- Get e-mail whenever she speaks in House debates
- Subscribe to feeds of recent activity (what you see to the right) or statements in the House
- Her favourite word is conservatives.
NDP MP for Hamilton Mountain (Ontario)
Won her last election, in 2011, with 47.20% of the vote.
Statements in the House
International Women's Day February 25th, 2015
Mr. Speaker, March 8 marks the tenth International Women's Day I will celebrating as a member of Parliament, except that it is not much of a celebration. Instead of eradicating barriers to women's full economic, social, and political participation, the Conservatives have been erecting them.
They have actively undermined many of the advancements essential for the security of women by backtracking on pay equity; eliminating funding for the court challenges program; failing to create a national child care strategy; decreasing support for international gender-equality projects; failing to address violence against women; attempting to restrict women's reproductive rights; failing to improve the lives of aboriginal women; lacking strategies to address the specific challenges faced by women of colour, women from the LGBTQ community, and women with disabilities; reneging on the commitment to bring in gender-based analysis across ministries; failing to improve women's pension rights; closing three-quarters of all Status of Women offices; and eliminating even the mention of gender equality from the mandate of Status of Women.
It is a daunting list, but New Democrats will not give up the fight. We know that Canadian women deserve fairness, affordability, opportunity, equal pay for work of equal value, a decent standard of living, and the freedom to live without fear. We will never stop in our efforts to ensure the full and equal rights of all women.
Employment February 4th, 2015
Mr. Speaker, there is more bad news about jobs this week and still no plan from the Conservatives.
Today, 383 workers at Wrigley Canada in Toronto found out they were losing their jobs. After 52 years, production is going to shift to Gainesville, Georgia.
This comes right on the heels of other hard-working Canadians losing their jobs in retail: 17,600 families got hit by Target's closure, because a foreign company bought out their stores and then shut them down; 400 jobs lost from Tim Hortons corporate offices, along with Sony closing 14 stores and Mexx closing 95 stores. In total, 16 different chains have shut down or pulled out of Canada.
What do we get from the Conservatives? They are playing politics with the legitimate concerns of Canadians about safety from terrorism. They are planning tax cuts for the most well-off. They are delaying their budget.
Canadians deserve better, and this year they will get better when the NDP forms government.
Pipeline Safety Act January 26th, 2015
Mr. Speaker, I really do have a plethora of things on which I could comment. I will start with a point that I did not get to highlight in my speech as much as I had wanted to.
One of the things that is obviously true in Canada is that much of our pipeline infrastructure is aging. It is one of the reasons why Canadians are so concerned about the possibility of spills. The Americans are way ahead of us on that, or at least in recognizing there may be a problem.
Members in the House may be aware that there has been a second spill in Montana. This spill was near the city of Glendive, Montana. Over 40,000 gallons spilled and contaminated downstream water supplies. Relatively speaking, I guess that was the minor spill of the two spills that happened in Montana. However, when the local senator, who is a Montana Democrat, was asked about that, he told the media that more frequent inspections by regulators were needed and older pipelines should face stricter safety standards.
In Canada, we are going the exact opposite way. As I said, in 2011 it was pointed out to the government that we needed greater oversight and stricter regulations. The Conservatives, as my colleague from Scarborough Southwest said, are gutting regulations. They have gutted the navigable waters act. It is no wonder that Canadians are concerned about pipeline safety in our country.
I do not often say this, but in this instance we ought to be taking a page out of the book that is south of the border, where the Americans are actually taking environmental damages and the potential for environmental damages more seriously than we are in Canada. Canadians deserve that kind of certainty when it comes to potential impacts on the environment.
Pipeline Safety Act January 26th, 2015
Mr. Speaker, I posted on social media some time ago that Canadians had been as nice to the nearly departed as they were to the dearly departed. The same is holding true in the House. I thank my colleagues for their comments. It is unfortunate that I was unable to use those comments in my last election brochure, but it is better late than never.
I welcome the question about absolute liability, because my colleague is absolutely right. It seems with the government that, often, these numbers are just pulled out of thin air. The member will recall that we debated nuclear liability in the House, not just twice, but three times, I think. Each time, the amount of money that the government had included under the liability regime changed. There was never any reason given for that change in numbers nor, frankly, for the first number that it chose.
Now we are dealing with a bill that targets that number at $1 billion, as was the case with nuclear liability and offshore liability. I suppose we should at least celebrate the fact that there is some consistency here. However, we do need to have a close look at that number in committee.
