An Act to amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act, the Canada Business Corporations Act, the Employment Insurance Act and the Employment Insurance Regulations

This bill was last introduced in the 38th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in November 2005.

Sponsor

Pat Martin  NDP

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Not active, as of May 5, 2005
(This bill did not become law.)

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Supply
Government Orders

November 17th, 2005 / 4:40 p.m.
See context

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to address the House today on a very important motion. I wish to advise the House that I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Nanaimo—Cowichan.

This is one of the more important things that we will debate during the time and life of this minority government, for the simple reason that we are trying to find an agreement on when we can hold the election. Nothing can be more important to the life of a Parliament than its ending, because at that point, of course, all stops.

That is the whole issue. We are trying to prevent the grinding down of the House to the point where nothing happens. We will quickly get to that point if we do not find an agreement. We are almost there. We now have the Conservatives, the Bloc and the NDP in agreement through a process of compromise. It has been stated by MPs from each of those other two caucuses and our caucus that everybody indeed gave a little. It is the nature of compromise. For the most part, it is what makes Canada tick.

Here we are, in the most Canadian tradition, three-quarters of the way to a compromise that would meet all the requirements that everyone has, at least to the point that they could live with it. Everybody gets their main points and gives a little on a few other things.

The Gomery report was mentioned by the previous speaker. Our compromise today allows that to come out. People will have the Gomery report, part two, even though I would say with all due respect that I could not imagine members of a caucus in the House saying that they are going to disagree with any recommendation that Justice Gomery makes in part two. Notwithstanding that, it will still come out prior to election day. The Prime Minister said that was important. We disagreed with him on his point, but the compromise provides that part two of Gomery will be in the hands of voters before they go into the balloting booth. That meets one of the government's requirements.

More important, this compromise allows us to get through a number of bills that we have all agreed need to get through the House. As an example, I will mention Bill C-55. Again, it is not a perfect piece of legislation, but thanks to the work of my colleague from Winnipeg Centre, there are things in there that are definitely going to benefit working people. We are prepared to see that it gets through.

Now, with the amendment to it, I would hope that we are not going to get bogged down in voting procedures, but I hear that is possible. That would be a shame. It is an important bill. With the minor amendment, to which the government has agreed, we definitely will have moved the yardsticks forward, at least notionally.

It does not, however, address the issues that are contained in Bill C-281, the workers first bill. Again, it was introduced by my colleague from Winnipeg Centre. This is the bill that in the case of a bankruptcy takes pensions and puts them to the top of the list so that workers and the decades of work that they have done are not lost and they are the first ones to receive whatever money might be available afterward. The banks, the suppliers and the government right now stand in line ahead of the workers. Bill C-55 does not do what Bill C-281 would, but it will make some improvements if the common sense compromise that the opposition is putting forward today passes that bill.

Another example is Bill C-66, the energy rebates. I do not imagine there is anybody in the House who is opposed to the notion that we would try get some relief to those individuals and families who are in most need given what is happening to fuel prices and the fact that we are heading into a Canadian winter. That bill can pass under this compromise. There are two other bills that are equally important to other Canadians. I will not get into the details. They will pass the House under this compromise.

We might ask ourselves why it is not happening. I would have to say it goes to the same reason why there was a Gomery report in the first place and why there is a rage across the land. It is the arrogance of the current governing Liberal Party. It is pure arrogance.

The Prime Minister of the day does not have the support of almost two-thirds of Canadians and almost two-thirds of the House, yet the Prime Minister and the Liberal Party believe that under their culture of entitlement they are entitled to govern as if they were almost imperial. They are there and there they shall stay, they believe.

All we are asking is for a little humility and a little compromise and for them to recognize the fact that even though they have been driving around in the limos for a dozen years without a break, in the last election the party that is currently in power was not returned with a majority. The people of Canada sent that party a message. The problem is that the Prime Minister will not listen to that message. He will not listen to Canadians. He will not listen to other parliamentarians. He will not listen to anyone except other Liberals and their strategists, who, by the way, are still doing quite well in Canada, thanks very much.

Notwithstanding Gomery, and I am not suggesting there is anything wrong, but boy it did raise the eyebrows when we saw another article today about another contract to Mr. David Herle, who is with Decima Research, to do work for the recent mini-budget.

I will just say parenthetically that what is interesting is the fact that the limit for having to go to tender is $25,000. Under that, contracts do not have to go to tender. Is that not interesting? It is pure coincidence, I am sure.

I am absolutely certain it is a mere coincidence that even though $25,000 is the limit, Mr. Herle managed to just tuck underneath at $23,112. Therefore, there was no need to bother going out to ask anyone else if they might want some of that work. The government can continue to give it to whom? To the key strategist for the Liberal Party of Canada. It does not stop.

The Prime Minister and the Liberal Party ask what the difference is. Eight weeks, they say, and they ask why the opposition is getting all cranked up about this. We are very concerned about continuing to give the keys to the Challenger jets and the limos and all the other perks and tools of office to a party that clearly is prepared to use Canadians' money for their own partisan purposes. We want to bring it to a halt. We think that Canadians want to bring all of this to a halt, but we will let the election decide that part of it.

It has been mentioned that this is somehow unconstitutional, that we are doing this horrible thing to the traditions of Parliament, that it is terrible what we are doing in breaking with tradition and almost being illegal in what we are doing.

First of all, let us make the record very clear. It has already been mentioned that a challenge to this motion was placed this morning. By whom? Let us ask ourselves who would challenge it. Oh, right, the Liberals. They challenged it and tried to deny this motion even coming to the floor. The Speaker ruled that it was entirely in order. Nothing that we are talking about right now vis-à-vis this motion is out of order.

As for the issue of the constitutionality of what we are attempting to do, I am not a parliamentary expert, but I was the Deputy Speaker in the Ontario legislature and I have some notion of how the rules of Parliament run. I have to say that when the Prime Minister stands up and makes a public commitment to a particular date or time period for an election, that is all it is. He does not have to follow that. The Prime Minister can change his mind any time he wants. There is nothing to hold him to that. There is no constitutional trigger, no legal lock-in, to this position. It is just that the Prime Minister has said that he is going to have this election sometime in the early spring.

All we are asking is that it be recalibrated. All we are asking is that the Prime Minister stand up and say that in the interests of Parliament, out of respect for the minority Parliament Canadians sent here, out of respect for the need to get these bills through, out of respect for the first ministers conference with the aboriginal leaders, out of respect for all those things, he is prepared to revise the date on which he said he would call the election, at which point he will trigger his constitutional authority and ask the Governor General to dissolve Parliament and issue the writs for an election. That is all.

It is not a big parliamentary deal, but it does seem to be a big personal deal for the Prime Minister. We are asking, we are imploring, we are pleading, and we are demanding that the Prime Minister of the day respect the majority of the House and the majority of the country. We are demanding that the Prime Minister give us an election timeframe that we can all live with, that is fair to everyone, and gets the important business of this House done. That is a good common sense compromise.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

November 16th, 2005 / 3:20 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Karen Redman Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, discussions have taken place among all parties concerning the recorded division scheduled to take place later today on the motion to concur in the eighth report of the Standing Committee on Industry, Natural Resources, Science and Technology, requesting an extension of time to consider Bill C-281. I believe you would find consent for the following motion. I move:

That the recorded division scheduled to take place later today on the motion to concur in the eighth report of the Standing Committee on Industry, Natural Resources, Science and Technology, be deemed concurred in.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

November 2nd, 2005 / 3:30 p.m.
See context

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the eighth report of the Standing Committee on Industry, Natural Resources, Science and Technology requesting an extension of 30 sitting days to consider Bill C-281, an act to amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act, the Canada Business Corporations Act, the Employment Insurance Act and the Employment Insurance Regulations.

