House of Commons Hansard #144 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was veterans.

Topics

Protection of Beneficiaries of Long Term Disability Benefits Plans Act
Private Members' Business

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I recall when the member's private member's bill to extend EI sickness benefits to 50 weeks came to the committee that I was on and everybody supported it.

This bill that we are debating today died in the Senate. The member may recall the circumstances. It was the night that the Prime Minister was singing to his colleagues in the hall. However, enough Conservative senators snuck away from the bar and the merriment to kill the member's hopes and dreams in a vote in the Senate that night.

Is that the way legislation should be dealt with in either Houses of this Parliament?

Protection of Beneficiaries of Long Term Disability Benefits Plans Act
Private Members' Business

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Eyking Sydney—Victoria, NS

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague from Dartmouth—Cole Harbour works hard on the needs of downtrodden people. He follows his dad's example.

It was a shame what happened that night. I cannot believe the Conservatives can live with their conscience. If these disabled workers were standing near the party the Conservatives were having or stood in front of the Senate that night--

Protection of Beneficiaries of Long Term Disability Benefits Plans Act
Private Members' Business

1:25 p.m.

An hon. member

If they were able to.

Protection of Beneficiaries of Long Term Disability Benefits Plans Act
Private Members' Business

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Eyking Sydney—Victoria, NS

Exactly. If they were able to. Point well taken.

I have had some of these people come into my office with tears in their eyes. Families are breaking up. They have nothing. They are going to be living in their cars.

For that to happen that night, and for this to continue to happen here, is just a disgrace and we need to do something about it.

Protection of Beneficiaries of Long Term Disability Benefits Plans Act
Private Members' Business

March 11th, 2011 / 1:25 p.m.

Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont
Alberta

Conservative

Mike Lake Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry

Mr. Speaker, today I welcome the opportunity to speak to a private member's bill, Bill C-624, An Act to amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act and the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act (providing protection for beneficiaries of long term disability benefits plans), which was introduced by our esteemed colleague on February 11, 2011.

Bill C-624 proposes to amend Canada's insolvency laws. In particular, the bill would change the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act to provide long term disability claims with a preferred claim in bankruptcy. This would mean that long term disability claims would be paid after secured creditors.

Furthermore, the bill proposes to amend the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act to rank long term disability claims as a super-priority in restructuring, meaning that they would be paid ahead of secured creditors.

Last, the transitional provisions in the bill indicate that the amendments would be retroactive, in other words that they would apply to insolvency proceedings that were commenced prior to the coming into force of these bills.

Bill C-624 is essentially the same as Senator Eggleton's Bill S-216, which was reviewed by the Standing Senate Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce. The committee heard from several experts on the possible effects of prioritizing long-term disability claims and these concerns remain relevant for Bill C-624.

After weighing the evidence, the committee concluded that Bill S-216 could generate claims that conflict with court-approved settlement agreements already in force, resulting in litigation that would be detrimental to the interests of long-term disability claimants, including the former employees of Nortel.

Second, the bill would cause companies to prefer liquidation to restructuring because it would confer lower status to long-term disability benefits in liquidations than the super-priority gives to similar claims in restructuring.

Third, the bill would reduce the amount that some creditors would otherwise hope to recover in bankruptcy proceedings, therefore increasing risk for investors and resulting in a higher cost of credit.

For those reasons, the Standing Senate Committee on Banking, Trade, and Commerce concluded that Bill S-216 would be detrimental to the growth of the Canadian economy. This is why the committee reported back to the Senate with the recommendation that Bill S-216 not be proceeded with further. The Senate adopted the report.

The Senate committee's recommendation is in keeping with practices from Canada's major trading partners, none of which provide a higher priority for future long term disability claims in insolvency. In fact, neither the United States, the United Kingdom, New Zealand or Australia provide a higher priority than Canada does to cover future long-term disability benefits payable after an employer becomes insolvent.

