Letter in response to "Hooray for C-377"
In response to Lorne Gunter's column on Saturday, Dec. 15
Unions are some of the most democratic and accountable organizations in Canada. Union Members have a right to know how their dues are spent – and they do, through annual reports, conventions, and audits. It should be noted that union leadership is elected by the membership and accountable to that membership.
Bill C-377 isn't about transparency – Canadian unions are already transparent. C-377 is a political bill that will divert union resources to fulfilling arcane accounting measures, and will mean they are less able to represent workers and Canadians.
Public policy should be used to promote and enhance the public good, not as a tool to punish, intimidate or weaken individuals or groups that don't agree with the government. Unfortunately, that's exactly what Bill C-377 does.
Gil McGowan, President
Alberta Federation of Labour
Sent to the Edmonton Sun on Monday, Dec. 17 2012
The president of the Alberta Federation of Labour says Bill C-377 goes above and beyond transparency.
The bill, which passed through the House of Commons, requires unions to provide detailed annual financial filings to the Canada Revenue Agency.
Gil McGowan says Bill C-377 is a way for the Harper government to silence unions.
"For example, under this legislation we're going to have to give detailed financial information about how much money is in our strike fund," says McGowan. "This is information that is obviously going to be used against us by employers."
The Tory member who introduced the bill, backbencher Russ Hiebert, says unions should be subject to the same public reporting as charities.
"I certainly don't have a problem with sharing financial information with our members, they deserve to know and that's exactly what we do," says McGowan. "The Harper government is leaving the impression that we don't do that and they're forcing us to a level of disclosure that no other organization in society has to do."
"We're going to be filing paperwork upon paperwork in order to be in compliance with this legislation." (ks)
iNews880AM, Thursday Dec 13 2012
Byline: Kim Smith
Edmonton - The speedy passage of Bill C-377 is evidence that the legislation is not about transparency, but about punishing unions, according to labour activists.
The private members bill brought forward by Tory backbencher Russ Hiebert imposes expensive and onerous accounting requirements on unions, pension funds, and other professional organizations. It was rushed into the legislature for a third vote on Wednesday, Dec. 12.
“All Canadians should be concerned about this piece of legislation,” Alberta Federation of Labour president McGowan said. “Whether you’re union or non-union, all working Canadians benefit by having a strong labour movement around to fight for good wages, good benefits, quality public services, and safe workplaces. All Canadians, union or non-union, benefit when there’s someone there to stand up for the little guy and stand up to big corporations with deep pockets.”
Last week in parliament, debate on Bill C-377 continued beyond the normally-allotted one hour of debate time for a private members bill. The bill would have been stalled at second reading, but in an unusual move, MP Earl Dreeshen gave up the time that was allotted to his private-members bill to allow C-377 to proceed this week.
“The surprising haste with which Bill C-377 was passed is an indication that the Tories didn’t want to subject it to the type of scrutiny the matter deserved,” McGowan said. “We’ve known all along that this bill isn’t about transparency, it’s about silencing those who would dare to criticize the regressive, unCanadian agenda of the Harper government. If it was about transparency, they would have passed the bill in a transparent manner.”
Although Bill C-377 was opposed by all parties other than the Conservatives, the bill passed by a margin of 147 to 135 votes, with five Conservative MPs dissenting from their own party.
The Canada Revenue Agency has said that it will take until 2015 at the earliest to implement and to put into place accounting measures to collect and distribute the information required by the bill. According to independent estimates, administration of the bill will cost taxpayers upwards of $20-million dollars.
“The bill that they passed so hastily is badly written, poorly thought-out, and won’t survive a challenge in the courts,” McGowan said, noting that the bill has come under fire from the Canadian Bar Association, other professional organizations, pension fund managers and the Canadian privacy commissioner. The reporting requirements are far more onerous and expensive than charities or corporations. Not even governments are subjected to the same level of public reporting. “Public policy should be used to promote and enhance the public good, not as a tool to punish, harass, intimidate or weaken individuals or groups that don’t agree with the government. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what Bill C-377 does. It’s an abuse of government power and has no place in a democratic country like Canada.”
McGowan added that when the bill goes to the Senate early in the New Year, he hopes the upper house will take a good look at the legislation and quash it.
“Although there is currently a 60-person Conservative majority in the 105-person senate, the body has in the past shown independence and provided Canadians with the ‘sober second thought’ that is seriously needed in this case,” McGowan said.
AFL President Gil McGowan will be available to take questions today from noon - 1:00 pm at the:
10512 – 122 Street
Canada T5N 1M6
or by phone at 780-218-9888-30-
Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780-218-9888 (cell)
Olav Rokne, AFL Communications Director at 780-289-6528 (cell) or via email email@example.com.
EDMONTON - Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan will be available to speak to media this evening about the vote on Bill C-377.