I would also note that the member for Winnipeg Centre put this bill forward and it is a very good bill.

Wage Earner Protection Program Act
Government Orders

October 4th, 2005 / 5:10 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, prior to the introduction of Bill C-55 there was going to be, if my memory serves me well, introduction of a private member's bill sponsored by the member for Winnipeg Centre. I think it was Bill C-281. I was prepared to support that bill, as I am prepared to support Bill C-55.

One question I have is on a point of clarification. Before I get to that let me say that I am prepared to support this bill even though there are some questions as to whether the passage of this legislation might tighten up the financing options of some small businesses. Lending institutions may feel that they are getting squeezed out of what might be a situation in which they had to recover money but are dropped in the order of preference. There may be some question as to whether lending institutions are going to be as willing to lend money to small and medium size businesses in the future.

I still think this is an important piece of legislation. It has certainly been my realization that when insolvency and bankruptcy occur, the people who, quite frankly, really get screwed are the workers. This is an important step to ensure that at least the working men and women who perhaps have worked for 25 or 30 years at a company that eventually goes bankrupt have some recompense.

My question is one of clarification and it deals with pensions. Let us assume hypothetically that someone had worked for 35 years for a company and was already receiving a pension. How will this bill deal with that? Let us assume for a moment that the individual who was in a contributory pension plan had over the course of his or her lifetime contributed close to $100,000 into a pension fund and had received, because he or she had retired a number of years earlier, $50,000 in benefits and then the company eventually went bankrupt. What steps, if any, does this legislation take to protect the pension of that individual? Exactly what rights would that person have under this legislation?

Wage Earner Protection Program Act
Government Orders

September 29th, 2005 / 5:15 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Jim Prentice Calgary North Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is my privilege to rise and speak today to Bill C-55, the wage earner protection program act, which is before the House. I will be speaking generally in favour of the concept underlying the legislation while taking issue with some of the specifics which form part of the government's proposal.

I would like to acknowledge the work of a number of members of the House. First, the member for Winnipeg Centre did a great deal of work in terms of putting Bill C-281 before the House. I have worked with this member very closely. We do not always agree on issues, but I do respect the philosophy with which he has brought this matter forward and the private member's bill that he brought is a precursor to Bill C-55.

I would also like to acknowledge the hard work of the member for Edmonton—Leduc who is our critic in this area. He has worked very diligently, has examined this very complex legislation, and has led the Conservative Party in its very able response to the legislation. The member for Souris—Moose Mountain, our labour critic, has also worked with him and similarly been responsible for the carriage of this legislation.

My comments follow those of the member for Vancouver Island North. It is worth pointing out that he has been a very outspoken advocate on behalf of working Canadians and the protection of working Canadians under this legislation. He served on the subcommittee of the Conservative shadow cabinet which brought this concept to the House earlier this year in May.

There is some unanimity in the House in terms of the spirit which underlies this legislation, but there are important differences between the way the Conservative Party and the government has approached this issue. I wish to draw the attention of the House to the May 3 motion which was put before the House of Commons. It read:

That, in the opinion of the House, immediate steps be taken to amend the Employment Insurance Act to provide for the establishment of a workers' protection fund that is funded and administered under the Employment Insurance Act to protect workers wages, medical and dental premiums, and severance payments to an amount of $5,000 per employee in the event of a business bankruptcy or insolvency.

Herein lies the genesis or the concept behind Bill C-55, but there are important differences between the Conservative position and that of the government which I will underscore in my comments this afternoon.

Generally speaking, I favour the wage earner protection program aspects of Bill C-55 and I will direct my comments exclusively to those provisions of the legislation. There are equally complicated provisions that deal with other aspects of the Bankruptcy Act. I will not be turning my mind to those today. The wage earner protection program features of this legislation are quite important because they provide protection for everyday working Canadians who find themselves caught up in the nightmare of a bankruptcy or an insolvency or a creditor protection scheme.

This is a matter that I have some experience with on a personal basis. In my own family, I recall being a young lawyer many, many years ago and my mother, who was an employee of a company called the Betty Shop, found her employer to be in a state of bankruptcy and insolvency. I remember how difficult it was for her when she discovered that she had absolutely no protection or priority as a wage earner. That company went bankrupt and it was my mother who was out of pocket with her wages because there was no government program to cover the company. She had absolutely no security under the Bankruptcy Act. That was 15 to 20 years ago, so I am pleased to stand here today on behalf of her and other working Canadians who find themselves in similar circumstances.

It is important that the House is drawing together to protect working Canadians, so that they do not suffer those kinds of losses in the event of a bankruptcy.

It is important that the matter proceed to committee and that the committee conduct a very diligent and searching review of the legislation that is in front of the House. Bill C-55 is quite complex and detailed in terms of the priority regime that it creates and the legislative balance that it strikes.

It is important that the committee hear from people in the legal and banking professions and the labour unions to make sure that the appropriate balance is struck with the legislation, because it is a question of balance. It is a question of striking a balance between protecting wage earners on the one hand and making sure on the other that we do not disrupt the balance which is at the heart of creditor relationships in the country. This is something I know in particular the member for Edmonton—Leduc and the member for Souris—Moose Mountain have spoken about but it requires some emphasis.

The priority scheme in the event of a bankruptcy is extremely complicated. It strikes a delicate balance between those who work in businesses and those who finance businesses. We must be very careful with this legislation that we do not disrupt that balance, because the ultimate losers will be working Canadians. It will be working Canadians at the end of the day who will suffer the consequences if it becomes more difficult to finance a business.

No one should think that by according superpriority status to one category of claims, in this case past wage earning claims, somehow it will be simply the secured creditors, the banks, who accept that loss. In fact, the way it works in the law of the business world is that the banks and other secured creditors will make darned sure that they have adequate security ahead of time. They will simply add the wage claims to the security which they seek which will make it harder for people to finance businesses. Essentially it will add to the equity that business people need before they can finance a business, because there will have to be adequate equity ahead of the other business assets to protect the banks. We have to be very careful of the balance which is struck.

There is one thing I am puzzled by. The motion that the Conservative Party put forward linked the employment wage protection, which is so important, and the Conservative Party specified an amount of $5,000 per person, not the $3,000 suggested by the government, but it linked it equally importantly to the Employment Insurance Act by ensuring that those claims would be paid from the employment insurance system. The government in a sense would guarantee wage earner claims in the event of a bankruptcy, up to the amount of $5,000 and it would be covered out of the premiums that had been paid by employers and employees to the employment insurance fund.

What the government is proposing is something that is in fact quite different from that. First, the protection is offered only up to the level of $3,000 per employee, which is much less generous than what had been proposed by the Conservative Party, much less protective of working class Canadians. Second, there is this very puzzling feature such that the money which is paid out under Bill C-55, the $3,000, can then be recovered by the government from the bankrupt estate, yet it can only be recovered in the sum of $2,000. This is very puzzling. I hope that the committee has a look at this.

I do not know why we would put forward a legislated system that compensates wage earners for $3,000, yet allows the government to pursue recompense or security protection only to the tune of $2,000. That simply makes no sense. There is no reason that the Government of Canada, if it is protecting wage earners and being subrogated in its position, should not have the position to step forward and seek full recompense for the amount of $3,000.

