disclose financial information to members. The Canadian Bar Association pointed out what the bill required was unconstitutional as it would interfere with the operation of a union under the constitutional right to freedom of association.
However, despite the opposition, the Conservative Government passed the bill in 2012, sending it to the Senate. The Senate sent bill C-377 back to the house after making sweeping changes, but Parliament was prorogued (shut down temporarily), reverting the bill back to its former version. In June 2015, the bill became law, set to take effect at the end of December 2015. IUOE Local 115 and other unions urged members not to vote for Conservatives in the October 2015 federal election, and both the NDP and Liberal parties vowed to repeal C-377 and other anti-worker legislation. On October 19, 2015, Canadians voted out the Conservative government and elected Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
A few months later, just days before bill C-377 was set to take effect, Liberal Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, Maryann Mihychuk, announced unions would not be required to comply with reporting requirements. Minister Mihychuk also identified repealing C-377 and other anti-union legislation as one of her mandate priorities. On January 28, 2016, the Liberal government officially tabled legislation to repeal bill C-377 and another anti-labour bill, C-525.
The fight of IUOE Local 115 and unions across Canada isn’t over yet. Conservative senators could potentially stand in the way of removing C-377 from law. There are 45 Conservative senators compared to just 28 Liberals and 10 independents. After significant lobbying by unions, Conservative senators stood up against the bill when it appeared before them the first time, and unions across Canada are continuing to put pressure on the Senate to stand up for working people once again. In the meantime, our lobbying will not end until bill C-377 has officially been erased.