House of Commons Hansard #44 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was quebeckers.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Quebec's Traditional Demands
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Opposition Motion—Quebec's Traditional Demands
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

All those opposed will please say nay.

Opposition Motion—Quebec's Traditional Demands
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Opposition Motion—Quebec's Traditional Demands
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

In my opinion the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the motion, which was negatived on the following division:)

Vote #48

Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

I declare the motion lost.

Message from the Senate
Government Orders

May 11th, 2010 / 5:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

I have the honour to inform the House that a message has been received from the Senate informing the House that the Senate has passed the following public bill, to which the concurrence of the House is desired: Bill S-215, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (suicide bombings).

It being 5:44 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from April 26 consideration of the motion that Bill C-501, An Act to amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act and other Acts (pension protection), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

NDP

John Rafferty Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I seek unanimous consent for the following motion. I move:

That, notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practice, at the conclusion of today's debate on Bill C-501, An Act to amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act and other Acts (pension protection), a deferred recorded division be deemed requested, and the vote deferred to immediately before the time provided for Private Members' Business on Wednesday, May 26th, 2010.

Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Does the hon. member for Thunder Bay—Rainy River have the unanimous consent of the House to move the motion?

Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

(Motion agreed to)

Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, the very first bill I introduced after being elected to the House of Commons in 2006 was a bill that would give wages and pensions super priority in cases of commercial bankruptcy. Since that time the government has adopted much of what was in my bill with respect to securing workers' wages, and I am delighted that happened, but sadly, the government has not yet acted in any way to protect pensions in a similar way. The NDP bill that is before the House today picks up the pension protection piece that is crucial to protecting workers in these uncertain economic times.

Record job losses, the decline of entire industries, and the collapse of large employers are throwing hundreds of thousands of hard-working Canadians out of work. Far too many bankrupt employers are leaving underfunded pension plans in their wake.

Through no fault of their own, workers are thus finding that despite years and years of making pension contributions, they can no longer count on a secure workplace pension. Sadly, this is no longer the exception. With thousands of pensions lost in recent years, and many thousands more under threat, this has become a full-blown pension crisis.

For people who may be watching this in my hometown of Hamilton, there has been a bit of a misinformation campaign launched in our community in an attempt to discredit the provincial NDP. Fortunately, it is spearheaded by only a few and is readily disproved by the facts. The contention is it was the NDP government in Ontario that threw the floodgates wide open for corporations to underfund their pension plans and that is why we are in such difficulty now. That is complete nonsense.

Let me set the record straight. It is true that a number of companies approached the government in the early 1990s with a request for pension contribution holidays during what was then a serious recession. The government did approve a limited number of those requests, but only on condition that companies filed detailed plans with hard deadlines for repayment of the plans. Every one of the companies approved by the NDP government met those conditions. Every pension plan was repaid.

Stelco did not apply for its contribution holiday until after Mike Harris came to power in June 1995. Stelco filed its election to pay penalties rather than fund the plan in June 1996. However, the Harris Conservatives allowed that to happen without any requirement that a pension plan repayment schedule be either filed or met. Without such a binding requirement and without any enforcement, underfunded pension plans began to abound in Ontario.

That is how we ended up in the mess that has now become a full-blown pension crisis. I could cite case after case where workers are being left high and dry.

Perhaps the most galling example of recent note is the case of CHTV, where employees in Hamilton watched their underfunded pension plan wind up with an $8 million deficit. That means a loss of 15% of the money to which they were entitled. I know that to workers at other companies, a 15% pension cut would seem a whole lot better than the cuts they are facing, but the galling part in this case is that Asper's executives at Canwest were given $41 million to top up their underfunded pension plan before they went into CCAA protection, while workers got not a dime. There is not a fair-minded person in this country who will not find that completely outrageous.

Pensions are not some corporate slush fund. They are deferred wages, and workers have the unequivocal right to collect the benefits which they have helped to finance. Far from pitting one worker against another, the need for pension reform has united workers from coast to coast to coast.

