Bill C-270 (Historical)
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 39th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in September 2008.
This bill was previously introduced in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session.
Chris Charlton NDP
Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)
Introduction and First Reading
(This bill did not become law.)
Resumption of Debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne
November 25th, 2008 / 4:20 p.m.
Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON
Mr. Speaker, thank you for giving me the opportunity to participate in this debate on the government's Speech from the Throne. I know that the number of members who can speak on this matter is limited and severely curtailed by the rules of the House, so I really am delighted to respond.
I am delighted for two reasons. The first one is, frankly, because I am still here and for that I want to thank the people of Hamilton Mountain who have given me the opportunity to be their champion in the House of Commons for a second term. I am deeply grateful for that.
Second, I am delighted to participate in this debate because it is central to setting this Parliament's agenda for dealing with the unprecedented downturn in the Canadian economy. Families in my riding, like Canadians right across the country, are profoundly worried about their jobs, about their pensions and about their savings. They are counting on the federal government to take bold and strategic steps, and they are looking to their members of Parliament to have courage in the face of adversity. Yet, the throne speech, which sets the agenda for this entire session of Parliament, fails to match the urgency or the depth required to protect working families in this economy.
Let me clear, our number one job is to protect Canadians during this economic crisis. I have heard members speak about the need to stimulate the economy. I have heard others rightly point out that we do not just need to stimulate the economy, but we need to stabilize it. The difference of course is more than mere semantics.
However, the bottom line is that the economy and the market are not some supernatural phenomenon. Neither were they created by divine law. They were man-made constructs and as such they are relationships that are governed by the rules that we created. These rules create a framework for determining winners and losers, and that makes it incumbent upon all of us to recognize that the economy is a moral question.
As Tommy Douglas used to say, the economy is made for man, not man for the economy. Yet we have built economic structures that serve powerful global forces acting in their own interest, presenting profit as the chief spur to economic progress, free competition as the guiding norm of economics, and private ownership of the means of production as an absolute right. The sky was the limit and there seemed to be no concomitant social obligations. We were all led to believe that governments are the problem and that markets are the solution.
If the current economic crisis has proven nothing else, it is that markets cannot do it alone. Yes, markets can bring prosperity, but governments not only have a role to play, they have a responsibility to act. For far too long now our economy has failed to serve the needs and the aspirations of Canadians. In fact, workers in our country have now paid four times for the economic crisis that we are in.
First, they have lost their jobs. Since 2006, Canada has lost over 151,000 jobs in the manufacturing sector alone. Unemployment is projected to rise to 7% by next year and our industrial heartland is decaying around us.
Second, workers have paid with their pensions. Workplace pensions and private pensions have all taken a huge hit as a result of the market collapse and those close to retirement are spending tomorrow's savings to make it through today.
Third, workers no longer have adequate access to protection through employment insurance. Nationally only 38% of unemployed workers receive government benefits, down from 75% in the early nineties. Workers paid for this insurance coverage and yet they cannot count on it when they need it most.
Of course, they are now paying for this economic crisis a fourth time as their tax dollars are going to bail out corporations like the banks. It is time to say enough is enough.
It is time to right the balance and work to stabilize the economy in such a way that it will serve Canadians. It is time to be bold and it is time to be strategic. It is time to roll up our sleeves and work together to build an economy that serves the needs and aspirations of our people.
As the very first step, we have to abandon the Conservative government's policies of throwing money away on unconditional corporate tax cuts. Unconditional tax cuts will not provide the stimulus that our economy requires. Quite the opposite. Tax cuts only benefit those corporations that are profitable enough to pay taxes. If a company is in danger of collapse, it does not pay taxes and blanket tax cuts do nothing to help it to survive.
Moreover, we should not be providing tax breaks to companies that outsource or ship jobs overseas. In my hometown of Hamilton people will remember what happened at the John Deere plant just down the road in Welland. John Deere gladly pocketed the tax breaks and then closed its profitable plant and shipped the jobs down to Mexico.
Unconditional corporate tax cuts are not the answer to revitalizing the Canadian economy, yet these corporate tax cuts will cost the government $7.3 billion in 2009-10 alone. That money would be so much better spent on investing in the inherent productivity that resides in the talent, creativity and energy of Canadians. We need to invest in the real economy.
Let us look again at the four ways, that I mentioned earlier, in which Canada's workers have paid for this economic crisis and let us look for solutions for each.