If we believe in the polluter pays principle and that companies ought to be responsible for the environmental damage that they cause, the number ought to be whatever the cost of environmental damages. If it is $1.2 billion, companies should be paying $1.2 billion. The figure of $1 billion is entirely arbitrary.
Perhaps the question about how the government got that number would have been better put to the minister. It will not surprise my colleague that I cannot speak for the Conservatives. Getting into their minds has always been scary place for me, and I would not venture to do that here today. However, it is a point that we will definitely have to pursue once the bill gets clause-by-clause scrutiny in committee.
Pipeline Safety Act January 26th, 2015
Mr. Speaker, I have not quite counted my presence in the House in days. I guess I have not had enough time to do that, but I do appreciate the numerical count. I thank the member, and I appreciate the good wishes.
With respect to the question being put about whether I support pipelines or manufacturing, it is a little like asking if I support the environment or the economy. It is a false choice. Of course I support manufacturing, and at no point in my speech did I say that I did not support pipelines. It would have been naive to say that we heat our homes with gas, but that we do not need gas pipelines. Nowhere in my speech did I make any such statement.
What I did say was that Canadians needed to have confidence that pipelines were safe, and that the Conservative government and its latest bill would not, on the face of it, provide Canadians with enough certainty that there would not be any pipeline spills. As the member will recall from my speech, I also said that we had a world-class workforce. That labour force, when it is constructing pipelines, is doing the very best that it can with the money and the mandate given to it by pipeline companies.
All I said in my speech was that Canadians deserved certainty. We have to implement the polluter pays principle. We have to develop our resources in a sustainable way. That includes the transport of those resources, of which pipelines are a significant part in Canada.
I would be willing to debate the manufacturing sector next. I would welcome that debate in the House, and perhaps we could do that. Perhaps the member would like to introduce a private members' bill so we could once again debate U.S. Steel, for example, a topic on which the Conservative government has been absolutely silent.
The future of U.S. Steel is obviously a huge issue in my hometown of Hamilton. Thousands of pensioners are concerned about their future. They have been waiting for the government to stand in the House and comment on the manufacturing sector, to bring forward a manufacturing sector strategy, and to take real action on the retirement security of Canadians.
I look forward to that debate.
Pipeline Safety Act January 26th, 2015
Mr. Speaker, since this is the first sitting day of the 2015 calendar year, I begin by wishing you, Mr. Speaker, and all of my colleagues in the House a belated happy new year.
I do not know how I got lucky enough to be the first New Democrat to give a speech on a government bill in this chamber this year, but I am certain that there is a short straw with my name on it somewhere in the opposition lobby. Anyway, let us launch right into it.
The bill before us today is Bill C-46, An Act to amend the National Energy Board Act and the Canada Oil and Gas Operations Act. Perhaps it will help people to stop from nodding off if I explain at the outset that despite its unimaginative title, the bill really purports to improve pipeline safety in our country.
That is where we find the yardstick for whether my NDP colleagues and I will ultimately be able to support the bill. Does Bill C-46 actually improve pipeline safety, or is it a rhetorical exercise to provide the government cover in what is, after all, an election year? I will spend the next 20 minutes or so in this House trying to answer that single and most germane question.
I will begin by providing a bit of context first. There is no doubt that Canada's natural resources are a tremendous blessing and that our energy sector is the motor of the Canadian economy. It is imperative that we capitalize on those unique advantages. For New Democrats, that means that we have to leverage them by creating high quality middle-class jobs, by harnessing the full potential of Canada's natural gifts, and by maximizing the benefit of development for all Canadians. That development is vital to our economy and our country.
However, the reality is that resource development can only move forward if development is done sustainably. If we are going to seize the opportunities ahead, if we are going to leverage our resources to create wealth and prosperity for generations to come, then we will have to rise to meet new challenges and adapt to the new reality of the the new century, and that requires a new vision, a vision that my NDP colleagues and I have been promoting tirelessly, not just for months, but for years now.