There are other features of the legislation which I think are sensible. One concern that we must have in looking at the legislation is whether it puts forward a government system which simply involves more government. I do not find that in the legislation.

I note there are extensive responsibilities in clause 21 which have been imposed on the bankruptcy trustee and receiver. It is their responsibility to police the system, to make sure they have identified the claim, determined the amount of wages, informed the individuals and provided the minister with the report. There is also a sunset provision relating to this aspect of the legislation. From the way it will work, I do not think it will necessarily produce more government in this country, but it will provide protection for working Canadians up to the sum of $3,000 in principal. That is something we support as Conservatives, although we would have sought legislation which provided even greater protection for Canadians.

Wage Earner Protection Program Act
Government Orders

September 29th, 2005 / 5 p.m.
See context

Conservative

John Duncan Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I think this has been a good day with a good set of debates on Bill C-55, which is an act to establish the wage earner protection program act and also to amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act, the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act, and to make consequential amendments to other acts.

Amazingly, we actually have a consensus from all parties in the House of Commons that we need legislation in this area. This bodes well for the fact that we have people who go to work every day and expect to be paid for their day's wages. Very often their medical and dental premiums are covered as part of that package. They will have other benefits paid for and so on.

Lo and behold, I think all of us in this place represent large enough constituencies such that over and over again we have seen instances where this does not occur. In some cases it leads not only to devastating personal circumstances, but on a very large scale it can affect whole communities where those communities are tied largely to one employer.

I certainly have that circumstance in my riding, along with the unhappy circumstance that the employer ended in insolvency. There was a restructuring, which also ended in insolvency, and we are now into another restructuring exercise which we are hopeful will conclude successfully. This community, the community of Port Alice, with its specialty cellulose mill, has been through a lot over the last couple of years and that has demonstrated the shortcomings of the status quo in terms of how workers' earnings protections are handled.

Bill C-281, the private member's bill from the NDP member for Winnipeg Centre, promoted an initiative in this place for all parties to get their act together in terms of doing something about this matter, which resulted in Bill C-55.

If one were to take a look at Bill C-55, it would be hard not to agree with the thrust of Bill C-55 and not hard to disagree with some of its details, because this is an area that is quite complex. For example, any attempt to try to change the creditor priority can have a positive effect on one party and a negative effect on another party and sometimes can be counterproductive for both parties. In order for me to explain that, I will probably have to give an example, but it does point out why we need to hold hearings on the issue. It is a complex area of law.

The bill is important to many people and consistent with the fact that I have a large union-certified membership in my riding. I have taken an active interest in these kinds of issues in my 12 years representing that area.

I joined the shadow cabinet subcommittee, which we put together as the Conservative caucus, to develop and propose a wage earner protection fund in the case of a bankruptcy. On May 3, 2005 the Conservative shadow cabinet approved a comprehensive proposal that would be funded through the Employment Insurance Act. Consistent with this report, the Conservative caucus tabled a motion in the House of Commons which reads:

That, in the opinion of the House, immediate steps be taken to amend the Employment Insurance Act to provide for the establishment of a workers' protection fund that is funded and administered under the Employment Insurance Act to protect workers wages, medical and dental premiums, and severance payments to an amount of $5,000 per employee in the event of a business bankruptcy or insolvency.

This demonstrates our direction and intent at that point. On June 3, one month later, the government tabled a bill to establish a wage earner protection program. The government's bill would create a fund which would pay laid off employees up to $3,000 per employee in lost wages. The NDP proposed a similar program, of course, in Bill C-281 that gives super priority to workers in the event of a bankruptcy.

The difficulty we would have in the example that I have quoted, which was the Port Alice cellulose mill with something like what is proposed in Bill C-281, is the fact that the level of assets would be the determinant of how much an employee would receive and this would also be almost certain to result in a long wait for the employee to receive anything.

This is why the direction that Bill C-55 takes, in that specific area of the bill, is actually better because payment would be more quickly achieved. There is no time that is more appropriate for employees to receive their paycheques than when they were expecting them or very shortly thereafter.

The assets were being run down on a monthly basis and at the end of May, the 330 or so employees at the cellulose mill would have had a payout much less than $3,000 per employee. That is another way that Bill C-55 does have some improvements over the private member's bill first enunciated as Bill C-281.

However, we need to look at this in a broad way. I think all of the parties have their hearts in the right place in terms of trying to protect the workforce from employers that have, in some cases, actually gone out of their way to hide from them the fact that they have not been paying into things like their medical and dental premiums.

There was even the case, in the situation I was talking about, where a family support garnishee program had been shorted. In other words, the payments had not been forwarded. That employee was in trouble not just from a financial standpoint in not receiving wages and benefits but owed a payment through the courts that should have been automatic.

These are some of the wrinkles that can occur. We have to avoid an incentive to drive businesses having difficulties into early insolvency in order to keep the asset base up. That occurs as well.

Wage Earner Protection Program
Government Orders

September 29th, 2005 / 4:45 p.m.
See context

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to a very important issue. Bill C-55 is critical. For the first time we have legislation before us that would allow workers to be put on the top of the heap as opposed to on the bottom of the heap when bankruptcy happens.

I can speak from personal experience. My brother worked for years at a plastics company here in Canada. He was a very diligent worker who went to work every single day. He made sure he made his contributions to the union, to his pension, and to the United Way. The company declared bankruptcy and went to the United States. The company not only took the workers' wages, but it also took their pensions.

It is very important to note that pensions are a deferred wage. They are a negotiated settlement among the workers, management and owners of a company. Pensions are deferred wages. They are important not only to the workers but also to our society. Pension earnings are a requirement for seniors in their lives after they have finished working. They are wages owed to them through their own planning and through arrangements made with management and the company. Those pensions belong to them. It is important to note that. This is missing from Bill C-55 and it is something our party is going to work on.

The company where my brother worked took the pension money. It also took the United Way money that the workers had contributed. It literally robbed the community of the contributions which the workers had made for the benefit of others.

The United Way in my community has had the highest donation per worker for a number of years. The money provides a full range of programs and services for people in need. I commend the executive director of our United Way, Sheila Wisdom. We have been challenged lately because many jobs have been lost in the auto industry and we have had to make sure that the United Way campaign expands into other groups and organizations.

We do not need companies leaving and taking money that workers have contributed toward their pensions. Sadly enough, Bill C-55 does not yet address this issue.

I want to continue the discussion with regard to students declaring bankruptcy. It is unconscionable that students have to wait 10 years to declare bankruptcy. We have witnessed a very significant escalation in tuition costs across the country, as well as other costs associated with going to school, such as apartment rentals, books, or other supports. Those costs have all gone up significantly and as a result, students have gone into more debt.

Young people have to be trained. People going back to college or university have to invest a lot of money in training, and they can accumulate a lot of debt as a result. With the record the students have with respect to repayment of their loans, they have earned the right to be treated better rather than being chastised at the 10 year limit. That is unacceptable.

As this crisis continues in terms of the educational system needing the necessary funds to run the programs, the training and the degree of technological improvements that are so important to compete in the world, people are increasingly being put into debt when they exit school and pursue their careers.

Some people are going to school later in life. They are not able to earn the necessary wages to pay off the debt. This also delays the start of families, which is a very important issue. Canadians are having children later in life. We need to put supports in place to avoid that. It is important that Bill C-55 address this problem.