First and foremost, we need to develop an economic stimulus package to create jobs. In the short term, that means strategic investments in infrastructure. Let us commit to an ambitious plan to partner with communities to repair our crumbling cities, invest in public transit and build affordable housing. I know that the city of Hamilton, for example, is ready to start construction now on a new sewer and water plant. The planning is done. The engineering is done. With the federal government's support, construction could begin immediately. It is good for workers, good for suppliers, and good for the city of Hamilton.
I know that municipalities in other parts of the country have similar jobs that are virtually shovel ready. Projects related to energy retrofitting homes and buildings, expanding our renewable energy capacity, and improving our communications technology backbone also offer economic stimuli. Of course, we need to support the manufacturing and auto sectors, not by writing blank cheques to perpetuate the status quo, but by providing the kind of financial assistance that will transform the industries and keep jobs in Canada.
Second, we need to protect the pensions of hard-working Canadians. This has to be done in consultation with labour, with business and the provinces, so that we can explore programs like a pension insurance program. In the last Parliament, I introduced Bill C-270, which would have given workers' pensions super priority in cases of commercial bankruptcies. Legislation such as this is still a critical part of the solution in safeguarding Canadians' pensions.
For those Canadians who are over the age of 71, let us at least consider a moratorium on mandatory RRIF withdrawals. I think all Canadian retirees were profoundly disappointed that pensions were not even mentioned in last week's Speech from the Throne.
Similarly, the throne speech was silent on reform to Canada's system of employment insurance. As a result of the rule changes that recent governments have made to the system, unemployed people must now all but exhaust their savings before EI is even available to them. Let us fix EI. It is a critical tool for poverty prevention and the money that unemployed Canadians receive will flow directly back into the local economy, thereby helping to create badly needed jobs and keeping small businesses afloat.
There was a time when EI was a vital part of retraining and skills development assistance. That is no longer the case. In fact, we have no national training strategy at all. Tackling the skills shortage must be part of the solution if we do not want to further compound the length and depth of this economic downturn.
Finally, let us talk about the contribution Canadians have already made to ailing sectors of our economy such as financial institutions. To date, they have contributed $75 billion just to secure our banks. They need to be assured that there will be strong oversight that tracks where that money is going. Whenever sectoral assistance is provided, taxpayers need a full and transparent accounting, and where appropriate, an equity stake in return.
These are just four areas for concrete action, and yes, they do represent bold steps, but hard-working Canadians deserve no less. They already know that New Democrats are committed to making the economy work for them, and despite the fact that the throne speech failed to stand up for working families and the middle class, it is not too late to protect their jobs, their pensions and their savings.
In just a couple of days the Minister of Finance will table his economic update. Perhaps that will give Canadians a few more specifics, but if it too remains tepid in its approach to protecting working families in these tough economic times, then we in the NDP will roll up our sleeves and work with our partners in labour, in civil society, and in our own communities to give Canadians the leadership they deserve.
We commit to being constructive and we hope the government will do the same, because as Tommy used to say, it is not too late to build a better world.
Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business
May 26th, 2008 / 7:10 p.m.
Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to participate in tonight's debate on Bill C-445 as the NDP critic for seniors and pensions.
Let me begin by thanking the member for Richmond—Arthabaska for bringing this bill forward. For those who may have just tuned into the debate, let me just take a moment to remind television viewers of what we are debating.
Bill C-445 would grant a refundable tax credit equal to 22% of the reduction in pension benefits experienced by beneficiaries of registered pension plans, other than trusts, who suffer a loss of pension benefits, normally when their pension plans are wound up in whole or in part. It applies both to defined benefit plans and defined contribution plans.
Without the legalese, what that essentially means is that if a retiree's pension income drops from $30,000 to $20,000, let us say, he or she would receive 22% of the $8,000 lost, which would be a non-taxable amount of $1,760.
This bill is very timely. It allows us to discuss pension protection and retirement security on the cusp of a demographic trend that will see almost one-quarter of Canada's population over the age of 65 by 2041.
For some, as the comments made by the Conservative MPs in this debate have made clear, our aging society presents a policy challenge that focuses solely on the need for cost containment, but for more progressive voices it represents an opportunity to re-examine the growing gap between the rich and the rest of us and to make decisions that protect the public interest instead of the interests of the wealthy few.
At a time when more wealth is being created in this country than at any other time in our history, people in Canada are working longer and harder not to get ahead but simply to keep up. In fact, average Canadians today are squeezing 200 more hours of work out of each year than they did just nine years ago.