In many instances, insolvency legislation is not the best tool to better protect employees because, once a company is insolvent, it is already too late. By definition, an insolvent company does not have sufficient moneys to completely pay the claims of all creditors. Moreover, insolvency law is an economic framework legislation that has broad implications for Canada's economy, including economic growth and job creation. Any changes to the established priorities need to be carefully considered, as they could harm businesses and the economy through higher cost of capital.

That said, this government has taken action to better protect workers. In 2008-09, the government amended insolvency legislation to create a super-priority for outstanding normal pension contributions, such that these amounts are paid ahead of secured creditors. This government also created the wage-earner protection program in 2008, which pays up to $3,400 for unpaid wages for employees whose employer becomes bankrupt or subject to a receivership. In 2009, the government expanded the wage-earner protection program to better protect employees' severance and termination pay.

Furthermore, in the spring of 2009, the government engaged in a national consultation on the legislative and regulatory framework for federally regulated private pension plans. As a result of that consultation, the government announced in October 2009 an important reform plan to modernize the federal private pension legislative and regulatory framework.

Last, the government has undertaken a very serious and public discussion with Canadians on retirement income adequacy and security. A joint federal–provincial–territorial research working group was established with respected academic Dr. Jack Mintz as director of research. Based on the working group's findings, finance ministers agreed in December 2010 on a framework for defined contribution pooled registered pension plans and to continue work on options to improve the Canada pension plan, as well as to review the task force on the financial literacy's report, which is scheduled for release shortly, and to respond to the recommendations.

I understand that Bill C-624 was introduced in hopes of providing assistance to former Nortel employees whose long-term disability benefits ceased on December 31, 2010 as a result of a court-approved settlement agreement. However, as the Standing Senate Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce heard, these amendments would not really help, but instead lead to lengthy and costly litigation, which would be detrimental to the interests of long-term disability claimants, including the former employees of Nortel.

The government understands and is very sympathetic to the challenges that Nortel's long-term disability beneficiaries are facing through no fault of their own. However, it should be noted that the hardship they are facing is primarily due to the fact that Nortel chose to self-fund its long-term disability benefit obligations rather than to purchase insurance.

Long-term disability plans are largely a provincial issue and, therefore, provinces are really better placed to look at developing a regulatory framework that would prevent this type of situation from repeating itself. Amending Canada's insolvency laws is absolutely not the right way to protect workers and, doing so, would have negative consequences for businesses and the economy as a whole. That is not in the interests of Canadian business, not in the interests of Canadian workers and certainly not in the interests of Canadian pensioners.

I welcome any input that any member from any party in the House has in terms of finding a solution to this difficult issue.

Protection of Beneficiaries of Long Term Disability Benefits Plans Act
Private Members' Business

1:35 p.m.

Bloc

Josée Beaudin Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise here this afternoon to speak to Bill C-624, An Act to amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act and the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act (providing protection for beneficiaries of long term disability benefits plans).

This bill amends the existing legislation in order that, in bankruptcy proceedings, the status of a preferred claim be conferred to the liabilities of the fund established for the purpose of a long term disability benefits plan and that such fund be used to continue the payment of benefits to the beneficiaries.

This bill was introduced in response to the situation facing former Nortel employees with disabilities, as my colleagues said earlier. Indeed, I would like to remind the House of the sad story involving these employees, whose disability benefits have all but disappeared. On December 31, 2010, nearly two years after seeking bankruptcy protection, Nortel emptied its health and welfare trust and cut off 360 people with disabilities, including over 50 Quebeckers. Like many large corporations, Nortel provided its employees with disability insurance. Those employees also had the option to pay higher premiums for better coverage. The employees with disabilities who paid their premiums to SunLife thought they were properly insured. The employees learned the hard way that Nortel was responsible for guaranteeing the disability benefits out of its own funds. SunLife simply managed the program.

By seeking protection under the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act in January 2009, Nortel stopped putting aside money for its employees with disabilities. So, with Nortel's bankruptcy, people with hefty medical expenses lost a huge portion of their income. These people are desperate and are, by far, the most vulnerable of Nortel's creditors, since they have lost 90% of their benefits.