I look forward to seeing amendments to this legislation. I am still not satisfied with the seven years. That can be improved.

I would like to note one of the other important issues related to this. It is the fact that as I started my speech this evening it is the first time ever that there is some mechanism whereby workers are at the front of the line, through the fact that they get $3,000 back in wages. That is very important. When a company goes bankrupt, for whatever reason, whether it is mismanagement or good management and the market conditions change, people lose their employment and do not have an opportunity to plan appropriately.

Three thousand dollars is a mere pittance. People cannot get by on that for very long, but at least it is something immediate that people can get. It will provide some sense of stability for them and their families as they look for employment transitions. That is important.

What I cannot understand about the legislation, though, is that the government will then try to get only $2,000 back. Why would it only go back for $2,000, not $3,000, from the company after insolvency? I do not understand that logic. I do not know why it would not, on behalf of taxpayers, try to recover the full amount. This should be looked at for sure.

The member for Winnipeg Centre has worked very hard on his private member's legislation on these matters, Bill C-281, which is much better than this bill, but this bill does have some elements of his. I want to recognize the fact that he has been able to push the debate on the matter this far and get Bill C-55 some attention because there has been a reaction. I am a member of the industry committee, where Bill C-281 has actually been sitting for a while. If we do not get to that bill right away, we will be looking at Bill C-55 as well. It at least encourages some modest improvements.

The member for Winnipeg Centre should be acknowledged for bringing this issue to the forefront far sooner than many expected. He has done similar work on the oil and gas industry with progressive legislation and also with a series of other bills. I want to acknowledge that and the pension issue, which I think definitely needs to be expanded upon.

Also important is the fact that the bill is going to take away a procedure that right now allows a judge, on a whim, to basically throw out a collective agreement between a company and a union. That is an atrocious abuse of an agreement collectively negotiated between a company and a union. The bill will require dialogue, and that was the spirit when this was originally dreamed up in the 1930s: that there would be some actual collective working together at the table before the judge would make some type of arbitrary decision in regard to anyone. This is important because the deals negotiated in terms of pensions, wages, benefits and all of those things come out of good faith negotiations.

Let me note that this is what should be happening with the CBC right now. The lockout should end. People should be back working together to make sure that they actually have a good agreement.

So that dialogue is what the judge will be doing in this new agreement. That is very important because it also, I believe, will create a healthier environment for the future.

We also want to note that it will be very important to change the legislation in regard to the $200,000 tax debt no longer being eligible for automatic discharge. It is something that could be abusive. We think this would be an important change to the legislation.

Last, I want to touch on the Radwanski example of the loophole that is finally going to be closed. It is unconscionable that an individual in our society can get hundreds of thousands of dollars of tax relief and then one day later receive a job for a quarter of a million dollars a year. That is unacceptable. This change is a very important one, because that was an absolute abuse of the people who get up and go to work every single day just to make a living.

(Bill S-31. On the Order: Government Orders)

June 22, 2005 — The Minister of Transport — Second reading, report stage and third reading of Bill S-31, An Act to authorize the construction and maintenance of a bridge over the St. Lawrence River and a bridge over the Beauharnois Canal for the purpose of completing Highway 30.

Wage Earner Protection Program
Government Orders

September 29th, 2005 / 4:40 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Lynne Yelich Blackstrap, SK

Mr. Speaker, I noticed the member spoke about student loans. Right now the current legislation says that an individual can apply for discharge 10 years after he or she ceases to be a student. Bill C-55 talks about applying a discharge after seven years and allowing a hardship discharge after five years. I noticed Bill C-281 does not cover it. I am just wondering whether the member supports the discharge clause.

Wage Earner Protection Program
Government Orders

September 29th, 2005 / 4:30 p.m.
See context

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Windsor West.

I am very happy to bring forward discussion on Bill C-55 today, the first part of the NDP's plan to address the issue of workers' wages in the event of bankruptcies. I will come back to that in a moment.

Bill C-55 is in large part a result of the NDP's negotiation for a better balanced budget last spring where we saw for the first time in some time a federal budget that actually responded to the needs of ordinary Canadians from coast to coast to coast. Part of our agenda has been wage protection. The other part of our agenda is pension protection. I have to flag the member for Winnipeg Centre's Bill C-281 which would protect pensions in the event of bankruptcy. We need to see is both wage protection and pension protection. We are happy to see that initial addressing of the NDP's concern, which we have had for some time, in Bill C-55.

Ordinary Canadians are having a harder and harder time of it. Over the past 15 years most Canadian family incomes have eroded. Lower income Canadians, working Canadians, Canadians in the middle class have lost 5% to 10% in real terms in family income over the past 15 years. That is the unfortunate legacy of both the Conservative government and the current Liberal government. Over this 15 year period Canadians are having a harder and harder time of it. Real income has declined at the same time as we have seen overtime charges and longer and longer working weeks. It is skyrocketing up to 33%. Canadian families are working harder and harder for less and less. They are working longer and longer weeks for smaller and smaller real income.

In addition, they have had no protection in the event of bankruptcies. That is why the NDP caucus pushed very hard last spring to change the budget to eliminate the corporate income tax cuts put forward by the Liberal government and to put in place wage earner protection. We will be working equally hard to put in place pension protection.

I would like to briefly work through the four key elements of the bill, most of which we support and some of which needs to be modified. We are hoping in committee to push forward those amendments. These are the kinds of changes that will help make a difference on the main streets of the country, from coast to coast to coast. We have seen Bay Street receive a lot of attention over the last 10 or 15 years. Now it is main street's turn. As a result of pushing forward these amendments, we hope to make Bill C-55 better.

First let us talk about the key elements. I would like to address the issue of the threshold of $3,000 that would go to wage earners in the event of bankruptcy. That is an important first step in addressing workers' concerns in the event of bankruptcies. We have 10,000 bankruptcies a year in our country. We need to ensure that workers are protected. However, we believe the $3,000 threshold is not high enough to address the valid concerns that come out of bankruptcies and how workers are impacted.

We have seen a couple of elements that are very positive. For example, the change that does not allow judges to arbitrarily change collective agreements any more is an important step in recognizing collective bargaining rights. Now we finally have union and management sitting down and if there is mutual agreement to make changes through a collective bargaining process, that may take place. It is not to be imposed by an outside judge. It is not to be imposed on the workers. That is a important key improvement in Bill C-55.

We also are strongly in support of closing the loopholes that we have seen in the tax system, particularly for wealthy Canadians.

We saw with the George Radwanski affair where a wealthy civil servant started a new job at $230,000 a year and saw back taxes of $630,000 basically rubbed out with the stroke of a pen. It is a type of income tax system where ordinary Canadians are paying their taxes, ensuring that their responsibility to their community and country is kept. Yet wealthier Canadians have had the option to simply have their back taxes written off, even in the case of somebody like Mr. Radwanski who was starting a job which paid almost a quarter of a million dollars a year. It is very important that we close this loophole.

We in the NDP have been fighting the types of loopholes that exist. The member for Winnipeg Centre has been one of the strongest proponents in this regard. We need a tax system that is fair to all Canadians, where all Canadians pay their fair share. That is our collective wealth and our collective resources to deal with things like our health care system, to help support new child care programs, to help support working families. It is extremely important that we do not have these loopholes. It is extremely important that we not allow certain wealthy individuals to get off from paying taxes that they owe to the nation, to our country, to all Canadians.