Our vision is one that promotes economic growth without sacrificing social or environmental sustainability, one that looks to the future instead of clinging to the past, and one that creates lasting prosperity instead of feeding endless cycles of boom and bust. To that end, our vision is based on three key principles: sustainability, to make sure that polluters pay for the the pollution they create instead of leaving those costs to the next generation; partnership, to make sure that communities, provinces, and first nations all benefit trom resource development and that we create value-added, middle-class jobs here in Canada; and most important, long-term prosperity that leverages our natural national resource wealth to invest in modern, clean energy technology that will keep Canada on the cutting edge of energy development and ensure there are affordable energy rates into the future.
For far too long, Canadians have been told they have to choose between our economy and our environment, but that is a false choice. It is an approach that is stuck in the past. A little less than two years ago, government documents revealed the very real economic costs of the environmental cleanup of the Giant Mine at Great Slave Lake. They have doubled from initial estimates, ballooning to nearly a billion dollars.
This is a vast industrial waste site bordering on the second deepest freshwater lake in the world, a Canadian treasure, and yet for more than half of the last century, it was contaminated with no regard for the costs it would impose on our children and grandchildren.
Communities from coast to coast to coast have made their voices clear. We will not let that happen again. However, despite this mess, the Conservative government is continuing down the same short-sighted path. It is dismantling every major piece of environmental protection and hurting Canada's economic development at the very same time.
Past generations can perhaps be excused for the way they treated places like Great Slave Lake, but our generation has no excuse. The fact is, in the 21st century, a social licence is every bit as important as a regulatory licence, if not more. In this day and age, any development model that relies on degrading our environment, on putting public safety at risk, or on exploiting our resources without benefiting our communities is no model at all.
Canadians understand only too well the long-term consequences of the Conservative government's attacks on our environmental laws, and they are reacting because those attacks are sabotaging resource development and ultimately our economy as a whole.
In big cities and in small towns, development projects are meeting increasing resistance. The northern gateway, Kinder Morgan, and energy east pipelines are but three of the most recent examples.
Why should Canadians not be worried? They see the Conservative government gutting environmental assessments, they see dangerous pipeline spills on the rise, and they worry whether their communities will be next.
A recent Harris/Decima poll conducted for the government made it clear that only 27% of Canadians are confident that the Government of Canada is able to respond effectively to a significant oil spill on water. The number is only slightly higher, at 32%, for oil spills on land. Similarly, a significant proportion of Canadians do not feel confident that pipelines, tankers, and trains are transporting dangerous goods safely. When it comes to rail transport, only 29% of Canadians feel confident that it is safe. Only 37% of Canadians believe oil tanker transport is safe, while 47% of Canadians are confident that pipelines can safely transport oil.
Clearly, that is not a vote of confidence in the Conservatives' handling of this critical file.
It is equally clear that Canadians share the belief of New Democrats that we must take steps to ensure that we are developing and transporting our resources in a safe and secure way; that we have to implement effective oil spill prevention measures; that we have to increase inspections in oversight; and that we have to push for expanded liability so that we are giving teeth to the polluter pays principle.
When it comes to oil transport, with the huge expansion in production and transportation of crude oil, we need enhanced safety protection. This is common sense, no matter what the method of transport.
Public safety and environmental protection must be the highest priorities if we are to develop our natural resources sustainably.
That brings us back to the heart of the bill that is before us today. Would Bill C-46 implement a true polluter pays regime in Canada, and would the bill go far enough to obviate Canadians' legitimate concerns when it comes to pipeline safety?
Let us look at what the bill purports to do.
Unfortunately, in the time allotted to me here today, it is only possible to do that in the broadest of terms. However, I am hopeful that we will be able to undertake the detailed clause-by-clause scrutiny the bill merits at the committee stage of the legislative process.
At its most general, the purpose of Bill C-46, would be to improve Canada's pipeline liability regime.
It would be part of the government's larger review of the distinct liability regimes that govern different aspects of Canada's oil and gas development. Here, members will recall that last year Bill C-22 dealt with liabilities related to offshore drilling and potential spills in both Arctic and Atlantic waters. As well, over the course of last year, the government began consultations on the liability regime governing rail transport, as it sought to do damage control in the wake of Lac Mégantic. Now, we have yet a third piece before us dealing with the liability regime governing Canadian pipelines.
Here is what Bill C-46, would do.
It would reinforce the polluter pays principle.
It would confirm that the liability of pipeline companies is unlimited if an unintended or uncontrolled release of oil, gas, or any other commodity is a result of fault or negligence.
It would establish the limit of liability, without proof of fault or negligence, at no less than $1 billion for companies that operate pipelines with capacity to transport at least 250,000 barrels per day and an amount prescribed by regulation for companies that operate any other pipelines.
