The Conservatives’ double standards tell us who they truly support
Dave Coles13 July 2012
It was reported last weekend that the government doesn't want the United Nations to track global arms sales because it might compromise "the legally protected information of private companies." At the same time, its wants every Canadian union to disclose the details of their cleaning contracts.
In an overwhelmingly negative speech to the UN last week, Foreign Affairs Deputy Director Habib Massoud laid out the Conservatives' position on the final round of Arms Trade Treaty negotiations. "In Canada's view, detailed reporting about each and every transaction can, in certain circumstances, be both impractical and unrealistic. The sheer volume of such transactions would overwhelm virtually any administrative system now in existence."
Taking a position that puts Canada offside with the bulk of the international community, Massoud called for the proposed arms tracking secretariat to be "minimal, small, and flexible" and financed entirely through existing UN budgets. He added that the arms tracking secretariat must safeguard "the legally protected information of private companies or the personal information of private individuals."
While the Conservatives jump to defend the privacy rights of arms dealers they are trying to force unions to disclose information on tens of thousands of Canadian workers receiving direct or indirect union benefits or working within or for labour organizations. Sponsored by Conservative MP Russ Hiebert, Private Member's Bill C-377 is set for final reading when the House of Commons returns from its summer break. Thus far the opposition parties have opposed the bill and the Conservatives have supported it.
C-377 would require every trade union and labour trust (pension plan, training fund as well as health and welfare funds) to file a public information return with the Canada Revenue Agency on all expenditures over $5,000. This information would be made publicly available, which would give employers an advantage in bargaining or when trying to thwart a unionization drive. A similar database set up by George Bush's administration in the U.S. is used by anti-union businesses to weaken workers.
Labour unions are among the few institutions that can and do provide a counterbalance to the power of corporations. Yet the Conservatives are not requiring companies that bargain with trade unions to file detailed reports to the Canada Revenue Agency on their salary, political or lobbying spending. Additionally, they are not requiring other professional associations that collect fees or dues from their members, such as the Canadian Medical Association for example, to follow the terms of Bill C-377.
They are only requiring the institutions created to represent the interests of millions of workers across the country to file these detailed records. There is no other way to interpret this than as an attempt to disarm a political opponent.
Much like what Habib Massoud was hinting at when talking about those involved in the arms trade, the detailed reporting required by Bill C-377 will be burdensome, costly and threaten the privacy rights of many individuals, companies and organizations that work with unions. Incredibly, under the proposed legislation, labour-associated pension and benefit plans will be required to publicly disclose "the name and address" and a "description" of benefits paid to individuals greater than $5,000. This could include personal medical information.
Bill C-377 should be scrapped but that doesn't mean there isn't a need for greater transparency for all major Canadian institutions. But any requirements imposed by the government need to be applied equally. There shouldn't be one set of standards for the groups the Conservatives don't like and another for their friends selling arms.
This post originally appeared in the online Opinion section of the Toronto Star.
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