The bill, which critics say will undermine the ability of unions to act as an effective voice for working people, is expected to reach third reading today. If it passes that vote, it could be ratified by the Senate early in 2013.
“This is a political bill. In the same way that they have cut funding to environmental groups and women’s groups, they are trying to weaken and muzzle a strong progressive voice,” Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said. “Bill C-377 violates the Charter rights of Canadians, including the right to privacy and the right to association. It’s a badly written bill, and will likely not survive a challenge in the courts.”
CONTACT: Gil McGowan, AFL president, 780-218-9888
Edmonton activists stage 'wait-in' at MPs office
Union activists in Edmonton participated in a national 'wait-in' to protest the punitive anti-worker Bill C-377 today.
The private members bill, which targets unions through punitive accounting regulations, is expected to be voted on this week, and could go to the senate by Thursday. In Edmonton, labour activists, including members of the Alberta Federation of Labour, camped out for several hours in the office of James Rajotte asking to speak to the Conservative MP.
"This is a political bill. In the same way that they have cut funding to environmental groups and women's groups, they are trying to weaken and muzzle a strong progressive voice," AFL president Gil McGowan said. "Labour groups all over Canada are visiting their Members of Parliament today to let them know that this bill is unacceptable."
The bill has been slammed by the Canadian Bar Association because provisions in the bill violate guarantees of freedom of expression and association, making it vulnerable to a court challenge under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
"Bill C-377 casts a wide net," McGowan said. "It's targeted at unions, but will also harm other organizations, including companies that do business with unions, legal associations, professional associations and charities. It's a complete mess."
Last Friday, amendments to the bill were being debated, but time ran out for debate. Under normal circumstances, the bill would have been put aside until the New Year. But backbencher Alberta MP Earl Dreeshan gave up the time that had been allotted to his private members bill so that C-377 could get an additional hour of debate. The bill goes for a second hour of debate today at 5:30 PM Central Time (3:30 MT).
"This is straight out of the Tea Party playbook: undermine unions and defund anyone who disagrees with them," McGowan said. "We're fighting this because Canada needs progressive voices who will stand up for health care, for seniors, for workers, and for the kind of society that Canadians are proud of."
Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780-218-9888 (cell)
Olav Rokne, AFL Communications Director at 780-289-6528 (cell) or via email firstname.lastname@example.org
Critics say the Lobbyist Act has no teeth
Alberta Ethics Commissioner Neil Wilkinson's 2012 annual report, released November 19, has nothing but enthusiasm for the work of his office and the success of the two laws that control it, the Conflicts of Interest Act and Lobbyists Act.
"It continues to be an unqualified success in achieving the public policy expectations set out in the Lobbyists Act," Wilkinson writes. Lobbyist Act registrar Bradley Odsen concurs in the report, "2011/12 has been a year of considerable accomplishment, particularly relating to enhancing the profile of the office and the registry."
However, recent concerns raised by the media and in the legislature by members of all three opposition parties suggest that "success" does need to be qualified. Most notably, questions about a $430,000 campaign donation to the Progressive Conservative Party from Daryl Katz, the owner of the Edmonton Oilers and president of the Katz Group, and his own campaign to secure provincial funding for an area expansion, have plagued the government in recent weeks.
Though Katz himself is not a registered lobbyist, opposition parties argue his political donations, combined with "chats" he is known to have had with Premier Alison Redford and Finance Minister Doug Horner at social events, clearly amount to lobbying.
Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman and NDP MLA Rachel Notley were both members of the committee charged with reviewing the Lobbyist Act in 2011. The committee on the whole decided the only change it would make to the act was to include "prep time" in the 100 hours of lobbying work a person must do to legally be considered a lobbyist. Blakeman and Notley filed a minority report calling for an additional six changes in order to close loopholes they feared would inevitably lead to ethical abuses by those seeking to influence government decisions.
Those suggestions include empowering the lobbyist registrar to force a government official to report contact with a lobbyist, reducing the 100-hour threshold to 50 hours, removing the ability of a lobbyist to lobby a government department at the same time as they or their company is contracted to work in that department, and allowing the registrar to respond publicly to a complainant. Those recommendations were all rejected by the committee, a majority of which was made up of Conservative MLAs.
"I really knew my stuff in that committee, and everyone else admitted it," says Blakeman. "Nonetheless when they [presented the recommendations to] their caucus, they would come marching back in lockstep and vote 'no' to stuff the day before they'd agreed actually I had a really good point on."
"In terms of the Lobbyists Act itself, I mean that's one part of a very large puzzle, all of which comes together to make the most secretive government in the country," says Notley.
Notley describes meetings in 2011 with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers as an example of the ways lobbying escapes detection.
