moved that Bill C-290, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (tax credit for loss of retirement income), be read the second time and referred to committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour to participate in this debate once again. I say once again because, as I will have the opportunity to explain, this is the second time I am tabling this bill. Of course, it has now changed its number. Previously, it was Bill C-445. It has become Bill C-290.
So I am truly very happy to take part in this debate this evening. I also thank my colleague for having seconded this bill. Once again we are returning to the task and not letting up. I am sure that the people watching us at home right now who are affected by this bill are also very happy that we have come back to it before the summer break to have the first hour of debate on the second reading of this bill.
On May 17, 2007, as I was saying, I took the floor in this House to table Bill C-445. One year later, that bill had passed second reading and was about to be debated in committee. It was going to be submitted to the Standing Committee on Finance when elections inopportunely, as I would put it, interrupted the entire process. The people from our region with whom we worked on this bill were aware of the parliamentary process, whereby the bill and the entire initiative could be interrupted by the calling of an election. This delayed all of our work. We always said it was like building a house: you have to go about it brick by brick, and at some point the job might have to be interrupted. However we began again immediately after the election, and two years later, here I am again with Bill C-290, which reintroduces the full text of Bill C-445. You will recall that that bill was intended to grant a refundable tax credit to taxpayers who are the victims of a failure of an employer or certain employees of that employer to make contributions to a registered pension plan.
Bill C-290 is a bill to amend the Income Tax Act (tax credit for loss of retirement income). That is now its title. I must explain that there has been a minor change to the bill, and that was to its title only. Initially, Bill C-445 referred to a tax benefit, whereas now we refer to a tax credit. The legislative drafters said that it was more correct to speak of a tax credit than a tax benefit. For the rest, this is precisely the same bill, which I tabled again last February after promising to do so. In fact I see this as a commitment. One must always pay attention to one’s election promises. Our people knew very well, at the time of the last election campaign, that I was making this commitment in order to keep it. I had to be re-elected, and fortunately I was. I have kept my promise with the tabling of the bill which now bears the number C-290.
This bill proposes a refundable tax credit, as I said earlier, for loss of retirement income equivalent to 22% of lost revenues. The credit would have no impact on the retiree's income, whether or not he pays taxes. In addition, the credit could always be transferred to a surviving spouse, and it would apply to both a determined contribution plan and to a determined benefit plan. The usual example given is that of a retiree whose income would drop from $30,000 to $22,000. That is a loss of $8,000. If we take 22% of this $8,000 loss, as provided in the bill, a non taxable amount of $1,760 would go to this person whose pension was reduced because his company went bankrupt or closed.
This was what happened with the 1,200 retirees of the Jeffrey mine in Asbestos, in my riding. That is why I spoke of my electoral commitment to these people, naturally. It happened as well to the 300 people working at Atlas Steel in Sorel, in the riding of the seconder of this bill, my colleague from Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour. He too told his fellow citizens that the Bloc was going on the attack. Even if the bill unfortunately died on the order paper when the last election was called, we were not going to let go.
Another thing happened as well. We know how it works, but I want to explain it to our viewers. There is the famous draw, in the case of private members' bills, which allows each member the opportunity to introduce a bill at one time or another. My colleague from Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour and I decided that whichever of us was chosen first would introduce the bill again. I do not want to monopolize this bill. We are working as a team.
It did not matter which colleague introduced it, what counted was to move it forward as quickly as possible. I am not very lucky in the lottery or in draws, but this time I was lucky and I was drawn first. So, I reintroduced the bill, and now we have a chance to debate it for the first hour at second reading before the summer recess. I am therefore very happy. My colleague from Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour was drawn right after me. It would not have made much difference. But I won and so I stand before you. You will still have an opportunity to hear my colleague in a few minutes.
The retirees from the Jeffrey mine and Atlas Steel worked hard and honestly all their life. They contributed to a pension fund that was drastically cut through no fault of their own. This is important to say. We have the option of helping them, and this is what we are trying to do with Bill C-290, by giving them part of their loss. Or we could leave them to their fate. Unfortunately, that is what the people in the Conservative government did with Bill C-445, while the Liberals and the NDP supported the Bloc to have it sent to committee.
I want to remind this House that the Conservatives told us that this bill would cost a fortune. Despite my requests, I never did find out how they came up with figures as outrageous as $10 billion. I can talk about this later if I have time, but I asked the people at the Library of Parliament to do some research. I was told that it would take an absolutely unbelievable catastrophe for the figures to reach such incredible levels, even though the economic situation today is not what it was when I first introduced this bill. Other retirees could certainly benefit from this tax credit, but if more people who have been penalized can benefit, then that is good.
