Madam Speaker, I rise in the chamber as the NDP critic for pensions on what I believe is one of the most important matters in the pension portfolio before us today. The subject matter of the private member's bill, Bill C-253, regards protections of the employer-sponsored pensions for workers in the case where the employer is undergoing bankruptcy proceedings.
I would like to sincerely thank my Bloc colleague for using her spot in the priority list of Private Members' Business to bring forward these measures. As she knows, I feel strongly about the necessity of these protections put forward, so much that my bill, Bill C-259 contains equivalent measures to every article contained in this bill. I would like to let her and the House know that I am calling on all my NDP colleagues to support the bill at second reading and I hope to see it get to committee.
What I would like to talk about in the short amount of time I have is: first, the importance of pensions and the types of pensions we are talking about; second, the current situations by way of the acts of Parliament and some real accounts of the problem at hand when companies go bankrupt; and third, what Bill C-253 does and does not do.
My speech today will be as much for those at home as it is for those present in the chamber. It is important for all Canadians to know clearly what is at stake here in simple terms so they can ensure that their MP is doing the right thing when they cast their vote on this.
Pensions have become so commonplace in society that some may take their existence for granted. While the administration and accounting of the pension plans by those who manage them may be complicated, the concept is pretty simple and makes their importance clear.
During our working years, we put money away in regular amounts so that we can draw on that fund of money in our retirement years in order to live. Canada's government, like many other governments, has a segment of our pension sector which is socialized. For those of us who are fortunate enough to have contributed to the workforce, we pay into the Canada retirement income system that is made up of, among other things, the old age security, the guaranteed income supplement, the Canada pension plan and in Quebec, the Quebec pension plan.
While I go on about the importance of these retirement incomes and the necessity for their reform, this is not the matter of Bill C-253. The bill instead touches on what I call employer-sponsored pensions. Employer-sponsored pensions are those whereby in an agreement there exists an employer's obligation with respect to a pension plan that it sponsors for its employees. The employer agrees to deduct from their wages an agreed amount to remit to the pension plan fund and agrees to also remit an amount of its own, oftentimes equal to the employee's contributions.
This brings me to talk about the defined benefit pension plan versus defined contribution pension plan and it is important that we distinguish these in order to talk about Bill C-253.
With a defined contribution pension plan, the amount of income we receive is not set but rather depends on how much we happen to contribute and in fact, can drastically be reduced depending on how the investments in that fund were managed by the employer.
On the other hand, with the defined benefit pension plan, the amount of income we receive is set and the administrator of the fund is compelled to be responsible in investing our money. In this type of pension, there could be a pension deficit. This is considered unfunded liability.
We can discuss the problem that Bill C-253 proposes to fix, the situation where an employer is facing bankruptcy and who has obligations under an arrangement to provide an employer-sponsored pension plan. The bill proposes to change the existing laws that deal with such a situation. The Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act, BIA, covers the treatment of a bankrupt employer's obligations with respect to a pension plan and its sponsoring for its employees. The Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act, CCAA, provides a restructuring framework for insolvent companies. The BIA and CCAA provide for priority for the employer to pay both. The employer's contribution is deducted at source, but not remitted to the pension plan fund and employees' contributions owed, but are not remitted to the pension plan fund. In fact, under these laws, a court is disallowed from approving a proposal or plan unless these two are paid.
Here comes the problem. Unfunded liabilities like pension deficits in the case of defined benefit plans that are accrued and due to the pension plan's fund on the date of the bankruptcy come after secured creditors. This means that banks, investors and parent companies would be paid before the shortfalls in the pension plan are covered.
Pensions and benefits earned by workers are deferred wages, plain and simple. Denying workers what they have earned should be illegal, yet under these laws, corporations are allowed to take money meant for workers' pensions and divert them to pay off their secured creditors, like banks. Bill C-253 would stop this practice.
In recent years, workers have suffered significant losses to their pension plans in insolvency proceedings under the CCAA.
For example, Sears Canada initiated proceedings June 2017. The pension plan deficit was $206 million, with an expected recovery of only 8% to 10%, and would leave $200 million unrecovered.
Co-op Atlantic initiated proceedings in June 2015. The pension plan deficit was $63 million and only $7.7 million was recovered, leaving $54.3 million unrecovered.
Wabush Mines initiated proceedings in May 2015 and of the $55 million of the pension plan deficit, only $18 million was recovered, leaving $370 million unrecovered.
Nortel Networks Corporation, which we all know very well, initiated proceedings in January 2009 and of the $1.84 billion of the pension plan deficit, only a little over half was recovered, leaving $841million unrecovered.
For those who follow legislation closely, I would like to state, technically, what Bill C-253 would achieve if passed: it will amend the BIA to prohibit a court from approving an employer's proposal for bankruptcy if there are any unfunded liabilities or solvency deficiency in the associated pension plan of workers; it will require that any unfunded liability within the pension plan be paid in order for a court to approve an employer's bankruptcy plan and given them “super priority” status; it will amend the CCAA to require that an insolvent corporation entering into a “compromise”, which reprioritizes the payment of certain debts and liabilities over others, must pay unpaid amounts of any severance pay or compensation in lieu of notice.
There are some protections that Bill C-253 would not provide, and I would like to cover these.
My bill, Bill C-259, includes a provision that would prevent a judge, during a proceeding under the CCAA, from suspending benefits to employees or pensioners during the course of the proceedings. I think this is important and fair.
Another thing that Bill C-253 would not do is something new that I added to my version of the bill in this Parliament. It proposes to change the Pension Benefits Standards Act to allow the Superintendent of Financial Institutions to determine that the funding of a pension plan is underfunded and can order measures to be taken by the employer in order to correct the impairment.
I want to pass on some reflections on some commentary and quotes from the recent past on measures of these bills. For example:
I like the fact that the word “pension” means deferred income. When we go to work, work an eight-hour day or however many hours we put in, a great deal of consideration is given to the benefits that go beyond that hourly, weekly or monthly rate paid to us. A pension is a deferred income.
Who said that? It was the Parliamentary Secretary of the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, the member for Winnipeg North.
The Liberals campaigned on a promise to improve the income retirement security for all Canadian seniors. It is time for the government to put a stop to this organized theft.
I encourage Canadians watching to call their members of Parliament and ask them to vote in favour of Bill C-253 at second reading and help start the process of ending pension theft by large corporations.
We can also talk about Laurentian University, which is going through the same problem right now. This is devastating. The whole process is being abused and it must be fixed. People's lives are going to be turned upside down on this one. The government must step in and change legislation.
I thank hon. members for their time, and I hope the bill will be given the important consideration that it warrants. I recommend to everybody to send Bill C-253 to committee.