While a few people at the top are enjoying the benefits of the current economy, everyone else is not. Sure, we have seen the windfall salaries and extraordinary bonuses of CEOs, but wages for everyone else are essentially stagnant or falling. The middle class and its retirees are falling farther and farther behind.
One of the reasons, of course, is tied to what is happening in the economy. In the manufacturing sector alone, our economy has lost over 350,000 jobs since 2002. The forestry sector is similarly being devastated, yet despite repeated calls by NDP members in this House, the government is refusing even to acknowledge the need for creating a national jobs strategy.
It is absolutely essential that the government sit down with leaders from both the labour movement and business to develop a plan to maintain and build both the manufacturing and resource sectors of our economy. Not only are these jobs crucial for sustaining families, but we know empirically that the highest levels of pension coverage are associated with union membership in those jobs.
About 80% of union members belong to workplace pension plans compared to just under 30% of non-union members. With the overall percentage of people who belong to workplace pensions on a continual decline, it is imperative that we continue to fight for unionized jobs and maintain the struggle at the bargaining table for defined benefit plans. It is the only way to ensure predictable retirement incomes for workers.
What is happening now is not sustainable. I am from Hamilton, so I have witnessed at first hand the economic insecurity faced by industrial workers. Every time a plant closes its doors, the pensions and benefits of its workers are threatened. Anyone in this House who has followed the CCAA proceedings at Stelco will know what I am talking about. Sadly, that is but one of many local examples where restructuring or plant closure has created pension uncertainty for workers.
It is time for the government to acknowledge that pensions are deferred wages. They are not bonuses paid to workers at the end of their working lives. They are part of an agreed upon compensation package for hours worked. That is why I was proud to introduce Bill C-270, the workers first bill, in the House of Commons as my very first legislative initiative upon being elected.
As members here will know, Bill C-270 will ensure that workers' wages, pensions and benefits receive super-priority in cases of commercial bankruptcy. If we really want to ensure that workers can retire with dignity and respect, then we must ensure they have an adequate retirement income. Bill C-270 and a federal, employer-funded system of pension insurance are essential to achieving that goal.
At the root of that bill, of course, is the vision that workers must receive the pensions they have earned. That is what is at stake in Bill C-445 as well. For that reason alone, it deserves the support of all members in this House at second reading.
Yes, there are some areas that merit further examination, but the BQ members who have participated in the debate thus far have acknowledged that and have expressed their willingness to explore those issues further at the committee stage. For example, public data detailing the number of pension plan beneficiaries who would be eligible to claim the tax credit proposed in Bill C-445 are not available.
We do know that in 2003 there were approximately three million members of private sector registered pension plans, of which 73% were members of defined benefit plans. However, at present, no one collects data that would assist us in determining the number of pension plan beneficiaries who may be eligible for this type of tax credit.
Therefore, for the government members to suggest that the cost of Bill C-445 is $10 billion is pure conjecture. I would welcome the opportunity in committee to have them share their detailed financial analysis. I suspect that at the moment they would have no such document they could table.
Conversely, the BQ members concede that the bill may impact more than Jeffrey Mine and Atlas Steel in Quebec and the St. Anne Nackawic Pulp Co. in New Brunswick. So be it. Let us send this bill to committee and do the research, but let us not throw out the baby with the bathwater.
This bill simply wants to provide some fairness: fairness for pensioners who find that their retirement benefits are reduced through no fault of their own. That is a laudable goal and ought to be supported by all members of the House.
Yes, this bill represents but one option for providing fairness for retirees. Maybe there are others that would achieve the same goal differently. If there are, let us talk about them at committee.
I believe the members of the BQ are sincere in their objective, which would suggest that they may be flexible on the means for achieving their goal. I, for one, welcome the opportunity to explore any option, including Bill C-445, that would give workers the ability to retire with the dignity and respect they deserve.
What is paramount is that we as policy makers recognize the five keys to solid pensions. First, workers must get the pension that they earned. Second, it should be a given that all workers deserve decent pension coverage. Third, there must be respect for both today's and tomorrow's retirees. Fourth, pension money must work for, not against, workers. Finally, as I said at the outset, we must develop a national good jobs strategy so that a dignified retirement is possible.
