Madam Speaker, I know my grandchildren, my grandson and granddaughter are watching. I want to say hello to Oliver and Lena while I have the chance.
I rise today to speak to the private member's bill, Bill C-372, an act to amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act and the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act, pension plans and group insurance plans, sponsored by the member for Manicouagan.
First I would like to thank the member for bringing the bill forward. Like my Bill C-384, and like former Senator Eggleton's Bill S-253, the bill would bring about legislative changes needed to protect the economic well-being of Canadian workers and their families.
As members in the House will know, I have invested a great deal of my time advocating for the protection of workers' pensions and benefits. I have been pushing the government for over three years to bring forward legislation. However, no, the government is too afraid to offend its corporate friends. It hides behind fancy words like “unintended consequences” and consultations meant only for show. The government has made it very clear what side it is on, and it is not the side of Canadian workers, retirees and their families.
I have been a member of the United Steelworkers Union for 35 years, 25 of those years spent on the shop floor at Stelco in Hamilton and for 10 of those years, acting as president of my local union at the Stelco plant called Stelwire.
In 2004, I was part of the negotiating team that spent two years working through the first bankruptcy restricting procedure under the CCAA and just two years go watched as my former union wrapped up negotiations in its second go-around on the restructuring under the CCAA.
As members can imagine, the inequities and difficulties caused by the inadequacy of Canada's bankruptcy and insolvency laws are of great interest and concern to me. I have seen the damage caused by our inadequate laws, and I am determined to see them changed. The rights of workers to fair and stable pensions and secure benefits has been a concern to me my whole working life.
This is why I am so happy to see legislation that secures workers' pensions and benefits finally come to the floor of the House of Commons. Make no mistake, I would have rather seen my own bill, Bill C-384, up for debate first, but there is enough in common between this bill and my bill that I and the rest of my caucus colleagues will support its passage.
I salute my colleague from Manicouagan for bringing forward a bill that will protect Canadian workers, retirees and their families, and I say “merci beaucoup”.
Many Canadian companies use Canada's bankruptcy laws to effectively gain concessions from their employees and escape responsibility for often huge pension deficits they themselves have created. Workers are then left with the threat of reduced pensions and health care benefits.
Large multinational corporations are also using Canada's inadequate bankruptcy laws to take money meant for workers' pensions and divert it to pay off their secure creditors, which are often their parent companies. This is organized theft. Pensions are, after all, deferred wages, plain and simple. Diverting, withholding or seizing those funds should be illegal. Changing Canada's inadequate bankruptcy and insolvency laws is all about fairness for workers.
It is important to point out that the Liberals campaigned on a promise to improve the income retirement security of all Canadian seniors, but have refused to take any meaningful action. Changes proposed in recent budget legislation encouraging parties to act in good faith and clarifying the discretion of judges in CCAA proceeding does nothing concrete to protect workers' pensions and benefits.
Chris Roberts, policy director at the Canadian Labour Congress, had this to say about pension provisions in the government's budget implementation act. He said that modifications brought to Bill C-97 on the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act as well as to the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act “are inadequate and represent a missed opportunity to prevent” members of a defined benefits program and retirees from being the victims of injustices that would result from losing their benefits when businesses became insolvent.
What is even more disheartening is that the government refused to even acknowledge the grim future of the workers and retirees involved in recent bankruptcy proceedings like Sears, Stelco, Wabush and Cliffs mines.
This bill would amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act and the CCAA so that companies would have to bring any pension plan fund to 100% before paying any secured creditors. It would also make amendments to require companies to pay any termination or severance pay owing before paying any secured creditors.
These amendments would inject some fairness and protection into a process that often sees the interests of workers, retirees and their families placed behind all others in a bankruptcy, liquidation or restructuring process.
The recent collapse of Sears Canada has focused attention on the injustices inherent in the Canada bankruptcy and insolvency laws. These amendments would help to fix these imbalances and provide Canadian workers, retirees and their families with the protection they expect and deserve.
Our current bankruptcy laws give priority to investors, banks and parent companies over workers' pensions and benefits. Time and again, proceedings under those laws have resulted in the interests of workers being overshadowed by the interests of rich investors and banks. Workers often lose severance pay benefits, pension benefits and health benefits. People in management also make out like bandits, giving themselves huge bonuses while cutting off the benefits of workers and retirees.
This is an equity issue. At a time when 82% of the wealth in this country is going to the top 1%, and we see executives at Sears being paid over $6.5 million in bonuses while the workers are denied severance or termination pay, have their benefits cut off and see their pensions reduced, we have to recognize and work to eliminate the growing gap between the haves and have-nots in this country. It is a matter of basic decency and human rights. Every Canadian deserves no less.
It is important that I point out one significant difference between my bill, Bill C-384, and the bill before us. I also have to say that I hope it is a difference that can be addressed at committee through what I would like to think would be a friendly amendment. In my private member's bill, there is a clause that would prevent a company from stopping the payment of any retirement benefits during any proceedings under the BIA or the CCAA. This is a fairly common practice, and it causes great hardship for workers and retirees. The exclusion of any language dealing with this problem is the only substantial difference I can see between my bill and the bill before us today.
These legislative changes would inject some fairness into a process that often sees the interests of workers, retirees and their families placed behind all others in a bankruptcy, liquidation or restructuring process. Canadians know that it is wrong to allow pensions and benefits to be stolen and are demanding that our inadequate bankruptcy and insolvency laws be changed to protect workers, retirees and their families.
I have gone across this country to many town hall meetings to listen to people who are concerned. Many people do not know that in our bankruptcy laws, their pensions can be reduced. They think it is a shame. They cannot believe that it is even happening in our country.
What I am trying to get at is that people want to see a change, and they are sending a strong message. In Hamilton, in 2015, I made that commitment to my constituents in Hamilton Mountain and all Hamiltonians. When I crossed the country, I also made that commitment to Canadians. I made a promise that I would fight in this House to make sure that we no longer lose. This is our money. It is deferred wages. When I made that commitment, I know that many others made that commitment and promise, especially all the members from Hamilton. I am going to keep my promise. That is why I am supporting this bill. I expect the other members from Hamilton to support this bill and keep their promise to Hamiltonians also.
In closing, I want to thank the sponsor of this bill. I believe that it is time to change. We have to stop the fearmongering by big corporations that say that they will not get investments. That is just false. We have to turn the tide to make sure that retirees and workers get the money they negotiated all through their lives and that it is not stolen by corporations that want to unload their liabilities because they made mistakes in running their companies.
I thank the members for the time. I hope everyone supports this. We made promises. Let us keep them.