"We became aware that CAPP and the government were working together on coming up with a communications strategy around fracking to convince people that it was all safe and everything. We were told that we didn't actually need to have that kind of thing reported because they were invited there by the government," she says. Not having to register as a lobbyist or report a meeting with corporate representatives when the meeting is arranged by a cabinet member is "a huge, huge exemption," Notley says.
The Lobbyist Registry currently contains 279 registrations. The top four subjects lobbyists seek to influence the government on are the environment, with 144 lobbyists; energy, with 142; finance, with 124; and health, with 115. Social programs appear to be of the least concern, with only 18 lobbyists registered to press that subject.
Odsen has no support staff to help him review the registry applications sent in by lobbyists. The law does not ask Odsen or anybody else to regulate the information he receives from lobbyists; rather it is up to registrants to ensure what they give him is accurate.
"When an application to register comes in, I try to [ensure to] the best of my ability that it's the proper person that's applying to register as a lobbyist and is providing the correct information in that regard.... I don't follow up on each one to see whether or not it's happening. They certify that's what's happening," he says.
He also says lobbyists understand and support the registry a great deal.
"They have no objections whatsoever to this, they support it because I think in large part an awful lot of the negativity surrounding the notion of lobbying in the public mind is that it's this stuff that goes on behind closed doors.... Professional lobbyists are proud of what they do, they provide an important service," Odsen says.
Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan is a registered lobbyist who says he has quite a few objections to the registry.
"It's better to have a lobbyist registry than not, but here in Alberta it's a pretty toothless tiger. In fact it's verging on useless because it gives you the name of an individual, the name of the organization that they're representing, and then some really vague information about the subjects that they're lobbying on," McGowan says. "After working with the lobbyist registry for the last year or two, it seems to me that the registry is more about giving the appearance of transparency and accountability than actually guaranteeing transparency and accountability."
He says that based on his experiences, and recent allegations about the ethical misconduct of various government officials, he believes the government deliberately shelters its supporters and punishes its detractors.
"For example, our federation had its wrists slapped by the lobbyists registry, not for breaching the act, but for raising concerns about the act. And I got a very stern talking to. In fact, I was told that I had to come and meet with the registrar and receive a lecture about proper decorum when dealing with the registry," he says, referring to an incident in 2011 when the AFL accused CAPP representatives of failing to register as lobbyists when discussing a joint communications plan around fracking. The same meetings also highlighted by Notley. The ensuing investigation by the ethics commissioner ruled that CAPP was not lobbying the government and, therefore, the act did not apply. It went on to say that the CAPP representatives did not work for CAPP and that the government instigated the conversation, again negating the requirements of the Lobbyists Act.
The Lobbyists Act is not up for review again until 2015. Notley says the government can change it of its own volition, otherwise nothing will happen. She and Blakeman are on the committee currently reviewing the Conflict of Interest Act, the second law which governs the ethics commissioner. Both are skeptical about the review making changes in the genuine interest of transparency and accountability.Fast Forward Weekly News, November 29, 2012
Byline: Suzy Thompson
Alberta Federation of Labour urges level playing field with ban corporate, union donations
Edmonton - The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) welcomes the support of the Wildrose Party in the fight for election finance reform.
On Monday, Nov. 26, the Wildrose Party issued a press release criticizing the Elections Accountability Amendment Act (Bill 7), and called for an end to corporate and union donations to political campaigns, a move that both the AFL and the Alberta New Democratic Party have been advocating.
“I’m actually surprised – and pleased – to hear the Wildrose Party calling for this kind of electoral finance reform,” Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan said, noting that the press release also used anti-union language. “Danielle Smith is correct to criticize Bill 7, but is wrong to equate union participation in the democratic process with how corporate interests try to buy elections.”
In 2010, unions donated about $40,000 to the major parties (PC, Wildrose, NDP, Liberals, and Alberta Party), or less than 1 per cent of total political donations. Corporations, on the other hand, donated about $1.9 million, or 35 per cent of all donations. In fact, the Progressive Conservative Party received more than half (55 per cent) of their donations from corporations.
“If unions were buying elections in Alberta, do you think we would have had more than 70 years of right-wing parties in power?” McGowan said. “The Wildrose wants what they call ‘big union’ money out of politics? Take a look at the numbers. There’s no such thing as ‘big union’ money in politics.”
Several election financing scandals during the last provincial election, including a total of $430,000 donated to the Progressive Conservative party from the Katz Group, have undermined Albertans’ faith in the electoral system. The Elections Accountability Amendment Act, which Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives brought in front of the legislature this week, will strengthen election finance and contribution disclosure rules. The bill has been slammed as ineffectual.
“Bill 7 is an incremental, barely perceptible move in the right direction, but the government doesn’t want to take the steps necessary to reinvigorate democracy in Alberta,” McGowan said. “The Alberta Federation of Labour welcomes real electoral finance reform, as long as rules are imposed fairly and evenly. Unions don’t have the same deep pockets that corporations do, but we will not stand down until there’s meaningful election finance reform.”