We are certainly in favour of these key elements. There are other elements as I mentioned that need to be addressed in committee. As we adopt this bill in principle and send it to committee, we need to pay particular attention to these key issues, such as the threshold which I mentioned is too low, and particularly the elements affecting students.

What we are saying right now with the current bill, if there are no amendments, is that a student who undertakes student debt because of the current chaos in the post-secondary education funding in the country is chained to that debt for a 10 year period. Yet we know that inadequate funding for post-secondary education and inadequate supports for students across the country have led to the debt crisis among students. Many students have had no other option because there has not been the support in place for post-secondary education.

Our post-secondary critic, the member for Halifax, has been front and centre in this regard, pushing forward an agenda that meets the needs of students. We need to make sure that this bill does not handcuff students and does not treat them differently from how other Canadians are treated in the event of bankruptcy.

Still, it is important that certain elements of this legislation be adopted. We know full well that workers all over Canada have been suffering for the last 15 years because of policies put in place by this Liberal government and the Conservative government that came before it. Indeed, family incomes were reduced by 5 to 10%. A majority of Canadians have been hit.

It is important that we amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act in order to help workers who lost their job because their company went bankrupt. This is what the NDP tried to negotiate last spring.

First, we want to deal with the issue of the money owed by these businesses to their employees. Second, with Bill C-281, we want to deal also with pensions lost because of the bankruptcy of businesses. The NDP member for Winnipeg Centre raises the issue of pensions and the CPP and the fact that we must protect the pensions of workers. This is the second aspect of the proposal that the NDP will make to this Parliament.

Consequently, we support Bill C-55, at first, in principle, so that, later on, in committee, we can improve it and ensure that it better protects the interests of all Canadians.

Wage Earner Protection Program Act
Government Orders

September 29th, 2005 / 1:40 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Don Boudria Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to the second reading of Bill C-55, an act to establish the wage earner protection program act and to amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act and the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act.

As members know, insolvency laws cover both personal and commercial situations. For my part, I will be focusing these comments on the commercial side of Bill C-55. In particular, I will be addressing those amendments which deal with commercial reorganizations. I would, however, first like to elaborate on the importance of our insolvency laws.

Data from the Office of the Superintendent of Bankruptcy illustrates the extent to which businesses experienced financial difficulties. In 2004, notwithstanding the tremendous health of our economy thanks to the excellent government we have, notwithstanding that, there were still some 8,200 businesses that filed for bankruptcy for various reasons. These firms had approximately $800 million in assets and over $3 billion in liabilities. As we can see, there were, at least in some situations, a lot more liabilities than there were belongings.

Unfortunately, there is no detailed statistical breakdown on the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act cases, as there has not been a central registry. However, it is estimated that there are more than 50 cases under the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act each and every year. It is generally accepted that the restructuring of major companies take place under the CCAA rather than the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act. One of the goals of Bill C-55 is the creation of a central registry for the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act cases within the Office of the Superintendent of Bankruptcy, which would enable statistical and other analysis of the restructuring process.

Canada's economy is a market economy based on entrepreneurship and risk taking. As we all know, risk taking is integral to the functioning of the marketplace and it is fundamental to success in a market based economy. This is particularly the case with today's increased global competition.

Risk taking also helps to ensure that Canada's prosperity is maintained and continues to move forward. In other words, risk taking is the essential ingredient of economic growth and jobs. When risk taking is promoted and encouraged, by definition there will be failures. If there were not failures, there would not have been a risk. There are many successes, but some failures, unfortunately. Supporting risk taking behaviour, because of the prosperity it brings, also means that our laws must deal with the cost of these failures, however unfortunate they are.

From this perspective, the obvious role for bankruptcy and insolvency laws is to provide the legislative framework by which non-viable firms are liquidated and dissolved. In these situations, the business assets are sold off, the business closes its doors and, unfortunately, employees lose their jobs. The situation is almost always devastating for those involved. Jobs are lost. Small communities and single-industry towns are faced with decreased economic activity and prospects, not to forget the principals in the companies, who have invested sometimes everything they had, and who also sometimes lose their life savings in the failure of the business in question. They should not be forgotten in all of this either.

However, bankruptcy and insolvency laws provide a framework to permit and facilitate potentially viable but financially distressed firms to survive and hopefully to continue to operate. They should allow and encourage the financial restructuring of firms which have a reasonable expectation to return to financial health but which at the present moment are not capable of meeting their current obligations.

Bill C-55 makes many improvements that promote restructuring. These changes are necessary and indeed critical to improving the reorganizational provisions in both the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act and the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act.

Interim financing, while not explicitly covered in the current legislation, is a critical issue for reorganizing companies. This short term financing allows a company to continue to operate while finalizing its restructuring. Courts have permitted interim financing but have done so on a case by case basis.

Bill C-55 would add both the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act and the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act ground rules for the granting of interim financing.

By providing factors to be considered directly within the legislation, the parties involved would be better able to understand when and under what circumstances the court will grant interim financing. These new rules would provide a much greater degree of predictability and should help companies obtain the financing needed during the critical restructuring period.

The proposed amendments would also allow a restructuring company to terminate certain agreements where it is necessary for the viability of its restructuring process and would not be overly injurious to the other party to the agreement. This amendment would make it easier for companies to escape economically damaging contracts while providing the other parties to the agreement with a right to claim damages caused by the disclaimer. This amendment would ensure greater clarity in the process and would create a more orderly process for disclaiming contracts and ensuring successful reorganization plans.

Collective agreements, however, do not fall into the group of contracts that can be disclaimed by debtors. These agreements will remain in force until the parties agree to change them. Bill C-55 would create a process that would allow the parties to negotiate but would not force workers to make concessions.

The bill would also make changes to the role of key participants in the insolvency process. Interim receivers would be just that, interim. Limits on their power and on the term of their appointment would mean that they would no longer be allowed to operate for extended periods of time.

To cover the gap, we are creating a national receiver that would be able to operate in any province. The bill would also clarify the role of the monitor in a Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act case, ensuring that the monitor would be a qualified trustee, acting in accordance with the code of conduct and responsibilities placed upon trustees under the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act.

The changes would also improve the transparency of the process by establishing clear rules regarding notice to creditors and by providing that payment of the third party costs may be paid out of the debtors' assets to allow all key parties to effectively participate. It would also allow courts to remove directors who unreasonably impair the restructuring process and it would allow them to make orders indemnifying the directors from liability.

The proposed legislation also contains amendments to the provisions governing international insolvency. Bill C-55 adopts the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law, or UNCITRAL model laws, for dealing with cross-border insolvency and should facilitate cooperation with foreign jurisdictions.

Our largest trading partner, the United States, recently approved the adoption of the same model. Therefore, standardized rules governing international insolvencies are becoming increasingly important to foreign investors. Adopting the most up to date and comprehensive rule in this area will make Canada a more attractive place to invest.

There is no doubt that Canada's insolvency laws fundamentally contribute to the efficient functioning of the marketplace. These rules of the game provide predictability and security to the marketplace participants, both domestically and foreign. It is important that marketplace framework laws, such as insolvency laws, be kept up to date and respond to the needs of the marketplace. Bill C-55 responds to the new issues that have emerged from a rapidly changing marketplace. I urge all members to support the provisions in Bill C-55 and of course the bill overall, along with its reference to committee.

As I said earlier, it is a pleasure for me to speak in the House at second reading of Bill C-55, an act to establish the Wage Earner Protection Program Act, to amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act and the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act. As I said already, insolvency legislation applies to individuals and businesses. So does the legislation before the House today.

