moved 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.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased today to introduce my private member's bill, Bill C-501, for debate.
Canadians know that New Democrats have always, in good times and bad, looked out for the interests of hard-working men and women in Canada, and that we have done so from day one. We are also the only group of parliamentarians that has always made pension security a top concern. Like our member for Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, I am proud to continue this strong and principled tradition today.
Bill C-501 will do, suprisingly, what has never been done before. It will secure the pensions of all Canadians whose employers have fallen on hard times, that have undertaken restructuring, entered bankruptcy protection, or have collapsed entirely and had their assets sold off.
If passed, Bill C-501 should mean that every working Canadian can take comfort in knowing that their pension, their retirement, is secure in its entirety.
I am sure that all members in this place, no matter what region they represent, have constituents in their ridings whose pensions have been lost due to bankruptcy or the restructuring of their employer, and have many others whose pensions are at risk today. This is, sadly, something that we all have in common, but it is also something that should unite us in a common cause.
Record job losses, the decline of entire industries, like forestry and manufacturing, the collapse of large employers, like Nortel Networks and AbitibiBowater, are throwing tens of thousands of hard-working Canadians out of work. These hard-working Canadians, through no fault of their own, are finding out, after years and years of work, that their pensions and retirement income are threatened.
With thousands of pensions lost in recent years and many thousands more under threat, I would not hesitate to call what we are experiencing a full-blown pension crisis. The forestry sector has been in a near-decade long decline and has taken many large corporations and mills down with it.
AbitibiBowater, one of the largest employers in my riding, is undergoing restructuring after filing for creditor protection. When their books were finally opened, it was found that the pension fund, which holds the retirement income of nearly 20,000 hard-working Canadians, was underfunded by about $1.3 billion.
Literally thousands of people in my riding of Thunder Bay—Rainy River, who counted on their pensions being there when they retired, were faced with losing up to 40% of their retirement income. That was not just money that they were given or promised, that was money that they have earned.
At town halls meetings, in correspondence and in phone calls, my constituents have asked me to help them, to fix this problem, to bring them justice, and to secure their pensions. Bill C-501 is my response.
Bill C-501 is a simple, effective bill that should secure every pension in Canada without costing the Canadian government or Canadian taxpayers a cent. It will secure termination and severance pay in the event of bankruptcy. It will mean that unfunded pension liabilities and the shortfalls in pension plans are moved from unsecured status to secured status. It would close loopholes that have allowed companies that go into restructuring proceedings to leave their retirees high and dry.
The changes to existing legislation that are contained in Bill C-501 are simple, effective, and could secure more than four million pensions in Canada at no cost to the government.
As this bill moves forward and we examine the contents and the possible effects of this bill, we must do so knowing that there is no social or economic problem that exists in a vacuum. A pension problem of one employer affects not just the retirement income of one employee but more often than not that of their spouse as well.
A loss of retirement income means a loss of security, a loss of wealth, a loss of independence, and a loss of dignity for workers, their spouses and their families as they try to enjoy the peace and rewards of their retirement.
A loss of retirement income will also affect their children who, though most of them will be adults, worry as all children do about their parents as they enter what should become their golden years. It may mean that those children spend more of their time, energy, and financial resources to secure their parents' retirement, to help them live in the dignified peace that they are entitled to.
A loss of pension income for one worker will likely be accompanied by the loss of pension income for hundreds, if not thousands of other workers. Such a large scale loss in one local economy is sure to take its toll on small and local businesses.
Take 40% of the household income of 1,000 families out of a local economy and see if commerce does not suffer. Local commerce will suffer, small businesses will go under, and more jobs and pensions will be lost.
For many small northern and rural communities where a single mill, mine or manufacturer employs a huge percentage of the local population, a loss of pension income, just like the loss of jobs, is devastating to the local economy.
Living in northwestern Ontario, I have seen such loss with my own eyes, but I have made a commitment to the people who have elected me. I have promised them to do my utmost to ensure that I support policies that save our local jobs and protect our local pensions.
Earlier, I mentioned the many constituents who have raised their concerns about pension security with me in various ways, so I would like to take a moment to acknowledge them on the record for raising their concerns. They are: Marvin Pupeza of the Ontario CEP; George Chabot and Bill Shine of the CEP in Fort Frances; Gary Bragnolo and John Jaciuk of the CEP in Thunder Bay; and many hundreds of citizens in Thunder Bay--Rainy River including: Robert Elvish, Dr. Bob Lidkea, Barry Bailey, John McGrath, Joe Hanlon, and all our friends at USW. They have all indicated to me that something needs to be done.
There are many others, too many to name today, but I would also like to thank them all for taking the time to raise my awareness about their situations.
I would like to conclude my remarks by saying that this legislation is long overdue. Hard-working Canadians are entitled to their compensation, to retire in dignity, and to know that their pensions are secure under any circumstances.
They earn their pensions and those pensions must be there when they retire. We must close the loopholes that allow underfunded pension plans to be put at the back of the line of claimants and creditors, when a company enters restructuring or declares bankruptcy or has its remaining assets sold off.
They should know that I, like all the members in this place, would like to see all creditors receive all that is owed to them in these unfortunate circumstances. There can be no question of that.
I believe that, while banks and investors should be paid, it is the people who must come first. With so many companies undergoing restructuring, in bankruptcy, or even worse, we must remember that there are many more who are on the verge. With so much economic uncertainty still we must pass Bill C-501 and we must pass the bill quickly.
Those millions of Canadians who are facing an uncertain future deserve to know now that their pensions and their retirement income are secure.
I have talked to many members in the House about this bill, hoping to get their support. I have talked to a number of Conservative members. The one question they always have is, what about the investors, if we move workers' pensions from unsecured to secured, people will not want to invest any more?
This is my response. My response to that has been and will always be this. Are they telling me that people do not invest in companies because they have great management? Do they not invest in companies because they have a fabulous product, they have great workers, they have a wonderful plant, they have a terrific future and wonderful marketing, and they are likely going to make a whole lot of money? Do people not invest in companies like that or do they invest in companies, so they can use someone else's money for their cashflow or investments?
I would suggest that people invest in companies because they are good companies. Moving pensions from unsecured to secured would ensure that these companies have excellent workers and they will continue to be because they will go to work every day knowing that some day, after 30 or 40 years of work for a company, they are going to have a retirement that they can count on. That is what we are doing today.
I urge all members of the House from all parties, from all regions of Canada, to help pass the bill quickly on behalf of my constituents and on behalf of their constituents. Let us prove the skeptics and the naysayers wrong and show that we can all work together in this place, that we all can get things done for people who have placed their trust in us.