If we can all agree on these five principles, then I think the work that we do in committee on Bill C-445 would indeed move the yardsticks in the right direction. Despite the fact that the comments made by the Conservative members thus far in this debate and the equivocation that has been articulated by the Liberal members may call into question their commitment to the rights of workers and retirees in this country, I would like to remind them of a vote that they all cast in this very chamber not that long ago.
I had the privilege of introducing the seniors charter in the House of Commons on behalf of the NDP caucus. That charter, as members will recall, created a road map for ensuring that seniors can retire with the dignity and respect they deserve. One of the enumerated rights in that charter was the right of income security for seniors.
It was passed in the House by a vote of 231 to 52. Obviously we in the NDP voted for it unanimously, but so did all of the Conservative and Liberal MPs. Ironically, it was only the BQ that was opposed.
I call on my Conservative and Liberal colleagues to now walk the talk. If their support of the charter really meant a commitment to its principles, then their vote on Bill C-445 will be the proof in the pudding.
The charter clearly stated that seniors have the right to “income security, through protected pensions and indexed public income support that provides a reasonable state of economic welfare”. Those members voted for the charter, so they must now vote for Bill C-445 and send it to committee. The principles in each are the same.
I cannot wait for the vote because workers and retirees will then finally see who takes the principled position.
Resumption of debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne
October 22nd, 2007 / 1:40 p.m.
Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON
Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege for me to speak in the House on behalf of my constituents on Hamilton Mountain.
Over the last few weeks, I have had the opportunity to be back in Hamilton and to listen to the concerns that are top of mind for families in our community. Without a doubt, the single biggest issue is Canada's growing prosperity gap.
Seniors and working families are increasingly finding it difficult just to make ends meet. At a time when more wealth is being created in this country than at any other time in our history, people in Hamilton are working longer and harder, not to get ahead, but simply to keep up. In fact, average Canadians today are squeezing 200 more hours of work out of each year than they did just nine years ago.
While a few people at the top are enjoying the benefits of the current economy, everyone else is not. Sure, we have seen the windfall salaries and extraordinary bonuses of CEOs, but wages for everyone else are essentially stagnant or falling. The middle class in Canada is falling behind. That is what we have been calling the prosperity gap, and nowhere is that issue more relevant than in Hamilton.
Our manufacturing sector is in crisis, but the government's agenda for this Parliament did not even mention it. There was no mention of an industrial strategy for either the automotive or manufacturing sectors. There was no mention of wage and pension protection for workers affected by commercial bankruptcies. There was no mention of using the $3.3 billion EI surplus to retrain displaced workers. There was no mention of beefing up the Investment Canada Act to protect key industries from foreign takeovers.
With a $14 billion surplus, it simply did not need to be that way. There is a better choice and I will continue to advocate for those alternatives until working families on the mountain get the positive change they deserve.
I know that my time here today is limited, but let me just speak to four such alternatives that represent missed opportunities in the throne speech. They relate to seniors, youth, our city and the environment.
In the summer I had the privilege of organizing and hosting an environmental forum for businesses on Hamilton Mountain. The panellists included representatives from Green Venture and TABIA in an interactive discussion on saving both money and the environment through energy conservation.
Business leaders understood the benefits immediately. Whether they represented the retail, manufacturing or service sectors, they understood that far from having to choose between helping the environment and helping their bottom line, energy conservation will achieve both. In fact research has proven that ignoring climate change will ultimately damage economic growth.
Why then is the Prime Minister not seizing all opportunities to link economic growth with reductions in greenhouse gas emissions? Here is but one small example of how that could be done.
At the urging of the NDP, the Canadian government has put into effect a ban on incandescent light bulbs effective in 2010, but as Hamilton business leaders learned during the environmental forum, almost none of the alternative CFL or LED bulbs are actually being manufactured in Canada.
Here the government is creating a huge market for new products without recognizing and supporting the equally huge domestic manufacturing opportunity that its policy has created. Instead of importing almost all of the more energy efficient light bulbs from China, why are we not supporting Canadian manufacturing and Canadian jobs by encouraging the production of the alternative light bulbs in Canada?
It would be good for the economy, good for jobs and good for the environment, but apparently such a win-win situation is still not good enough for our Prime Minister. Go figure. That kind of inaction speaks volumes about the disconnect between the government's directions and the priorities of the Canadian people.
Let us look at seniors next. The Conservative government is quick to talk the talk when it comes to seniors, but it is loath to walk the talk.