For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact the AFL Communications Director, Olav Rokne at 780-289-6528 (cell) or via email email@example.com.
The Left should remember what the Right has known for years
How ironic that the Right seems more aware than the Left of the crucial importance of unions to progressive politics. In the past, when conservatives were less aggressive, this didn't matter so much. Now, in the age of Stephen Harper and the Tea Party, the stakes are much higher.
In the USA and here in Canada under Harper (and, of course, under Brad Wall in former social democratic homeland Saskatchewan), new laws are sapping the strength and even the existence of unions, too often with little public outcry.
In Parliament, a bill is due for debate and possibly a vote this fall that could cripple unions of all sizes with expensive and nosy paperwork. National Post columnist John Ivison, no fan of the labour movement, wrote that Bill C-377 (Public Financial Disclosure for Labour Organizations) "could shatter the union business model forever."
More worrisome still are recent threats by Parliamentary Secretary Pierre Poilevre to punish the Public Service Alliance of Canada for supporting the Parti-Québecois in Quebec's provincial election by ending automatic union membership in federal workplaces under what's known as the "Rand Formula." Although the majority of workplaces are provincially regulated, this could mark the beginning of the end of Rand and drastically weaken federal public service unions.
Regardless of whether we belong to unions or work in organized sectors, these moves threaten all Canadians, yet, to date, public response has been muted. Why are these moves such a threat?
Labour is at the centre of all progressive politics
"Labour is at the centre of all progressive politics," Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan reminded in an interview following SGN's weekend conference on labour's image. "Labour is powerful. That's the reason they've targeted us, they've put the bullseye on us because they recognize we have power at the bargaining table, we have power in our communities, we have political power, and that power can be used against them. They want to undermine that power. They want to take apart civil society so they can change Canada."
Rand has been the National Citizen's Coalition's target since it was formed, under Harper and other CEOs. Conservative activists recognized then as now that unions have a regular source of income through member dues, unlike any other progressive organizations. And unions use their influence and theie money to support and promote a range of progressive causes and activists. SGNews is one of a long list of progressive projects supported very significantly by the labour movement.
Without public services, public service workers, union members, Rand, and dues — and a great many progressive projects, and the advocates who work for them, are at risk.
Since the 1980s under Reagan, US Republicans have worked to "de-fund the Left," going after advocacy groups, university student councils, progressive lawyers and legal clinics, charities, and, of course, unions.
The Harperites understand the importance of this directive better than any conservatives in Canada before them. When they had a minority government, they worked systematically to eliminate funding for any of the issues they don't like, such as feminism, environment, and social justice. Now they have a majority, they are gunning for big game — unions — and only widespread public outrage can stop them.
At SGN's workshop, speakers from the world of advertising discussed the art and science of branding and images and showed how unions could apply their knowledge through careful research and by focussing their creative efforts . The group heard that over the years, the union image has been steadily corroded by attacks that often go unanswered from right-wing interests.
"We're facing a government that's more like the Tea Party Right," said McGowan. They have a political plan, they have a communications plan, and they're targeting us. If we're going to be successful in fighting back, we have to have conversations like we had today... We have an obligation to get our act together, protect the labour movement, and also, in doing so, protect broader civil society," McGowan told us.
Conference participant David Climenhaga, of the United Nurses of Alberta (UNA), has similar concerns. "We need to respond instantly to the barrage of anti-union propoganda that we're hearing from organizations that have been set up and intelligently run in order to attack not just unions but progressive policies and the rights of working people," he told Straight Goods News. "All the time, we cede the room to them by letting them make powerful statements that are simply based on unsound research, politically motivated research, and that are in many cases outright false. They become the truth because we don't bother speaking back to them."
As a result of the constant barrage, union support has slipped and needs to be bolstered. Janice Peterson, another workshop participant from the United Nurses of Alberta (UNA), told Straight Goods News unions need to face some troubling realities. "Not only do we have a problem with public image, but we also have a huge problem with our own members. We not only have to sell ourselves to the public, we have to sell ourselves to our own members."
It's not too late for the labour movement to rebuild its image, was the message of speaker after speaker at SGN's workshop. Doing so, however, will require hard work, open minds, a lot of listening and research, and making key people in every organization responsible for a focus on improving the reputation and image of their union and unions in general.
"I loved Terry O'Reilly's presentation on rebuilding our message and repositioning ourselves," Francine Filion, of the Canadian Teachers' Federation said. "It can be done. There is a solution."
There has to be a solution, because without strong unions, every progressive cause will be hobbled.
Straight Goods News, Monday Sept 24 2012
Byline: Isa Theilheimer