Mr. Speaker, my apologies. I was not exactly sure which bill we were debating today.
My colleague's bill, Bill C-405, deals with Canadians' pension benefits. Clearly, this is an extremely delicate subject, as we were able to see with the government's approach to Bill C-27. This sought to allow Crown corporations, and ultimately all other employers in Canada, to change the category of defined benefit retirement plans to target benefit plans.
The direction that the government took is really bad. Thanks to the pressure from many Canadians and from unions, the government seems to have decided to keep the idea of introducing target benefit plans on hold. That means that retirees' benefits will change over time.
When you sign a collective agreement and a defined benefit pension plan, you know what to expect when you retire. With Bill C-27, the government was ready to move forward and change that standard, replacing it with a target benefit plan, that is, one in which benefits can change over time. If that were the case, employees would not get the same amounts as if the defined benefits were maintained.
My colleague's bill is similar to that one. It seeks to enable employers who already offer defined benefit pension plans to convert them into target benefit plans or defined contribution pension plans, which are slightly different, and thereby transfer all of the risk to workers and absolve employers from the obligation to provide their employees with predictable pension benefits.
Pension plans are deferred wages. As I said earlier, they are often negotiated as part of collective agreements.
This bill would change benefits that were negotiated ahead of time and, as I just mentioned, it would also transfer the burden to employees since, in a defined benefit pension plan, the burden is on the employer to deliver what it promised to its employees.
In target benefit plans or defined contribution pension plans, the burden is on employees, who are forced to bear the brunt of any losses that may occur if a company, Crown corporation or government can no longer fulfill its retirement obligations. There has been a lot of debate about that in 2018. This reality has been catching up with workers over the past several years. Employers, whether government or private, are waking up to the fact that, in the future, they will not be able to fulfill the working conditions and retirement pensions that they promised to employees, even though they signed agreements to that effect, and so they are changing the benefits along the way. They are changing conditions that were negotiated. That is unacceptable. It goes completely against the spirit of negotiation and violates a signed agreement to which the two parties agreed and in which both parties must keep their commitments.
Unfortunately, we know what side the Conservatives are on in this kind of debate that affects workers and employers. They always side with the employer. What we are seeing today with Bill C-405 is nothing new.
The bill before us is diametrically opposed to the NDP's proposed approach to correcting major shortcomings in Canada's bankruptcy and insolvency legislation and protecting Canadian workers' and retirees' pensions and benefits. This is 2018, and workers are facing a whole new reality. We have seen it in the past, and we saw it again recently with Sears. Not only can the pension benefit terms and conditions be changed, but pensions can be cancelled altogether. I know workers in Sherbrooke, my region, who worked for 30 years and then suddenly found themselves in that very situation. The employer went bankrupt and closed up shop, and workers' pensions evaporated.
Those employees worked for years to build up their pensions. That money belongs to them. It is deferred income. They worked their whole lives to save that money, and then from one day to the next, their employer was no longer in a position to give the money that belongs to them.
Sears is the latest example, but this is something we have seen in Estrie as well. I know a person who worked at Olymel in Magog. That person, along with everyone else who worked there, lost their pension because their employer suddenly announced that it was no longer able to honour the conditions they had initially agreed to. The workers' money went up in smoke.
That leads to very sad situations. Some of these people are elderly and have to go back to work because they lost all the benefits they were promised initially. They are left in the lurch. They have to go back to work and, for some of them, the working conditions are not nearly as good as when they were working for a business that was thriving and prospering but suddenly had to shut down.
Unfortunately, the Conservatives are unlikely to surprise us today with such a bill to stop executives from giving themselves excessive bonuses in any liquidation and bankruptcy procedures.
I mentioned Sears, but there have been other cases of bankruptcy where the executives took off with the employees' savings. That money does not necessarily always go to the creditors. Sometimes it winds up in the pockets of the executives of those companies. Then the executives or shareholders tell the board of directors that after liquidating the company's assets, that is, before putting the money in their own pockets, there is nothing left for everyone else. There is nothing left for the other creditors.
We in the NDP believe that workers are the priority creditors. That has always been our position. When a company goes bankrupt, the priority creditors are the workers. Whether it is salaries, unpaid sick leave or pensions, priority must be given to what has already been promised, before the banks are even consulted to proceed with the liquidation and pay out the creditors. The workers should always come first.
Unfortunately, once again, we know whose side the Conservatives are on: the employers and the executives. They allow these unacceptable situations to continue, and that is a shame. Bill C-405 does not solve anything. On the contrary, it makes matters worse.