The government supported my seniors charter which created a road map to ensuring that seniors can retire with the dignity and respect they deserve. Indeed it was passed in the House of Commons by a vote of 231 to 52. Instead of implementing the charter's priorities to enhance the quality of life for seniors, government inaction has made it increasingly difficult for seniors to make ends meet.
One of the reasons, of course, is tied to what is happening in the economy. Every time a plant closes its doors in Hamilton, the pension and benefits of its workers are threatened. It is time for the government to acknowledge that pensions are deferred wages. They are not bonuses paid to workers at the end of their working lives. They are part of an agreed upon compensation package for hours worked.
That is why, upon being elected, I was proud to introduce Bill C-270, the workers first bill, in the House of Commons as my very first legislative initiative. Once it becomes law, this bill will ensure that workers' wages, pensions and benefits receive superpriority in case of commercial bankruptcy. If we really want to ensure that seniors can retire with dignity and respect, then we must ensure that they have an adequate retirement income.
Because so many jobs do not have adequate or indeed any benefits, it is essential that we finally act on universal drug coverage. Not only can millions of Canadians not find a family doctor, but the cost of prescription drugs continues to skyrocket to points where people simply cannot pay for the medications that are prescribed. Out of pocket spending on prescription drugs is now more than 70% higher than it was in 1992. Canadian households are spending $3 billion a year on prescription drugs. We must ensure that people can get the drugs they need based on the advice of their doctors, not on the advice of their accountants.
Speaking of health care, we must protect public medicare. This is Canada's hallmark social program. In Hamilton the health care sector is now the largest employer. Just a few years ago no one would have believed that about steel town. One of the best ways to protect our medical system is to ensure that we have an economy that generates the kind of revenues needed to allow our system to flourish. Minimum wage jobs do not do that. We need the decent paying jobs that our industrial sector provided for our hospitals, for our community centres and therefore, for our seniors.
That brings me to the needs of our cities. Working families in Hamilton pay a lot of money in taxes and the more their jobs pay, the more they pay in taxes. But it is not fair that the lion's share of those tax dollars goes to the federal and provincial governments. In spite of calls from Hamilton citizens, the big city mayors, the chamber of commerce and many others, the federal government refuses to recognize that Canada is the world's second most urban country with 80% of our population living in cities.
With an estimated infrastructure deficit of over $100 billion, our cities are in dire straits. Our federal government is rolling in cash but it is refusing to invest in our cities. Investments in infrastructure and housing would create jobs. Investments in public transit would create jobs. Investments in environmental initiatives like the cleanup of Randle Reef would create jobs. The list goes on and on. Our city desperately needs this kind of investment, but property taxpayers can no longer shoulder the burden alone. It is time for the federal government to pick up its fair share and with a $14 billion surplus, do not tell us it cannot be done.
That brings me to the last issue I want to raise on the throne speech, and that is the issue of youth. When the government set out its agenda for this session of Parliament, it mentioned youth exactly three times. Appallingly, all three were in the context of tackling crime.
I was proud to support bills in the House which imposed mandatory minimum penalties for firearms crimes, raised the age of sexual consent from 14 to 16 years, and placed the onus on those accused of firearms offences to prove why they should receive bail, but I would never describe these initiatives as an agenda for Canada's youth. To stereotype all youth as criminals is to abdicate our responsibility to the vast majority of teens whose parents are working hard to afford them every opportunity to become law-abiding contributing members of our society.
An agenda for youth needs to be an agenda of hope. It needs to include sports, recreation, education, training, and opportunities for employment. Instead of helping our students to excel in today's knowledge based economy, the government is refusing to deal with unaffordable tuition fees and unreasonable interest rates on student loans that have become major roadblocks to post-secondary education. We need to restore needs based grants, lower tuition fees and overhaul the Canada student loans program to make it more flexible, fair and responsive. We need to invest in apprenticeship programs. We need to raise the minimum wage.
Students are not asking for a free ride. They are simply asking for fairness and a chance to succeed.
In fact, that is what all working families have been asking from the government. They are asking for some basic fairness, but this throne speech misses the mark. I have a mandate to represent the goals of my community in this House and since those aspirations are not reflected in the throne speech, I will be forced to oppose it on Wednesday.
March 22nd, 2007 / 10:10 a.m.
Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to table four petitions today on behalf of the hard-working families of Hamilton Mountain.
