Madam Speaker, many expressive words come to mind as I rise to speak to Bill C‑228 today in the House, a few hours before voting at third reading. My words are “privilege”, “honour” and “pride”.
Why? As parliamentarians we play a part in history. We have the opportunity to do something historic, namely to correct an injustice that has existed for far too many years by protecting retirement funds, the nest eggs of workers and retirees, in the event of a bankruptcy.
I do not think there should be any hesitation tomorrow when it comes time to vote. We should all stand up unanimously in the House to tell all workers and the unions that have been lobbying for years to convince parliamentarians to remedy this situation that we will finally do them justice. That is my plea today.
I would also like to commend the Conservative member for Sarnia—Lambton and thank her for her bill and for the work that was done on it across party lines with the NDP and my colleague from Manicouagan. It is really something when we are able to work together to advance the rights of workers. I really encourage the Liberals to join us. I heard the parliamentary secretary say in his speech earlier that he was still undecided about tomorrow's vote. What is there to be undecided about? There should be no hesitation on this issue.
If even just one company were to go bankrupt today, the human suffering would be terrible. A company going bankrupt results in job losses, relocations, unemployment and complete reorganization. When, on top of that, a company puts itself under creditor protection and pension plans are insolvent or have not been properly funded, retirees are faced with enormous losses to their pensions.
Consider the Cliffs mine on the north shore, or Nortel, or Aveos. There are situations like these—and this is a long list—where workers and retirees have seen all the savings they socked away during their working years melt away like snow on a sunny day.
We must remember one fundamental thing. Retirement is a deferred salary, compensation that is deferred until retirement. When a company goes bankrupt and that fund is unprotected, thousands of workers are put at risk. This concerns many workers in Canada.
I also really want to commend all the work done by my colleague, the member for Manicouagan. When Cliffs' mine on the north shore went bankrupt, she went to bat, took a stand and worked hard to introduce a bill that would protect pensioners and to ensure that this never happens again. There was one hour of debate, but at least there was debate, because, at the time, the government was against this idea. It made people aware of the fact that this should never happen again. Since then, there have been many such bills, but not one of them has passed and actually fixed the problem.
The latest bill on this subject was introduced by my colleague from Manicouagan in 2021. It was Bill C‑372, which passed at second reading and received the committee's unanimous approval. Unfortunately, it died on the Order Paper because a pointless election was called.
I said the passage of this bill would be a historic event. Fortunately, battles for pension funds are already being waged in the context of collective bargaining for unionized workers. This often causes conflict, because employers would like to make cuts to pension funds.
How many battles, strikes and disputes have hinged not only on pay, but also on pension funds? This is a difficult struggle for workers. Some workers have been left to fend for themselves after giving a company 30 or 40 years of their lives and contributing to a retirement fund. This kind of thing happens because we have never been aware of their reality or done enough to take a stand and fix the problem.
We have an important role to play as parliamentarians, because it is up to elected officials and the government to change things and bring in a safety net for our workers. The purpose of this bill is not to make pension plans priority creditors, but rather preferred creditors. The status of preferred creditor for wages is currently maintained in the event of bankruptcy.
I really must emphasize that there is no reason to hesitate. I often hear the Liberals say here in the House that they are there for the workers, that they will never let them down and that they want to protect their pension funds. Well, now is the time to walk the talk. Beyond the rhetoric, if they really want to protect workers, it is important to strengthen labour rights and protect pension funds in the event of insolvency or bankruptcy. That is what needs to be done. This should not even be a question.
It is also important to pass anti-scab legislation. Workers have been calling for this for years. It should have been brought in years ago. Labour disputes persist because, once again, employers under federal jurisdiction take advantage of the current situation to hire scabs, and this keeps the disputes going. One day, we are going to have to stand up for workers on this issue as well. It is time to stop consulting and start taking action.
Employment Insurance also needs to be reformed. The Canadian Labour Congress, the United Steelworkers and major labour organizations regularly come to the Hill to lobby to talk to parliamentarians about the reality of the working world today and to convince them to fix the situation. I do not even understand why the government is still dragging its feet on this.
The bill to protect retirement funds seeks to provide a guarantee in the event of misfortune such as an economic crisis, a recession or even a pandemic. In such situations, there are losses. In the case of Cliffs Natural Resources, even though the United Steelworkers managed to get a bit of money to the North Shore through legal means, pensions were still slashed by 9%.
A worker or retiree who is currently 80 is not going to go back to work. They end up using all of their savings just to survive. We cannot leave a single person in such a situation.
Canada is known for protecting basic rights and workers rights in the event of a bankruptcy. We have to protect their nest egg. I think it will be to our credit to adopt this bill unanimously. I want to acknowledge all the unions and every parliamentarian who decided to stand up and make this possible.