Trudeau gives Big Labour a pass

Canadian PressJustin Trudeau’s Liberals committed yesterday to not enforce union financial transparency legislation.

Liberals will require no financial transparency for unions although Canadians –  and union members – overwhelmingly want it

The openness and transparency so highly touted by Prime Minister Trudeau will seemingly not apply to his friends in big labour, which should not come as a surprise since much of the team that brought you Dalton McGuinty and Kathleen Wynne in Ontario is now bringing its own particular brand of union-backed liberalism to the federal government.

In committing yesterday to not enforce union financial transparency legislation, the Trudeau Liberals are embracing the same philosophy their Ontario cousins have employed to court big labour’s political and organizational support, which in Ontario has turned unions into a well-financed wing of the Liberal electoral machine.

Our government will let unions operate in secret, spending their billions each year without any accountability

That legislation, which was passed by Parliament in June 2015, sought to provide rank-and-file union members and the general public with information about the $4 billion black hole of annual union spending in Canada, which is collected in mandatory, tax-free dues from unionized workers.

The Liberals promised to repeal the law, and rather than deal with all that tricky nonsense about having to pass a bill in Parliament, they issued a press release a few days before Christmas advising their union friends that they will not have to abide by the legislation, which was due to take effect for 2016.

Canadians were strongly in favour of the legislation, with a Forum Research poll in July 2015 finding 62 per cent support it with only 18 per cent opposed.  A 2011 poll conducted by Nanos Research found some 83 per cent of Canadians supported union financial transparency and, more importantly, 86 per cent of union members.

It is easy to understand why.  There are, of course, the revelations that came out of Quebec’s Charbonneau Commission about the province’s largest union being infiltrated by the Mafia and Hells Angels, million dollar investments of union funds in biker-owned strip clubs and massive financial fraud involving some labour leaders.

Then there were the revelations in Ontario earlier this year that three top executives of the union representing Ontario Provincial Police Officers – themselves senior police officers – are under investigation for theft, breach of trust, fraud and laundering the proceeds of crime.  The allegations involve payments to mystery consulting companies, a condo purchase in the Bahamas and $100,000 wired to the Cayman Islands.

In both cases, these tales came to light because of whistleblowers.  In fact, a star witness at Quebec’s Charbonneau Commission who later testified to the Senate when it studied this legislation was the former high ranking union official turned whistleblower, Ken Pereira.

In detailing the financial mismanagement he discovered within his own union, Pereira told the Senate that “All Canadians, not just unionized Canadians, need detailed online financial disclosure of all tax-exempt union organizations to put an end to the abuse of tax-deductible union dues.”  In exchange for his openness Pereira’s life was threatened.

This is the broken system and culture that those opposed to financial transparency seek to defend.  It forces the public to rely on whistleblowers risking their own livelihoods – and lives – to reveal financial mismanagement within unions.  This is the system the Trudeau government has stood behind and it begs the question why.  Why defend a system so fundamentally broken, particularly after having been elected on a platform of openness and transparency?

Ironically, this move against transparency comes on the eve of the report of Australia’s Royal Commission into Trade Union Corruption, which is expected to be damning. In fact, already the Labour Party in Australia is promising tough new measures on organized labour to try to avoid the fallout.

Yet here in Canada, despite the evidence from Charbonneau and the Ontario Provincial Police Association, and numerous other cases of financial mismanagement across the country, our government will continue to let unions operate in secret, spending their billions each year without any accountability and transparency.

Canadians should be disturbed that their new Government made this one of its first orders of business – without giving the public a chance to see even a single year of reporting.  At best, it is tone deaf to a public tired of repeated scandals involving union financial mismanagement.  At worst, it is the cozy union-Liberal political relationship from Ontario being exported to the federal level, which threatens the foundation of an open and transparent electoral system.

Terrance Oakey is President of Merit Canada.

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