These families are increasingly recognizing the existence of a prosperity gap in Canada. They do not feel that they are benefiting from the economic growth they keep hearing about. Of course, they are right as we know and the numbers are backing them up. Not only is there a growing gap between the right and the poor but there is also an alarming erosion of economic security for middle class families.
To that end, hard-working families have talked to me about the over 200 commercial bankruptcies that are happening every week in Canada, for a total of more than 10,000 bankruptcies a year. We know that this has a huge impact in Hamilton.
Many of these bankruptcies leave behind employees who are owed back wages, benefits and pension contributions. It is estimated that as much as $1.5 billion per year is left owing in back wages and benefits to employees.
These people have worked hard all their lives. They have played by the rules and all they want from their government is a little bit of fairness.
To that end, the petitioners are calling upon Parliament to ensure expeditious passage of my bill, Bill C-270, which would ensure that workers would be first in line in the case of a commercial bankruptcy.
Opposition Motion—for Older workers Income Support
Business of Supply
October 5th, 2006 / 12:05 p.m.
Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to speak in the House today to one of the most urgent issues in the new Canadian economy, income support for older workers. I want to speak to this issue from two perspectives. First, as the NDP critic for seniors and pensions, and second, as the member of Parliament for Hamilton Mountain.
Let me begin by painting a picture of what is happening in my hometown of Hamilton. Most members in this legislature will think of Hamilton as steel town, a city that has built its reputation from a strong and vibrant industrial and manufacturing sector. Not so long ago that picture would have been accurate. However, members may be surprised to learn that the largest employer in Hamilton today is neither Stelco nor Dofasco, but rather the service sector and, in particular, health care.
Let me take moment to describe what has been happening in Hamilton. The old industrial manufacturing economy of Hamilton has shrunk to but a ghost of its former self. The two big steel companies that used to employ over 30,000 people now employ about 6,000. The whole steel sector, which, as I said earlier, was the backbone of Hamilton's economy, is now about one-quarter of its former size.
In the steel sector alone we have lost 3,248 jobs in just the past five years from 35 companies. Some of the losses were from bankruptcies and plant closures, while others are the result of continuous downsizing where there are still more losses to come as the nature of the industrial marketplace changes in the global economy.
Unfortunately, the job losses did not begin and end with the steel industry. We lost Studebaker, International Harvester, Westinghouse, Proctor & Gamble, J.I. Case, Firestone and hundreds of smaller plants. These are just some of the big names from Hamilton's past. Sadly, the list of losses is still growing.
More recent ones that pop to mind, again from just the past five years, are Siemens Westinghouse with 332 layoffs, and Camco where 716 lost their jobs when the plant closed and 284 more workers ended up on temporary layoff. The Tiercon plant closure saw another 700 jobs lost and there were bankruptcies and plant closures at Rheem, Philip Environmental, Hercules, Mak Steel, Frost Fence, Dominion Castings, Cold Metal Products, and ACI Automotives. New permanent layoffs are happening every month in the industrial manufacturing sector in Hamilton and there is no end in sight.
I started out by referring to the old industrial manufacturing economy in Hamilton and I did that for a reason. This is a sector of the economy that is not growing and is not creating jobs. For the most part, the companies in this sector are very old and they have a very senior workforce. Of the workers losing their jobs at these plants as they close and downsize, 60% or 70% of them are older workers and, in part, they have been displaced as a result of government policies.
Yes, technological changes had a profound impact on the nature of the workplace, but so have policies such as free trade agreements that were first put in place by the Mulroney Conservatives and then expanded under the Liberals.
One would think that successive governments might have assumed some responsibility for addressing the unique issues confronting older workers in Canada and, to be fair, the Conservatives did act on at least one aspect of older worker assistance in 1987 by introducing the program for older worker adjustment which gave income support to workers between the ages of 55 and 64 who had lost their jobs as part of a mass layoff. The program was not perfect but it did allow over 12,000 displaced older workers with poor re-employment prospects to bridge the gap between layoff and retirement.
Unfortunately, the Liberals dismantled the program in 1997 without offering in its place a better alternative. Essentially, the Liberals wrote off older workers as inevitable casualties of structural change in the Canadian economy. Today we have the opportunity to right that fundamental wrong and providing income support to older workers is an important step in that direction. However, it should not be the only step.
Many older workers who lose their jobs want or must continue to participate in the labour force. This is especially true in instances where job losses are the result of bankruptcies. In these cases, workers often lose not just their jobs, but also their anticipated pension benefits and back wages.