It would require that pipeline companies maintain the financial resources necessary to pay the amount of the limit of liability that would apply to them.
The bill would authorize the National Energy Board to order any company that operates a pipeline from which an unintended or uncontrolled release occurs to reimburse government institutions for the costs incurred in taking any action in relation to the release.
It would require that pipeline companies remain responsible for their abandoned pipelines.
It would authorize the NEB to order pipeline companies to maintain funds to pay for the abandonment of their pipelines.
It would authorize the Governor in Council to authorize the NEB to take, in certain circumstances, any action the NEB considers necessary in relation to an unintended or uncontrolled release.
It would also allow the Governor in Council to establish a pipeline claims tribunal to examine and adjudicate claims for compensation for damage caused by an unintended or uncontrolled release from a pipeline.
Many of these changes are long overdue, and I would be less than honest if I did not acknowledge that they appear to be a step in the right direction.
However, it is also true that, once again, the Conservatives are late to the game. New Democrats have been waiting for the government to fix oil spill liability for quite some time. As always, with the current government, the devil is in the details.
Let us take a closer look at the some of the pluses and minuses of what has been presented to us in this bill.
On the upside, the fact that polluters will be absolutely liable for harm caused by a pipeline spill is obviously a good thing. What it means is that any company operating a pipeline will be liable in the event of a spill even if it has not been negligent and has not broken any laws. Moreover, companies must have enough financial resources to cover in full the absolute liability limit. For companies whose pipelines have the capacity to move at least 250,000 barrels per day, that limit will be $1 billion once this bill passes. That monetary amount may be increased by the government in the future, but the bill would prohibit cabinet from lowering it. That too is a good thing.
The bill would also give the NEB new tools to recoup cleanup costs from polluters, and in certain circumstances it even gives the board the power to recover costs from the industry as a whole, not just from the individual polluter.
Finally on the plus side, the bill would make polluters liable for environmental damages. Members will recall that we spent a lot of time when scrutinizing of Bill C-22 on the need to make polluters responsible for environmental damages or losses of non-use value of public resources. It is as important now as it was then to ensure that liability is not just restricted to the environment's commercial value. Bill C-46 sets out to do that and is an important first step in catching up with U.S. oil spill regulation, which is much more developed with respect to the recognition of environmental damages.
However, as a thoughtful analysis by Ian Miron at Ecojustice makes clear, there is an overall lack of certainty in Bill C-46 that may well undermine what would otherwise be this positive first step. Specifically, Mr. Miron points out three things. First, and perhaps most crucially, Bill C-46 does not impose unlimited absolute liability on polluters. No liability regime can truly be called a polluter pays regime unless and until polluters are made absolutely liable for the full costs of environmental harm.
While the $1 billion limit for some companies may be a big improvement over the status quo, it still would not completely cover the cleanup costs of an accident such as Enbridge's Kalamazoo River spill in Michigan. According to recent estimates, that spill, the largest in U.S. history, cost more than $1.2 billion to clean up, not including compensation for damages.
Moreover, Bill C-46 actually takes a step backward by eliminating the government's ability to recover cleanup costs for a pipeline spill under the Fisheries Act, which applies in certain circumstances to make a polluter absolutely liable without limit. In the absence of such unlimited absolute liability, the government and, therefore, Canadians may still be on the hook for spills, and that, frankly, is wrong. If the government is so convinced that pipelines are a mature industry, then the industry is one that can and must pay for itself. Instead, the fact that this bill does not completely enshrine the polluter pay principle means that the Conservatives are giving just one more handout to its friends in the oil patch by making taxpayers liable for oil spill risks.
In that regard, it is also worth pointing out that the bill is completely silent on identifying absolute liability limits for smaller oil pipeline companies, or for gas and other non-oil pipeline companies. While such limits may be set by cabinet down the road, it begs the question of why the government would not do so now. Is volumetrics the only criterion the government has used to assess the potential magnitude of damages from a spill? I hope that in the course of our deliberations the Conservatives will give us an answer to that rather pressing question.