The group advocating for Nortel employees with disabilities has provided appalling statistics on the poverty inflicted on these people in early 2011. Under the final settlement, they receive an annual amount representing 27% to 33% of what they previously received. In concrete terms, this means that average income of $30,900 was reduced to $13,600 in early 2011. As for those who made optional disability insurance contributions, they saw their income fall from $43,300 to $16,900 a year.

Those not receiving disability benefits under the Canada pension plan, because they have never applied or do not meet the criteria for disability as defined by the Canada pension plan, are even worse off: their average income has dropped from $30,900 to $6,500 a year.

Suffering from mental illness, cancer, multiple sclerosis and other serious illnesses, these people are in an untenable position. Furthermore, the 360 people laid off in December have 160 children.They have families to support and medical expenses to pay.

Nortel's long-term disability plan was administered by Nortel's health and welfare trust, and funded quarterly by Nortel's general revenues. When the company went bankrupt, the health trust was no longer able to meet its commitments to disabled employees.

Two problems surfaced. On the one hand, in the event of bankruptcy, recipients of disability benefits are considered to be unsecured creditors, just like suppliers or bondholders. Given that Nortel found itself in a position where it was unable to meet its obligations towards all creditors, unsecured creditors were severely penalized.

When Nortel became insolvent, monthly benefits provided to employees on long-term disability were categorized as unsecured claims.

On the other hand, disabled Nortel workers appear to be the victims of misrepresentation. They believed that their disability benefits were guaranteed by Sun Life. Evidently, they believed they were insured by Sun Life. In fact, Nortel's disability plan was self-insured, and not backed by an insurance company.

In light of this tragic state of affairs, many employees with disabilities have asked that the bankruptcy laws be revised to ensure that disabled employees become secured creditors in the event of bankruptcy.

The bill has just one goal and that is to confer the status of a preferred claim to disability benefits plans in the event of bankruptcy or restructuring. An estimated 1.1 million people receive disability benefits in Canada through a self-insured plan. Currently, if their employer declares bankruptcy, they are considered ordinary creditors. If Bill C-624 passes, their disability benefits will be protected.

The Bloc Québécois feels that above all, we must ensure that these types of situations never happen again. More specifically, employees who are part of a self-insured disability plan should be informed of all the terms and conditions. In that vein, an obligation of transparency, like the one in Ontario and in Alberta, could be imposed on all self-insured plans under federal jurisdiction. If that requirement is not met, the officers could be held personally liable, as is the case for source deductions.

The Bloc Québécois proposes requiring all self-insured plans under federal jurisdiction to be drafted in very clear terms. The Bloc Québécois also proposes considering the feasibility of regulating self-insured plans more in order to better protect the insured. At the same time, and because there is still a risk that disabled employees will be wronged, it is necessary to ensure that in the event of bankruptcy, they are among the first to be paid, therefore before banks and not after.

We support Bill C-624 in principle, mainly because disability benefits are usually more important for people with disabilities than loans are for banks. Unlike financial institutions, people with disabilities do not have the same capacity to absorb a loss of income. People with disabilities generally do not have any way to protect themselves when their employer experiences financial difficulties. It is also difficult for an employee to assess the risks of working for a given company, particularly in cases where there is a risk of misrepresentation, for example, the case of a self-insurance plan.

For all of these reasons, the demands of former Nortel employees with disabilities must be heard. They have significant medical bills to pay and have very few resources for dealing with the situation facing them. We have to act quickly to help these people. Canadian bankruptcy laws are not fair to people with disabilities. Changes must be made quickly and the Conservative government has the responsibility to take immediate concrete action to remedy this situation. It is a question of justice and dignity. The Bloc Québécois therefore supports the idea of granting people with disabilities preferred creditor status.

Protection of Beneficiaries of Long Term Disability Benefits Plans Act
Private Members' Business

1:40 p.m.

NDP

John Rafferty Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to make a few comments on Bill C-624.