It is precisely for those reasons that I introduced Bill C-270, the workers first bill, earlier this year which would ensure that benefits owed to workers will take super-priority over all other creditors in cases of commercial bankruptcy. All of us in the House who take seriously the issue of income support to older workers, no doubt support this legislation. I look forward to my bill receiving full support when it comes to a vote in the House.
Many older workers need to find new re-employment, but they face a number of unique and serious barriers to their job search. Let me review just some of those barriers. First, there is a bias toward high skills in today's demand for labour. This is a huge problem for displaced low skilled workers especially those residing in parts of the country where opportunities for re-employment are very limited.
As a nation Canada has never had a culture of workplace based learning. This must change. If employers actually invested in the continuous updating of skills and education for their workforce, not only would they benefit from increases in productivity and profitability but our country as a whole would benefit by ensuring that displaced workers would have the skills necessary to participate in the increasingly high tech economy.
I am not suggesting that the onus for training should only fall on employers. The government too has an important role to play in promoting life long learning. However, instead of taking that role seriously, the government is actually responsible for many of the barriers that undermine skills training.
Just last week we saw the government cut funding support for literacy training. Yet, we know that 40% of working age Canadians have limited literacy and numeracy skills, and that even these skills atrophy from lack of use in some workplaces. This has had a profoundly negative impact on the re-employment prospects of Canadian workers.
Similarly, the government's employment insurance system does little to encourage workers to participate in skills upgrading. On the contrary, it sets up barriers.
If our public policies did more than pay lip service to help unemployed workers, we would be fast-tracking older workers to programs for skills upgrading, retraining or real career change options. Instead, the EI system forces them to go out and spend time doing a useless job search for several months in the same sector from which they have just been laid off and in which layoffs are continuing, just so that they can prove that they cannot be rehired in that sector with their present skill set.
Why are we putting the onus on workers to prove the obvious? While they are doing what the government demands, they are getting frustrated and demoralized, and even worse, they are using up a huge portion of their EI benefits in this fruitless process. When EI is finally ready to consider these older workers for some kind of retraining, it then makes the process such a bureaucratic nightmare that it actually drives workers away. Even those who stick out the application process find that the majority of them get turned down for training. Only a very small number of those interested in skills training actually get to proceed.
Clearly, EI reform needs to complement income support programs if we want to deal effectively with the displacement of older workers in today's economy.
Finally, we must look at the economy as a whole. I have already said that the free trade agreements have had a profoundly negative impact on high paying industrial and manufacturing jobs in our country. The current softwood sellout that is being so actively promoted by the current Conservative government will have the same devastating impact on the workers, families and communities affected in the forestry sector.
It is time that we stop making our economic decisions based on what is best for the United States. It is shameful that we do not have a steel sector strategy in this country. We desperately need an auto sector strategy. There is profound economic potential in developing a green industry strategy.
Instead of pursuing any of these initiatives with any real interest, we have had successive Liberal and Conservative governments throw up their hands and stand idly by as high paying industrial jobs are replaced with service sector jobs at half the rate of pay or less.
Those who suffer the most are those who built our country, the older Canadian workers, whose labour drove our economy and whose taxes built the social infrastructure like our health care system that defines us as a nation. Older Canadians deserve more from their government and they deserve it now.
I am proud to support the creation of real income support for older workers.
Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act
May 9th, 2006 / 10 a.m.
Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON
moved for leave to introduce Bill C-270, An Act to amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act, the Canada Business Corporations Act, the Employment Insurance Act and the Employment Insurance Regulations.
Mr. Speaker, I am privileged to introduce Bill C-270, the short title of which is the workers first bill, which will at last put workers first in the event of a bankruptcy. In a country that sees over 10,000 commercial bankruptcies a year, it is essential that any back wages, benefits or pension contributions owing to employees rank first when the assets of a bankrupt company are distributed, not last, as is all too often the case.
It is also necessary to make consequential amendments to the EI act so that benefits to workers from the distribution of the assets of the bankruptcy are not clawed back as income from benefits under EI.
Finally, through this bill, the process will be expedited by which employees can seek redress from the directors of a bankrupt company should there not be enough remaining assets to distribute to make up back wages, benefits or pension contributions.
This bill is vital for protecting working families in Canada. I want to thank both the United Steelworkers and my colleague, the member for Winnipeg Centre, without whose friendship, support and tireless work I would not have been able to bring the bill before the House today.
(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)