This leads to my final broad criticism of the bill. Just as the absolute liability limits are discretionary for all but the big pipeline companies, many other aspects of the new liability regime are as well. While the bill would create several new tools that could enhance the NEB's ability to recoup cleanup costs from a polluter, the NEB or the cabinet get to decide whether or not they will be implemented. As Ecojustice thus rightly points out, BillC-46 leaves considerable leeway for politically motivated decisions and backroom arrangements between operators and the NEB, a regulator that lacks credibility on the pipeline front.
In fact, this may be a good time to say yet again that the NEB needs a fundamental overhaul. While the Liberals and Conservatives have generally been happy simply to rubberstamp pipeline projects, my NDP colleagues and I firmly believe that major resource projects must be judged on their merits. That means that the NEB has to subject proposals to a rigorous and robust environmental assessment process. Assessment criteria must include the impact of each individual project on our emissions and climate change commitments, on Canadian jobs, and on national and regional energy security. Public consultations must be credible and democratic, not shallow, limited, or by paper only, and projects must honour our legal obligations to first nations.
Clearly, such rigour was absent in the NEB review of both Enbridge's northern gateway and Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain expansion, and the same flawed process is now being applied to TransCanada's energy east plans as well. No wonder Canadians are worried about these pipelines snaking their way through backyards.
Northern gateway has the capacity to move 525,000 barrels per day, 890,000 barrels per day for Kinder Morgan and a staggering 1.1 billion barrels per day for energy east. The potential for disaster is huge, which brings me to the last point I want to raise in wrapping up my participation in today's debate.
While the new liability regime deals with protecting Canadians from the cost of cleaning up an oil spill, my NDP colleagues and I believe the best way to protect Canadians is to ensure such spills do not happen in the first place. Measuring risk correctly and assigning liability may be one tool in the kit to encourage industry to improve its safety practices and therefore reduce the likelihood of catastrophic accidents. However, it is only one tool of many and nothing else is being done. Where is the concrete action to fix the broken environmental assessment process that the Conservatives have dismantled? Where is the much-needed legislation that would bring in better regulation and oversight?
As far back as 2011, the environment commissioned highlighted that the National Energy Board was failing to ensure that known problems were being fixed and that pipelines were being properly maintained. We have a world-class labour force that is ready and eager to do that work. However, without companies making commitments to pipeline safety, Canadians can be forgiven for wondering not whether an oil spill will happen but when.
Canada's natural resources are a tremendous blessing and managed properly and sustainably they can be important drivers for our economy. This is particularly true of the energy sector. However, instead of guiding our energy policy in the best interest of Canadian jobs, the environment and the economy, the Conservative government is gutting assessments and reviews, and failing to address the valid concerns of Canadians. That is such a narrow-minded and counterproductive approach. Social licence, the consent of Canadians for the development of Canada's resources, is crucial to the success of any project. However, instead of working to achieve such consent, the government's intransigence is actually undermining the support for companies in the pipeline sector by exacerbating opposition to energy development right across the country.
There is a better way, and the New Democrats have been championing it for years. It is based on sustainable development. Governments must look at environmental, social and economic impacts before going forward with any development project. That way we can prevent devastating environmental damage, while ensuring that Canadians benefit from Canada's natural bounty of resources. It is the right thing to do, and it finally would allow us to move beyond the all too convenient Conservative canard that Canadians must choose between the economy and the environment. Nothing could be further from the truth.
With the right kind of leadership, Canadians will finally be able to have their cake and eat it too, and that is the kind of leadership the NDP will provide when it forms government, under the experienced leadership of the member for Outremont, later on this year. That will make this a happy new year indeed.
Pipeline Safety Act January 26th, 2015
Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the minister's speech, and those of us on this side of the House would say that indeed it is long overdue that we bring in an updated liability regime for pipelines. As the minister well knows, Canadians are profoundly worried about pipeline safety.
As a general comment, I would say that it is good that we are finally dealing with this bill. One might wonder why we are dealing with this matter now when we had the opportunity to update other liability regimes earlier in this Parliament, such as the nuclear liability regime and offshore oil and gas, but nonetheless here we are. I would suggest, though, that it might be a bit early to celebrate, because as we know, with this government the devil is always in the details.
In fact, when we look at this bill more closely, one of the things that becomes very apparent is that much in the legislation is left to the discretion of both the National Energy Board and the Governor in Council, which means that we cannot really be certain that the government is acting with any kind of real commitment to improving pipeline safety.
I will explain why I am worried about that. There is a briefing note posted online from McCarthy Tétrault to its clients about what this bill may mean, and those clients are pipeline companies.