I am pleased to hear our colleagues propose various amendments on protection for workers. I am eager to see the bill go before the committee. We will ensure that the bill has the broadest scope possible, while maintaining balance, encouraging investments in business and—as has been said so eloquently a number of occasions—protecting the rights of workers.

Some might ask why we are doing the insolvency reform now. An efficient and well functioning insolvency system is vital to our economy. I believe I was sitting in the House in opposition when we started these reforms in the 1990's but many issues were left unresolved and new issues have emerged with our rapidly changing marketplace.

As I indicated a few moments ago, the United Nations and the United States have adopted that model and it is incorporated in the bill we have today. Therefore it is important that the marketplace framework laws, such as the insolvency laws, be kept up to date, respond to the needs of the market and to a degree, as well, to the needs of the international conventions that we sign on to.

We all know that extensive consultations were conducted regarding the bill. As was indicated a little earlier, there was a broad consensus to reform and to modernize Canada's insolvency laws. The proposal before us today reflects the input received from a broad spectrum of stakeholders, such as, insolvency practitioners, representatives of the financial and business communities, labour groups, for which I am proud, consumers' associations and, of course, members of the academic community.

The Senate committee on banking, trade and commerce also conducted public hearings in 2003 and made a number of recommendations for changes to the law and I understand that some of these recommendations are found in the bill that is before us now at second reading.

The reforms in question, if I were to summarize them in the little bit of time that is left, have four main objectives. First, it would encourage restructuring of viable businesses as an alternative to bankruptcy. In this regard, the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act will be significantly modified to provide increased predictability while preserving flexibility.

Second, the reform would improve the protection for workers in bankruptcy. We have heard a lot about that issue particularly over the last little while. The bill creates a legislative framework for the wage earner protection program that will ensure that workers get compensation for their unpaid wages in the event of an insolvency.

Third, the bill is designed to make the insolvency system fairer and to reduce the potential for abuse. For instance, the bill introduces an exemption for RRSPs and lowers the period of discharge for student loans while it tightens the rules for debtors with surplus income and those with high income tax debts.

Fourth, the bill contains a number of technical amendments to improve the administration of the insolvency act. I raised the issue of the recommendations made by the Senate committee and the work of the committee was very helpful, I might add, and provided a solid basis for developing many of these proposals.

Finally, in response to the issue of Bill C-281, or the wage earner protection raised by other members later, the bill proposes a comprehensive reform to Canada's insolvency system.

In summary, those are basically the highlights of the bill. I urge the committee to do a thorough review and improve it where necessary so that we can further improve on Canada's laws, creating at the same time a favourable climate for investment, both domestic investment and investment from an outside country, while at the same time increasing the protection for consumers, wage earners and others where it is provided in the legislation.

Wage Earner Protection Program Act
Government Orders

September 29th, 2005 / 1:10 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Stéphane Bergeron Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, to begin with, if you would permit me, I would like to warmly thank my colleague from Shefford. I thank him for his concern in permitting me to express myself today on this bill. I also thank him for being so flexible, for at first I was supposed to speak ahead of him, but gradually we reorganized things. So very great thanks to my colleague from Shefford.

It is with some emotion that I take the floor today on Bill C-55, an Act to establish the Wage Earner Protection Program Act, to amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act and the Companies' Creditors Arrangements Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts. Not only is this bill important to me, but this is probably one of the last speeches I will give in this House. I therefore ask the indulgence of the Speaker and my colleagues should I ever digress.

We must be very aware of the fact that when there are brutal closures or bankruptcies of companies, the fate of the workers is often tragic. Their families have to suffer the consequences of this as well.

Thus far, these employees do not rank very high in priority among the creditors when the time comes to wind up a company's remaining assets. So, as was mentioned earlier, we find wages and severance allowances unpaid, and, sometimes, pensions lost or heavily mortgaged. After working all their lives for one firm, often these people find themselves without resources, without a pension fund, and often with a reduced likelihood of returning to the labour market.

It is imperative that this Parliament consider the tragic situation of these employees who are the victims of brutal corporate closures or bankruptcies. It is high time that we did so.

A number of my constituents experienced such a situation when the Aciers Atlas plant closed in Sorel-Tracy. In fact, the Aciers Atlas retired steelworkers' association contacted me to ask Parliament to pass legislation to deal with this problem. That people should be lobbying for this is nothing new. The Steelworkers have been pressuring parliamentarians for months to look into this glaring problem. This was due in large part to the worrying situation of a number of steel plants, particularly in the Hamilton region.

After that, our colleague from Winnipeg Centre introduced Bill C-281, a bill we supported 100%. We must admit we even helped our colleague prepare the bill.

Obviously, we are extremely pleased to see the government step in with Bill C-55. In this way, we are assured that the existing legal framework will be improved in order to protect workers and ensure that they are among the preferred creditors when a company is dissolved.

As was said earlier, we support the principle of Bill C-55, but it still contains a number of irritants and gaps, particularly with regard to the concept of secured creditor. The Government of Quebec should be consulted as to how this new legislation may work with the provisions of the Civil Code.

A few moments ago, my colleague from Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert spoke quite pertinently about the waiting period that students face before being allowed to discharge their student loans through bankruptcy. This is another area of concern with regard to Bill C-55, as is the issue of penalizing individuals receiving EI benefits, who may be taxed on the benefits they receive when a company is dissolved.

We will have to ensure that a number of amendments and improvements are made to the bill in later stages, so that it is able to truly respond to the very legitimate expectations of workers and pensioners of companies that may one day close.

As I said earlier, I am very happy to speak on this issue. It is clear just how important it is to me.

As I said, I will be leaving this place soon for another arena where I hope I will be able to continue to serve and to meet new challenges.

I would like to take the few minutes I have left to thank all my present and former colleagues in this House. It has been a great privilege and honour for me to be able to sit in this House and be surrounded by extraordinary people here to represent their constituents in Canada and in Quebec.

I would like also to say goodbye to everyone here, House staff, clerks, security personnel and so on. I have particularly fond memories of the late Major General Cloutier, with whom I worked closely during my time as chief whip for the Bloc Québécois.

I also want to acknowledge and thank the legal advisors, and in particular Diane Davidson, an extraordinary woman now working with Elections Canada. These legal experts provide such devoted services to parliamentarians. Then there are the maintenance staff, the support staff, the food services people, the mail room employees, the pages, the researchers and Library staff, in short, all personnel of the House, past and present, who make it possible for us to do as worthy and efficient a job as possible of serving our fellow citizens.

I wish to mention the efficient, competent and devoted staff of the Bloc Québécois in general, and in particular the ones who have worked with me since 1993, who have made it possible for me to do this exciting job of representing the people of Verchères and Verchères—Les-Patriotes in the House of Commons. Words are not enough to express my great appreciation for their devotion, which has made it possible for me, I hope, to do my job as effectively and appropriately as possible.

And then there are the countless volunteers who have worked in the federal riding of Verchères and later Verchères—Les-Patriotes, the ones who have made it possible for me to be here for four terms, a total of some 12 years.

I wish to pay particular tribute to my family, my wife Johanne and my daughter Audrée-Anne. Without them, I could never have fulfilled this mission for the past 12 years.