Everything we do and say in this place is about choices and the kinds of choices we can make. The bill deals with a group of people who do not have a choice. What we and the hon. member are asking is that we help to make good choices on their behalf. Bill C-624 is a good choice.

We do not always make good choices, and I will give a good example.

I was hoping to rise earlier today to talk about funding for first nations police forces and the fact that the government was cutting 19% from these police forces. They already are sorely underfunded. How can the government increase funding for other public safety concerns, but decrease funding for first nations police forces.

I am reminded of a conversation I had with Chief Chum, the Nishnawbe Aski Police Chief, and Stan Beardy, the Grand Chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, on the concerns they had for the safety of the people they policed. I guess it is that kind of choice we are faced with here today.

First, the bill is most welcome. Disabled workers deserve to be at the front of the line. If a company goes under, they deserve to be ahead of pensioners. They certainly deserve to be ahead of banks and other secured creditors. It is only fair.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the work of Diane and Hugh Urquhart who have done tremendous work in this Nortel case and in lobbying parliamentarians to reform bankruptcy laws to make them more just. The hon. member spoke about justice and fairness, and that is exactly what this is. Hugh and Diane should be commended for their tireless effort on this front.

The reason I say that disabled workers deserve to be at the very front of the line when a company goes bankrupt is because they are more vulnerable than any other group. They are fewer in number, have more limited options, sometimes no options at all, for finding work or gaining access to medical benefits after the bankruptcy.

In Nortel's case, with its tens of thousands of workers worldwide, we are talking somewhere around 400 disabled workers. This is not a large number when the whole workforce is considered. To extrapolate the number of employees that may be on long-term disability to other companies entering bankruptcy, I am sure we would see we are not talking about a lot of workers. We are not talking about a lot of people who, through no fault of their own, have found themselves in a situation where they are on long-term disability.

Once they are no longer on long-term disability, medicine and medical care can cost thousands of dollars per month. In some cases, much more than that. With cutbacks in the amount of medical coverage by provinces, the expense of obtaining certain care will fall on the person who has a long-term disability.

How can someone who is severely disabled, who cannot work and cannot afford $2,000, $3,000 a month or more, pay for their monthly medical care? The answer is they cannot. In the case of disabled workers at companies with medical plans, they should not have to.

The bill is necessary because it will save and extend lives. For that reason alone, we should move the bill through the system quickly

It comes at no cost to the federal government, no cost to taxpayers and very little expense to corporate bond holders and those with other secured debt claims.

The parliamentary secretary talked about companies deciding to go bankrupt instead of restructuring, implying that investors would no longer want to invest in companies if they had long-term disability liability. It is completely wrong. In fact, I think we will see that Canadians and other investors will invest in Canadian companies for the same reasons they always have if this bill passes.

They will continue to invest because they have good owners or good management. They have a great product and a great future. Those are the reasons why people invest in companies, not because they have long-term disability plans that they may be liable for as a secured debt should they go bankrupt.

The parliamentary secretary also talked about the WEP program, the wage earner protection program. I would like to quickly relate a story about that. He was touting it as the be-all and end-all of something the government has done. Buchanan Forest Products in my riding has gone bankrupt and many of the people, for reasons unknown to me, have been coming to my office and thanking me for sending them to WEP, except that for some reason they do not qualify. The wage earner protection program does not cover everyone, apparently.

Having said that, let me say that I was very proud to work in committee with the parliamentary secretary. He was honest, forthright and a great help to a rookie like myself in that committee. However, I think his comments are misguided.

I believe that disabled workers must receive their benefits for the rest of their lives when a company enters bankruptcy. As such, I fully support this bill and urge all of my colleagues in this place to do the same.

I would like to reiterate the concept of justice and fairness. It may not seem like it, but we have come a long way in this session. When I first entered this place, there was no talk about severance pay when companies go bankrupt, pensions or long-term disability. It is on everybody's radar in this place and, in fact, right across this country. That is a good thing. Canadians are talking about what happens when companies go bankrupt.

