Friday, September 23, 2011
Unions and the political process
Writing in the Financial section of today's National Post, Neils Veldhuis and Amela Karabegovic say, "It is high time the government forced [labour unions] to open their books" to reveal how much they spend on political campaigns.
The writers, who are economists with the Fraser Institute, argue that it is unfortunate that, in the Ontario provincial election, "unionized workers footing the bill through forced union dues will be left in the dark about the millions of dollars unions spend on political attack ads and donations to advocacy groups and political parties."
It's a big issue, and one which also captured headlines in today's Vancouver Sun, which reports that the federal Conservatives are accusing the NDP of an illegal cash grab totalling at least $85,000 at the party's June convention in Vancouver. Allegedly, six union spent at least that much, and possibly as much as $160,000, to promote themselves at the convention.
But while there may be fog enshrouding Big Labour's financial backing of candidates and parties at the federal and provincial levels, there's no obscuring unions' influence in civic politics here in B.C.
In Coquitlam, for example, readily available financial-disclosure documents spell out exactly who has received how much and from whom. In the case of the by-election in which I ran a year-and-a-half ago, one candidate--the winning one, Neal Nicholson--received the majority of his funds from Big Labour, specifically the Canadian Union of Public Employees. COPE, the BCGEU, the Firefighters, the local Labour Council, and even the Canadian Labour Congress also pitched in. You can see all the details for yourself by clicking here.
My disclosure statement shows donations from private companies doing business in Coquitlam, family members, friends and neighbours.
One should not think that there's something fundamentally wrong about receiving funds from unions or corporations. It's all part of the political process. Ultimately, it's up to voters to educate themselves on such matters; by doing so, they can certainly better understand where candidates' sympathies might rest.