Lastly, Mr. Speaker, I would be remiss if I did not express my equally warm and heartfelt thanks to the people of the federal riding of Verchères and Verchères—Les-Patriotes, who have showed their faith in me in four elections, who invested in me and reiterated their confidence in me. There is no way I can fully express my gratitude for the touching support they have manifested in me on four occasions, starting in 1993.

I thank them for allowing me to go through the exciting adventure of representing them in the House of Commons. I hope I always lived up to their expectations.

Wage Earner Protection Program Act
Government Orders

September 29th, 2005 / 11:30 a.m.
See context

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Winnipeg Centre for the leadership he has shown on this issue and on Bill C-281, the workers first bill, which does actually speak to the issue of protecting pensions in a real and meaningful way.

I want to break out a couple of the pieces that my colleague has already raised and dissect them a little more. First, I would like to join with my colleague in setting the record straight. I was reading yesterday's Hansard where the minister said in his opening comments, referring to Bill C-55 and wage protection, “This type of program is not radical or new, but it is for our country”.

On a technicality, on a federal basis it is, but within our nation, within the country, my friend from Winnipeg Centre is absolutely right. The Bob Rae government, the first NDP government in Ontario, brought in as its very first bill an employee wage protection plan that did exactly what Bill C-55 speaks about. In fact, it went a little further. Let us understand that the NDP has a track record of taking commitments on these issues, putting them into legislation and making them real, and doing it long before other parties in this place have seen it as a priority and enacted it.

What is important in this story, though, in addition to setting the record straight as to whether or not this is ground breaking legislation, is to understand that in the Province of Ontario right now, as a I stand in this place, that law has gone. That protection for workers has gone. That law was ripped out and that protection does not exist in Ontario right now. Why? Because the Conservative government of Mike Harris eliminated it and took away those rights. Let us understand that when it comes to workers' rights, really, at the end of the day, we are either with them or we are against them. It is clear where Harris was and where the NDP and Bob Rae were. It is good that this is happening. Parts of the bill are important and do provide protection, but it is far from ground breaking in the context of Canada as a nation.

Again, the bill has some good elements in it. There is no question about that. It needs serious work in committee and we are hoping we will get the commitment from all the other parties. Certainly, today, it sounds like our colleagues in the Bloc are prepared to roll up their sleeves and make the amendments necessary to give effect to what Bill C-55 purports to do, but without that work, the bill will fall short. However, we will support it. There are some good things in the bill and we will make it better, but it does not protect pensions.

I am emphasizing the comments of my colleague from Winnipeg Centre that it does not protect pensions. It will take Bill C-281, the workers first bill or one like it to do that. Let us remember that in the case of a bankruptcy, again articulated by my friend, under the currently law, if our pensions are not totally funded, we are at the bottom of the list. The banks, the creditors and the government come first. Workers are at the bottom.

It is interesting that the minister said in his comments yesterday: “--protection of workers whose employers undergo restructuring and become bankrupt. I am very passionate about this topic”. Great. Let us see some passion behind Bill C-281 and make some real changes that provide real protection for workers. That is the kind of passion we want to see from the Minister of Labour.

In the last couple of moments I want to deal with section 33. My colleague has talked about that. The minister made some reference to it where he said:

Canadian workers suffer lost wages, reduced pension benefits and uncertainty that their collective agreements may be unilaterally changed by a court.

The working assumption right now is that federal judges do have the power. That is the current wording. That is somewhat unclear and the first thing that the committee has to do is establish whether or not judges currently have that power. If that takes us into some legal battle, so be it. However, we cannot adequately deal with section 33 until there is an absolute determination as to whether or not, under existing legislation in its entirety, a judge is allowed the power to step in, in the case of bankruptcies and restructuring, and unilaterally order that collective agreements be changed. Let me say parenthetically that they are never changed to the benefit of workers, they are always changed to reduce the benefits that are in those collective agreements. That is the worry.

If they do have that power now, then subsections 33(1) and 33(2) take us two-thirds of the way, but there needs to be another amendment, an amendment that we would call the local 1005 steelworkers amendment. In the question and answer part of the package the minister released, there is the kind of protection that my friend from Winnipeg Centre spoke of. It says that a judge, upon application of the employer, can give a court order that negotiations can begin and it forces the two parties to sit down.

In the context of judges having unilateral power, if that is now curtailed to only direct an order that there be a negotiation at a table, then that is a good thing because it would then be more restrictive. It is taking away the authority and putting it into bargaining. What is missing is what is included in the questions and answers. It is missing in the legislation and it asks, what happens if they cannot agree to any concessions?

The questions and answers part of the package put out by the minister said that the agreement would then stand pat as it is. Every word, every comma and the expiry date, and that package, the collective agreement as it was, then goes in as part of the proposal that is put forward to the creditors as to whether or not that is acceptable. It may help the proposal float. It may sink it but nonetheless in law it would establish that judges will not unilaterally change it and that one cannot be forced to make changes at the bargaining table.

The employer representatives begin by saying their niceties, then the other side looks at them and says, we have no interest in changing anything in our collective agreement right now and we will meet you at the end of the expiry date and until then we do not need to talk about this collective agreement in terms of amendments any further. Period. End of meeting. The contract would stay in place. The powers of the federal judges would have been curtailed and the labour movement would have maintained the rights that it currently has to collectively bargain on behalf of its employees without a judge or anybody else unilaterally changing that.

If it is determined, however, that judges do not have that power right now and that it becomes the accepted interpretation by all, that they do not have it, then we want section 33 out of there because it means that we are now, through Bill C-55, giving judges the power to intervene in the collective bargaining process in a way that they currently do not have the power to do. We are not interested in amending section 33 with a new subsection 33(3) in that case. We want and will demand that the entire section 33 be removed. Make no mistake. This issue will be a major determinant as to whether or not the bill meets the test.

I have not heard from the minister. The minister said in his language that there is uncertainty. There is and that is why we want the uncertainty removed. It should be replaced by clarity, so that we know if judges have that power or not. Depending on the definitive answer to that, what will happen with section 33 will then make itself apparent in a way to which I have already spoken.

Bill C-55, as imperfect as it is, contains some benefits and is here for two reasons. One of them is not because the Liberals care that much about workers. The other is because the NDP through the member for Winnipeg Centre introduced Bill C-281 in terms of protecting pensions and putting them at the top of the creditors list, and the government was on the dime. It was on the spot and it had to do something.

To date, the government has not told us it is prepared to make that legislative change, although on the campaign trail the Liberals were all full of protection for workers and pensions. It was so motherhood and apple pie one would be shocked to believe it had not already become the law.

The second reason Bill C-55 is here is that it was ordered and demanded in the NDP budget amendment Bill C-48.

Those are the reasons it is here. The NDP drove this bill to be here. We will work with colleagues in the House to make this bill as good as it should be. We will continue to fight for Bill C-281. That is not going off the radar screen just because Bill C-55 is here. Those pensions will be protected.

Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act
Private Members' Business

May 5th, 2005 / 6:40 p.m.
See context

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I put forward Bill C-281 because there are 10,000 bankruptcies a year in this country and more often than not, or all too frequently at least, workers are left owed back wages, benefits and, most important, pension contributions from underfunded pensions.

Hearing the debate today and even in the first hour of debate, I have to remind my colleagues that we are in the House of Commons. This is the place where we are supposed to be advocating on behalf of ordinary Canadians, the common folk, and what I hear are apologists for the banks more than anything else, frankly.