It talks about the new responsibilities that companies may now have to comply with. Here is the final sentence in that brief:
Accordingly, pipeline companies should consider their safety and financial obligations...to ensure they meet legislated requirements once the Bill’s amendments are brought into force.
It makes one wonder what companies are doing now. Do they not care about safety now, if this is the advice they are receiving from their lawyers? I would want Canadians to know that there is absolute certainty about what this bill is going to do, about how we are going to improve pipeline safety and how we are going to improve the liability regime, because Canadians need to be able to trust that pipeline companies are not going to put their lives and their environment in danger.
Takeover of Stelco December 4th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today in support of Motion No. 537, which was put forward by my NDP colleague, the member for Hamilton Centre. I apologize to the interpreters; I may be speaking a bit fast tonight, but I have a lot to say on this topic.
For those of us in the NDP caucus who represent Steeltown, this motion could not be more timely. It demands accountability and action from the Conservative government to compensate Hamiltonians and steelworkers in particular for allowing U.S. Steel to run roughshod over the requirement to provide a net benefit to Canada as a result of its takeover of Stelco.
In fact, New Democrats have been demanding such action from the federal government ever since it became apparent that U.S. Steel was flouting its obligations as spelled out under the Investment Canada Act.
Unfortunately, like their Liberal predecessors, the Conservatives simply refuse to ensure that foreign investments: (a) create new jobs for Canadians; (b) bring new capital to Canada; (c) transfer new technology to this country; (d) increase Canadian-based research and development; (e) contribute to sustainable economic development; and (f) improve the lives of Canadian workers and their communities.
Only if all six of those conditions are met, can any government feel assured that new proposals are indeed of net benefit to Canada, which is, after all, the key legal criterion for determining whether a foreign takeover should be allowed to proceed. Instead, foreign investments have been approved despite the fact that they were motivated simply by a desire to gain control of Canada's strategic industries and resources. Sadly, that seems to be just fine by the Conservative government.
Let us review what has been happening in Hamilton. U.S. Steel acquired the former operations of Stelco Inc. in 2007. That included both Hilton Works in Hamilton and Lake Erie Works in Nanticoke.
Under the Investment Canada Act, U.S. Steel had to demonstrate that its investment would provide a net benefit to Canada. As a result, it had to make commitments with respect to job creation, production levels, and domestic investment. To that end, U.S. Steel and the Government of Canada signed an agreement that committed U.S. Steel to 31 different undertakings and promises. U.S. Steel then started up its operations in the fall of 2007. Just a year later, layoffs began at Hilton Works and in 2009 at Lake Erie Works as well.
In the spring of 2009, the government started to ask questions, and U.S. Steel responded with a whole host of reasons for why it is excused, or ought to be excused, from meeting its employment and production commitments. The excuses did not fly, and so the government took U.S. Steel to court in July of that year.
The Steelworkers and Lakeside Steel, a company with a potential interest in acquiring U.S. Steel operations, were granted intervenor status. This was a huge victory for the steelworkers. Winning intervenor status is rare in cases such as these, but the court said that the union had “unique interests” that ought to be considered in determining an appropriate remedy.
U.S. Steel, of course, did not just roll over, and so in September of 2009, the company went back to court challenging the constitutionality of the entire act. The judge dismissed U.S. Steel's claim. Once again, U.S. Steel filed an appeal, and then asked for a stay. The court did not grant the stay application, but the Charter challenge was never resolved.
Even just to that point in the U.S. Steel saga, a number of points had already been thrown into relief. First, by taking U.S. Steel to court, the federal government acknowledged that it does indeed have a legal duty to ensure that foreign investments provide a net benefit to Canada.
Second, the case made it clear that commitments made by foreign corporations with respect to job creation, production levels, and domestic investment are legally binding. They are not fairweather wish lists that foreign corporations can unilaterally abandon. Both of those things are good news; but, and this is a big but, clearly these are not ironclad guarantees.
In fact, when the Conservative government rolled over in December of 2011 and dropped its lawsuit against U.S. Steel, it got nothing in terms of either guaranteed production or employment levels at the former Stelco. Instead, it got a promise of new investments of $50 million in both the Hamilton and Lake Erie plants, which many of us believed at the time was simply a way to fatten the pig before the slaughter, or in this case, before a sale.