I am certain that my Liberal and NDP colleagues will continue to support us. At least, I hope so. Perhaps there will be speeches later to confirm this. Perhaps the Conservatives have changed their minds since this bill was first introduced in 2007 and will recognize that these retirees deserve the little boost that the measure in Bill C-290 will give them.
I want to give some background on this bill to show how the idea came about. The bill was the result of extraordinary cooperation between the subcommittee of retirees from the Jeffrey mine in Asbestos and from Atlas Steel and my colleagues from Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour and Chambly—Borduas. My colleague from Chambly—Borduas attended the initial meetings here in Ottawa. The retirees came to meet with us, and we asked our human resources and social development critic to come with us to see whether we could find any common ground. Our former labour critic was also present. We wanted to try to see what we could do to help these people. It is all well and good to say that we support them, but can we do something tangible to help them?
When they explained their problem to us we did not have an immediate solution. It would not have been fair to these people, who have certain expectations of their elected members when they tell them their problems, to present a bill and not have a tangible solution. Thus, we took our time and had discussions with them and, finally, agreed that it would be possible to present a bill. My colleague from Chambly—Borduas was very involved from the beginning and quite active in the discussions that led to the idea of a bill for a refundable tax credit for people who lose retirement income when the company closes its doors or goes bankrupt.
Creating a tax credit was the idea of Gaston Fréchette, the chair of the Jeffrey Mine retirees subcommittee in Asbestos, who lives in my riding. We had been talking about this for quite some time. Not only is he very involved in this matter but he is also helping retirees with something else. Mr. Fréchette is working very hard to help people with a legal battle. He is also very involved in his community.
I would have to say that it was rewarding. At the same time, we realized that we might have something that one day could be put on the table as a real solution. As I said earlier, Rome was not built in a day and we had to start somewhere. This is what we finally came up with. The parliamentary process is somewhat difficult and it can also be lengthy. That is obvious from the fact that two elections have taken place since we started this.
As for me, this is my third term. It was during my second that I introduced this bill for the first time, and here we go again. There is no doubt that there will be another vote this fall to see whether there is agreement to refer this bill to committee. That was the solution we had, and there was no other solution anyway for us to get this file through the federal government.
As I said, Mr. Fréchette worked very hard on the first introduction of this bill and we will certainly hear from him again just before we vote on it in the fall, when we will of course be seeking the support of my 307 colleagues in this House of Commons for our bill.
Back when we introduced Bill C-445, Mr. Fréchette sent a letter to each member, as well as taking time to personally phone every Quebec member, regardless of party, soliciting their support for the bill. He also circulated a petition, which originated in my riding, calling for public support for our bill. That was a great success, with more than 2,000 signatures gathered in a relatively short period of time from people willing to sign in favour of Bill C-445.
As I said, exactly the same bill has now become Bill C-290. In my opinion, if people signed the petition on Bill C-445, it is abundantly clear that they still support the demands made in the petition which circulated immediately after the first bill was introduced.
So this has been a team effort involving people from both Sorel-Tracy and Asbestos. There was great solidarity and they focused their efforts on enabling us to advance this idea, introduce it here in the House of Commons, get it through an initial vote and to achieve the right to have it go to committee. I know that the pensioners are prepared to appear before the committee. This is something we have been waiting for for a long time, and I hope that it will become reality when the time comes to vote on it, which will, as I said, likely be in October. It is always a bit risky to set a date, but it ought to be somewhere around that time .
The people who have supported us, the ones who signed the petition, believe that no retiree should have trouble making ends meet because he is not receiving the retirement income to which he contributed all those years.
Since 2003, Asbestos retirees have lost $55 million from their pension fund and $30 million in benefits. With Bill C-290, compensation will be available to retirees whose supplementary pension funds have been cut.
I see that I have one minute left, so I will get to my conclusion. I must say that surviving spouses would also be eligible if their spouse was entitled to part of the pension.
In addition to all the support we have in our respective ridings, we also have the support of the NDP and Liberal members in this House. Also, just recently, Ernest Boyer, the president of the FADOQ network, the Quebec federation of seniors, said:
Too often, in such a situation, we hear the same old arguments: retirees who have a supplementary defined benefit pension fund are very lucky, almost like the bosses who got generous bonuses from their companies, so the Quebec government [or the Canadian government] does not need to assist these so-called fat cats.
He said that on the contrary, they believe these retirees need assistance.