Those who are opposed to the idea of bankruptcy protection for ordinary Canadians are acting like corporate shills for the banks by saying that we need a tag day for them and we need to ensure they get everything that is owed to them in order of priority over and above the needs of the working people. Something is terribly backwards with this tone and this attitude.

In actual fact, there is money in most bankruptcies to pay the employees. My bill seeks to put workers first on the list of priority when we are distributing the assets or the proceeds from a bankruptcy instead of dead last where they are now. I do not see what is so revolutionary about that concept. Were we not all sent here by ordinary Canadians to advocate on their behalf?

Somehow things got so screwed up in Ottawa. Big money has been running things here for so long that all of the legislation seems crafted in such a way as to serve the interests of big money. Here we have an opportunity to do what is right for ordinary grassroots Canadians and put them first and we hear people saying that it might interfere with the banks' ability to be secure, blah, blah, blah. Honestly, I could spit with anger. It really makes me angry.

We have recent concrete examples. My colleague from Acadie—Bathurst was explaining perhaps the most egregious example of what is wrong with the bankruptcy legislation in the country. He spoke about the Nackawic pulp mill where people with 35 years' service were getting zero of their pension contributions, while $100 million of assets were being distributed among the creditors. Workers are not viewed as creditors.

The interesting thing is if the company has been operating for the last few months of its existence by ripping money out of the pension plan that makes workers creditors. They are investors in the company but unwillingly and unwittingly. They deserve a super priority, in my view, for that very reason.

There is a trust relationship between the employer-employee that is ancient and, I argue, is sacrosanct and should not be tampered with. That trust relationship is, “I will come to work every day and I will lay down my life to dedicate it to your financial enterprise and you pay me x amount of dollars”. That is the trust relationship that exists. However in the event of bankruptcy that gets tossed out the window and everybody gets their share before that employee gets a single cent and more often than not there is nothing left for them.

When I hear people acting as apologists for the banks over the interests of ordinary Canadians, it makes me wonder which side they are on in this very simple debate.

I will tell members where Canadians stand. In a recent Vector poll, 87% of Canadians said that the current bankruptcy laws were unfair, needed to be changed and were overdue to be changed. We have had commissions and studies for 30 years saying that our bankruptcies laws are unfair and do not represent the interests of workers.

The NDP for the last three Parliaments has submitted virtually the same bill. It came within four votes when my colleague from Churchill put it forward as a motion two Parliaments ago; that is, two people voting the other way and we could have had some satisfaction. The workers at the Nackawic mill would not have been screwed if we had listened to the member for Churchill back then.

Year after year, decade after decade goes by with no protection for employees in the event of bankruptcy. The number of bankruptcies is not going down and the protection of employees certainly is not changing.

I cannot believe anyone who was sent here by ordinary Canadians to advocate on their behalf would be a shill for Bay Street and an apologist for the banks, instead of an advocate for ordinary working Canadians. It is a shame.

Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act
Private Members' Business

May 5th, 2005 / 6:35 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

One of the members in the House continues to call out “pensions”. The member is quite right. The government needs to look at the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act, the Canada Business Corporations Act, the Employment Insurance Act and so on.

I wish to deal with the issue of wage protection. Today, the Government of Canada announced a wage earner protection program. I would like to read part of the news release that went out. It states:

Today, the Minister of Labour and Housing, accompanied by the Leader of the Government in the House and the Minister of Industry announced the Government's intention to move quickly to establish the Wage Earner Protection Program. The program will help protect workers by providing a guaranteed payment of wages owed up to $3000 should their employer declare bankruptcy.

Under the present bankruptcy system, workers' claims for unpaid wages rank after secured creditors. As a result, many workers have to wait from one to three years to get a fraction of the wages owed to them--13 cents on the dollar on average. These workers are often the most vulnerable and working in low-wage jobs in small businesses (under 10 employees) in the construction, retail and food services sectors. Under the proposed program, affected workers could make their wage claim right away and should receive their money about six weeks later.

The Minister for Labour and Housing stated:

This program is about fairness and helping the most vulnerable workers. The Wage Earner Protection Program will ensure that workers get their wages quickly, when they need it most. It will also ensure that payment of wages will no longer depend solely upon the amount of assets in employers' estates.

The Leader of the Government stated:

There is a need to address a number of issues related to employees and businesses that suffer bankruptcies or insolvencies...Our Government has put forward an ambitious legislative agenda that reflects the priorities of Canadians.

The member who put forward Bill C-281 is correct in that protecting workers and employees, who have earned wages when their employer goes under bankruptcy or insolvency, is something that is a priority for Canadians. The Leader of the Government also stated:

We want to ensure workers do not face undue hardship if the business or enterprise, where they are employed runs into difficulty.

The Minister of Industry stated:

The Government recognizes that the present insolvency system lacks an effective mechanism to provide certain and timely payment of the wages owing to workers whose employers go into bankruptcy or receivership under the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act...The Wage Earner Protection Program is designed to remedy this gap and to form part of a comprehensive insolvency reform package, which I intend to introduce this spring.

When the member was calling out the word “pensions”, I wish to repeat that the Minister of Industry has already stated that there will be a comprehensive reform of the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act.

When the Minister of Industry states that he intends to bring forward a comprehensive insolvency reform package this spring, that means that the issue of workers' pensions, when their employers either goes into bankruptcy or insolvency, will also be addressed.

I call on hon. members to look carefully at Bill C-281, but I do believe it should go to committee for that kind of extensive analysis.

Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act
Private Members' Business

May 5th, 2005 / 6:30 p.m.
See context

Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine
Québec

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister (Canada—U.S.)

Mr. Speaker, I would like to start by saying how pleased I am to participate in this debate on Bill C-281. The principle, the concept and the objective are all worthwhile.

I grew up in a union family. My father was a union member all his life. He even was the secretary-treasurer on the executive board of his union for the region of Quebec. All that to say that I have seen the tough times families can go through when the head of the household is a union worker or a labourer.

I was a shop steward for several years before completing my law degree. I was first elected to this place in 1997, and the Dominion Bridge Lachine plant, a subsidiary of Dominion Bridge Corporation, whose reputation is well known to all hon. members, I am sure, was located in my riding. This major company was a symbol of economic development in Canada during the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century.

Soon after my election, this company went bankrupt and the plant located in my riding faced closure. This meant that some 300 employees, the majority of whom were members of the steelworkers local, would be losing not only the wages owed for the work already performed, but also pension benefits, among other things.

In the community of Lachine, we immediately set up a Dominion Bridge Lachine survival committee, comprising representatives of the local metalworkers' union, my provincial counterpart, MP François Ouimet, municipal officials of the day, myself, local people involved in economic development, representatives of the CEDC, the community economic development corporation, and of Transaction pour l'emploi and many other interested parties. With the help of the Fonds des travailleurs du Quebec, we interested another company in buying the assets of Dominion Bridge Lachine and hiring all the employees.

In the meantime, the employees had to depend on employment insurance. I must congratulate the department of the time, which handled the employment insurance scheme. It immediately set up a committee of officials to help workers apply and ensure that they did not lack money to put food on the table and pay hydro, the rent or the mortgage.

Bill C-281 does have problems, though. I would be prepared to have it referred to committee, because I think committee is the best place to examine the question and the objectives. It does have some serious problems, though, in connection with use of employment insurance, for example.

I would like to speak to that because what is quite interesting is that at times life and reality overtake a piece of legislation that is being proposed. I would like to talk about the issue of protecting workers for payment of wages that they are owed if their employer declares bankruptcy.