In closing, I would like to state again how important this bill is, how important it is that we all support it and that all of us get together with the opportunity we now have to pass this bill quickly.

Protection of Beneficiaries of Long Term Disability Benefits Plans Act
Private Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-624 brought forward by my colleague and my friend from Sydney—Victoria.

The member has a history of standing up for people who need help. His bill on extending employment insurance sick benefits from 15 to 50 weeks was a very well crafted piece of legislation as well. It passed through the House and went to committee where we heard from a number of stakeholders who said this is exactly what is needed. The bill passed at committee and came back to the House. It needed a royal recommendation which the government refused to give.

The member has done his homework, as he always does. He stands up for people who need help, whether it was getting money for the tar ponds, or whether it was forcing the government to come forward with money for the dredging of Sydney Harbour. He has always done the work. He has led the way, and I am sure he will do that for many years to come in this place.

Bill C-624 would protect beneficiaries under long-term disability plans by giving them preferred status. As my colleague said, this is not about pensions. This is about long-term disability. My NDP colleague who just spoke mentioned the Urquharts and the work that they have done.

I had the opportunity to meet with Nortel workers in my office. It is a very sobering experience to sit in an office with a number of people who have multiple sclerosis, cancer, crohn's disease. These people cannot work, not because they do not want to work, but because they cannot work.

All of a sudden the money they have to live on in long-term disability is being reduced in some cases by over $2,000 to $300 or $400 a month. I would like members to think about that. All members in this House make $150,000 or more. How would we be able to live on 20% of that salary? At least we would have the opportunity go out and work and add to that, but it is very difficult to do that when one has advanced multiple sclerosis or cancer. This is a fundamental issue of fairness. There are 400 Nortel workers affected by this and there are many others across the country. Imagine living on 20% of a salary that is pretty meagre to begin with.

I asked a question earlier in the House about what people with disabilities make in this country compared to what was paid out to the former Integrity Commissioner. The average salary for a person with a disability is $28,000 a year. Some of these people have families to support on that. Why add to that burden? It makes no sense.

Other countries have done this. Studies by the OECD and the World Bank indicate that well over half of the countries that we would consider comparable have some kind of pension protection. Countries like Germany, the U.K. and the U.S. have preferred status for people on long-term disability.

We pride ourselves in Canada on our social infrastructure. We pride ourselves on the way we stand up for people who need help but we do not always help them. This bill provides us with an opportunity to do that. This bill provides us with an opportunity to put a stake in the ground and say that this is patently unfair. We pride ourselves here in Canada on what we do to protect people who need help. Sometimes we miss that opportunity. We do things individually and collectively as members of Parliament to try to help the people in our constituencies. What happens to people whose companies have experienced a downturn and go bankrupt?

I had a similar experience in my constituency a couple of years ago. The Moirs plant, a well-known company in Dartmouth that has been there for many decades, all of a sudden went out of business. The union came to see me and asked me for help. Monte Solberg, who was the minister of human resources at the time, was somewhat helpful in that regard. The people at Service Canada went out of their way to ensure that we could help those folks. But they did not lose their pensions in the way the Nortel workers did.

How many people in this country think they have a solid pension and/or disability plan? The people at Nortel certainly did. Who would have thought 10 or 15 years ago that Nortel would go under? Who would have thought this would happen? Who would have thought that their pension and their long-term disability was self-insured? They were not given any reason to believe that. All of a sudden, through no fault of their own, they are without luck.

There are enough problems for people already in this country, particularly through the economic downturn that we had. People at home spend nights at the kitchen table wondering how to make ends meet, how to pay for gas when the price of gas is where it is. They see articles about the price of food going up. The cost of sending their kids to post-secondary education has skyrocketed in the last couple of decades. People are sitting down everywhere across this country and asking, “How do I stretch what I make? How do I do it? What is my pension like?”

There are a million Canadians who probably think they have a long-term plan or a pension plan who do not even have it. Add to that the fact that three-quarters of people who work in private companies do not have pension plans to begin with. People are concerned. They are scared. They do not know where to turn.