The call for reforms is comprehensive. The bill before us today addresses one part of that. It secures every pension in Canada without costing the Canadian government or Canadian taxpayers a cent. It simply moves unfunded pension liabilities and the shortfalls in pension plans from unsecured status to secured status, and it closes the loopholes that currently allow companies that go into restructuring proceedings to leave their retirees high and dry.

Workplace pensions are just part of the problem, because only one-third of Canadian workers have a workplace pension. Similarly, only a third of Canadians contribute to an RRSP, and those who do just watched billions of dollars in precious savings vaporize over the last year. The current system is leaving too many people without the retirement savings they need. There is too much at risk and not enough security.

In past crises, Canadians have come together to create solutions, to minimize risk by sharing it. That is what we did when we created public health care, and yes, that is what we did when we created the public pensions that are now the only reliable part of our whole retirement security system.

Let us face it, for more than a generation, wages have failed to keep pace with the cost of living and most Canadians have not been able to save what they need.

The best way to help today's workers save enough money for tomorrow is through an improved Canada pension plan, which is why we are proposing that over the next several years we lay the foundation to double CPP benefits for the future.

The CPP has been proven time and again to be a safe, secure and efficient retirement savings plan. Plus, the CPP is portable from job to job, across provinces, keeps up with inflation, and is backed by the government.

Because the CPP operates independently from government, there is no cost to taxpayers. In fact, there is the potential for governments to save over time.

Higher and secure pension savings mean seniors would be less likely to rely on income supports like the guaranteed income supplement or provincial and local social supports for medicine, housing and food.

The cost to workers and employers is small. Over seven years, CPP premiums would only have to rise by .4% each year of pensionable earnings.

We all need to save more for retirement. Putting that little bit extra into the CPP makes more sense than investing it into risky RRSPs. It is safer, easier--in fact, it is effortless--and it earns more.

That kind of reform would be great news, particularly in a country where the rate of seniors living in poverty doubled from 3% in the mid-1990s to 6% in the mid-2000s. The maximum GIS benefit, intended for the lowest income seniors, was approximately $650 a month in 2009. That is only $50 more than it was in 2005. The maximum annual old age security and GIS benefits are approximately $14,000, which is $4,000 below the poverty line in most cities. In fact, right now there are over one-quarter of a million seniors living in poverty. It is a travesty. We can, and must, lift Canadian seniors out of poverty, and the easiest way to do that is by improving the GIS.

If we enhanced the guaranteed income supplement so that no senior would have to live in poverty, it would cost the government $700 million. That might seem like a huge amount of money, but when we look at it in the context of the last budget, it is a drop in the bucket. The government spent $6 billion just on maintaining its tax breaks for Canada's wealthiest corporations. This is not about a program costing too much. This is all about a government that cares more about its wealthy friends than it cares about the people who built our country. Conservative MPs should be ashamed of themselves.

If they got their heads out of the tar sands long enough to actually notice what is happening in communities across our country, they would realize that by denying seniors an adequate standard of living they are also denying them hope.

Let me quote the National Council of Welfare which said, “Poverty is not just a lack of income; it can also be a synonym for social exclusion. When people cannot meet their basic needs, they cannot afford even simple activities, such as inviting family or friends to dinner occasionally or buying gifts for a child or grandchild. Poverty leads to isolation and social exclusion, which in turn lead to other problems, such as poor health, depression and dysfunction. Poverty can quickly deprive individuals of their dignity, confidence and hope”.

What message are we sending to seniors when we refuse to lift them up to the poverty line? This is not good public policy. It is not even good fiscal management. It is simply mean-spirited and hopelessly shortsighted. As we know now, it is also flouting a decision taken by Parliament.

When the NDP introduced a comprehensive motion on pension reform in the House of Commons last year, that motion included increasing the GIS, strengthening the CPP, and shoring up workplace pensions. That motion passed with a majority vote in the House of Commons.

When the Prime Minister was in opposition he said, “the government is duty bound to respect the decisions made by the House of Commons”. The Prime Minister said that in May 2005 when he was the leader of the opposition. Well, he is in government now and it is time for him to walk the talk. He should accept that he is duty bound to respect the decisions made by the House of Commons and act on pension reform now. Seniors and hard-working Canadians deserve nothing less.