In any event, the Conservatives completely let the company off the hook, and effectively said to all foreign investors that Canadian companies are free for the taking and that the legislated need to secure a net benefit from such transactions will simply not be enforced.
How can that be? What was in the original agreement with U.S. Steel that let it get off the hook so easily? What happened behind closed doors between the government and U.S. Steel? In truth, we will never know. Herein lies the crux of the problem. We do not know, because the agreements between foreign corporations and the federal government under the Investment Canada Act are negotiated in private and are never made publicly available.
It does not need to be that way, and it should not be that way. That is why the motion before us today mandates the government to make public the commitments U.S. Steel agreed to under the Investment Canada Act in respect of the acquisition of Stelco Inc. in 2007, and the 2011 out of court settlement, concerning employment and production guarantees and maintenance of the employee pension system.
This is absolutely critical and mirrors my own private member's bill, Bill C-358, the Stelco Inc. acquisition act. My bill is short and to the point. It requires the Government of Canada to publish: (a) all written undertakings given to Her Majesty in right of Canada under the Investment Canada Act in respect of the acquisition of Stelco Inc. by the United States Steel Corporation in 2007; and (b) all demands sent by the Minister of Industry in respect of those undertakings.
The intent here is clear. The single biggest challenge to holding companies to their commitments is not knowing what commitments were made in the first place. In essence, we are creating a legal requirement for transparency and accountability. The alternative is what is playing out in Hamilton right now. With a government abdicating its responsibility to hold companies to their commitments, hundreds of workers are now fearful of losing their jobs, and over 9,000 pensioners are terrified that their pension plan may be wound up and that they will lose a significant portion of their hard-earned retirement benefits.
That is why the motion before us today concludes by calling on the government to take immediate action to ensure pension benefits remain fully funded and protected, including amending the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act and the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act to protect worker pensions in the event of bankruptcy.
Allow me just to expand on this a little further.
Whenever we mention pensions and USW Local 1005, old rumours begin to resurface about how the current bind can largely be attributed to the Rae government in Ontario. I am no fan of Bob Rae, but this misinformation campaign is readily disproved by the facts. The contention is that 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 once again 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 very serious recession. The government did approve a limited number of those requests, but only on the condition that companies had to file detailed plans with hard deadlines for repayment of the plan. 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 of 1995. Stelco filed its election to pay penalties rather than fund the pension plan in June of 1996. 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. That is why we need to pass the motion that is before us today on an urgent basis.
The workers and pensioners at U.S. Steel deserve the government's support. They did not approve the foreign takeover that led us down this path; the government did. While an apology to Hamiltonians for not securing a net benefit for our community would be a good start, concrete action on full disclosure and pension security would offer real assistance to the innocent victims of this sweetheart deal with U.S. Steel. Frankly, steelworkers and their families deserve nothing less.
Petitions December 1st, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to table a petition with over 400 signatures from Annunciation of Our Lord parish in my riding of Hamilton Mountain.
The petitioners join with thousands of others in endorsing the campaign of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace entitled, Sow much love. It is a global call to action to support small farmers who are the guardians of the world's seed biodiversity. In a very real way, they are fighting to protect the future of food.
The petitioners are asking the government to make two concrete commitments. The first is to adopt international aid policies that support small family farmers, especially women, and recognize their vital role in the fight against hunger and poverty. Second, the petitioners want the government to ensure that these policies and programs are developed in consultation with small family farmers and that they protect the rights of small family farmers in the global south, to preserve, use, and freely exchange seeds.
While the rules of the House do not allow me to endorse a petition, let me conclude by saying that I share wholeheartedly in the desire to build a more just and sustainable food system for our human family.
Petitions November 26th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to table a petition with hundreds of signatures that were collected by the Hamilton chapter of CURC, the Congress of Union Retirees of Canada.
The petitioners are profoundly worried about the government's plan to allow the conversion of defined benefit pension plans to target benefit or so-called shared risk plans. Such a conversion would allow the government to strip pension benefits of legal protections and permit employers to reduce all benefits, including those earned through past service.
The petitioners call on the government to abandon this ill-conceived scheme and to focus its energy instead on improving the retirement security of the 62% of Canadian workers without any workplace pension plan by expanding the CPP.
While the rules of the House do not allow me to endorse a petition, I firmly believe pensions are deferred wages and employers cannot be allowed to break their promise to deliver those benefits to retirees. It is our job to ensure that this solemn promise is kept.