Credit card debt is through the roof. People are being dinged exorbitant rates of interest on their credit cards. People just do not have the ability to stretch their paycheques to cover their expenses. They worry about paying for their kids' post-secondary education. Many of them cannot afford RESPs and things like them that perhaps we have the benefit and luxury of doing.

Government has a responsibility to assist in those areas. People do not ask that much from government, but what they do ask for is some consideration of their circumstances. They sit at the kitchen table trying to match what comes with what goes out. When what comes in goes down by 80%, who among us could survive that? We need to do more. We need to help.

This bill initially was brought forward by Senator Art Eggleton, who has done a lot of work on issues of poverty as well. He is somebody for whom I have great regard and respect. He has done a lot of work on the social condition in Canada.

This bill had a chance to be passed by the Senate just before Christmas. The night the Conservatives had their big Christmas party, the night the Prime Minister sang and played piano for his caucus, the night they were making merry in Centre Block, enough senators snuck away from the merriment to kill the bill.

Now my colleague from Sydney—Victoria has picked up the challenge. He said that someone has to stand up for these people. These are not people who are hurt because of anything that they have done. They are hurt because of circumstances beyond their control.

Let us think about who is at stake. Let us think about the people we are talking about. Let us think about people with cancer, multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease, and other debilitating diseases. They are trying to survive on a pension of $2,000 or $3,000 a month, on top of which there are medical bills, on top of which there are all kinds of other concerns. All of a sudden, they are left defenceless and their income is chopped.

How do we tell people with advanced multiple sclerosis to go out and make the money that they have lost in their long-term disability? It cannot be done.

We need to do something. I have never been one to say that government has all the answers, because I do not believe that government has all the answers. Sometimes government does not even know the question. In this case we know the question and we know the answer. The question is, how do we stand up for workers who, through absolutely no fault of their own, have been let down by their company, who thought they were protected and it turns out they are not? They are looking to us to stand up and do something.

Well, we can do something. It is within our power to do something about the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act. We have the chance to do it. Bill C-624 is a very important step.

Again I want to congratulate both Senator Eggleton and my colleague from Sydney—Victoria. I also want to thank my colleague from York West who is our critic for seniors. She has been tireless in her support of workers, whether it is on retirement or long-term disability issues. She has been on the front lines, making sure her voice is the voice for people who need a voice in Parliament.

If there is one thing we should all do as parliamentarians, it is stand up for people who need help. There are all kinds of people in this country who will stand up for people who do not need help. There are chambers of commerce and business organizations, labour unions and lots of other organizations. What we need to do as parliamentarians is stand up for those who do not have a voice, for those who are stuck in a situation that they did not create, over which they have no control, and out of which there seems to be no solution.

Bill C-624 is a solution.

Protection of Beneficiaries of Long Term Disability Benefits Plans Act
Private Members' Business

2 p.m.

Newmarket—Aurora
Ontario

Conservative

Lois Brown Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to share my thoughts today on Bill C-624, An Act to amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act and the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act (providing protection for beneficiaries of long term disability benefits plans).

I would like to start by thanking the hon. member for Sydney—Victoria for introducing this proposed legislation.

The bill seeks to address the plight of beneficiaries of long-term disability benefits plans in cases where the employer has gone bankrupt. In essence, it aims to protect employees on long-term disability by granting them preferred status during bankruptcy proceedings.

The Government of Canada does not view the bill as the best approach to addressing the challenges these beneficiaries may face, but we agree that this is an important issue. Fairness and compassion matter to all of us as Canadians.

The Government of Canada understands the challenges faced by workers whose employers go bankrupt, including the possible reduction or loss of benefits, such as for long-term disability. That is why our government has already put in place a series of measures to help deal with the challenges these beneficiaries face. In fact, this issue was identified in the 2010 Speech from the Throne. We made a commitment to Canadians that we would look at how we could better protect workers when an employer faces these kinds of difficult circumstances, and we are delivering on that promise.

We have consulted with citizens and are exploring workable, lasting solutions, but we are doing even more than that. We already have initiatives in place that are making a difference.

I would like to take a few minutes today to outline what the Government of Canada is doing to support Canadian workers and to provide the protection they need while maintaining a balanced approach.

The government recognizes that when an employer goes bankrupt, employees are often left in a difficult situation in regard to wages. Through no fault of their own, they can suddenly find themselves struggling to make ends meet. That is bad for workers and their families and it is bad for our economy.

In response, our government established the wage-earner protection program, or WEPP. It provides timely compensation to employees who are owed money when their employers go bankrupt. As a result of this important program, eligible workers who lose their jobs and are owed money because their employer has gone bankrupt, or has become subject to receivership, are now compensated for unpaid wages and vacation pay. They are also eligible for more recent severance and termination pay up to a maximum of approximately $3,400.

The WEPP was expanded in 2009. As a result there has been improved financial support for Canadian workers during the economic downturn, as more Canadians have been able to qualify for WEPP financial support and to secure higher average monetary claims. As a result, since January 2009, over 30,000 WEPP claimants have received almost $67 million in payments. In other words, the WEPP has made an important difference to those in need.

We have also taken action to ensure better pension regulation in Canada. In December 2010, a number of regulatory amendments were proposed to the pension benefits standards regulations.

The proposed amendments are designed to make federally regulated private pension plans less sensitive to financial market volatility while protecting plan members and retirees. It calls for four key measures.

First, it would permit plan sponsors to secure properly structured letters of credit in lieu of making solvency payments to the pension fund, to a limit of 15% of the plan assets.

Second, it would require plan sponsors to fully fund pension benefits on plan termination.

Third, it would render void any amendments to a pension plan that would reduce the solvency ratio of the pension plan if the plan's solvency ratio is below 0.85 or the amendment causes the solvency ratio to fall below 0.85.

Fourth, it would introduce a distressed pension plan workout scheme.

These changes are part of the Government of Canada's overall commitment to further strengthen the retirement income system for our citizens. This is the kind of action that Canadians have been asking for and that we have been delivering.

The Government of Canada stood side by side with Canadians during the recent global recession. We have worked very hard to ensure citizens have all the tools and all the support needed to ride out challenging times. We moved quickly to protect jobs. We have also invested in an unprecedented two year $62 billion stimulus program to create jobs, to strengthen innovation and to build for the future.

From major infrastructure projects to reductions in personal and corporate taxes, from support for the unemployed and those at risk of losing their jobs to transfers to provincial and territorial governments for training, we have invested wisely in Canada and in its people.

Our efforts did not stop there. Some $13.3 billion have been directed in targeted efforts to support regions and industries hardest hit by the recession.

In addition, we also developed measures to allow for greater access to employment insurance benefits. This included extra weeks of benefits and extensions to work-sharing arrangements for eligible recipients. Combined, these initiatives have helped over one million workers and their families. The enhancements to the work-sharing program have meant that more workers have been able to keep their jobs while employers have retained skilled workers with years of experience.

Our government believes in maintaining a fair and balanced approach to this issue. We are determined to continue showing our capability and capacity to act so that workers know that they will be protected.

Through Canada's economic action plan, our government has acted decisively to protect livelihoods. We have acted to protect incomes. We have worked hard to help create jobs and to ease credit markets. Just as important, we have taken steps to help ensure that workers get back on their feet.

We also emphasized in the Speech from the Throne and elsewhere that jobs and growth remain the top priority for Canada.

There is a need for balance. We need to protect workers. We also need to protect our nation's economic competitiveness, something that we have all worked so hard to build and maintain.

Protection of Beneficiaries of Long Term Disability Benefits Plans Act
Private Members' Business

2:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

Order, please. I will have to stop the hon. member there. If she likes, she will still have a minute and a half left to conclude her remarks the next time this bill is before the House.

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

It being 2:09 p.m., the House stands adjourned until Monday, March 21 at 11 a.m. pursuant to Standing Orders 28(2) and 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 2:09 p.m.)