An Act to amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act, the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act and the Pension Benefits Standards Act, 1985 (pension plans and group insurance plans)

Sponsor

Daniel Blaikie  NDP

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Outside the Order of Precedence (a private member's bill that hasn't yet won the draw that determines which private member's bills can be debated), as of Feb. 2, 2022

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Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, an excellent resource from the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Bankruptcy and Insolvency ActPrivate Members' Business

June 15th, 2022 / 6 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Shelby Kramp-Neuman Conservative Hastings—Lennox and Addington, ON

Madam Speaker, I am very happy to rise today to speak to this very important piece of legislation tabled by my colleague from Sarnia—Lambton.

Pension protection has been at the forefront of our legislature for what seems like years. Every Parliament has had various attempts to protect worker pensions from insolvency. They are tabled and it seems that every Parliament has this issue which we all agree is important, but it dies on the Order Paper.

Hopefully, Bill C-228, an act to amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act, the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act and the Pension Benefits Standards Act, 1985, will finally see our legislature take concrete action to protect Canadian workers and their hard-earned pensions.

Bill C-228 amends the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act and the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act to ensure that claims in respect of unfunded liabilities or its solvency deficiencies of a pension plan are accorded priority in the event of bankruptcy proceedings. It also provides that an employer has to maintain group insurance plans and provide benefits to, or in respect of, its employees or former employees.

This area has particular importance to me given my previous career as a financial adviser and current career as the official opposition's shadow minister for seniors. Workers spend their entire lives building something for them to enjoy during their golden years. Bill C-228 is a big step forward in securing those years for future generations.

This legislation builds off two previous pieces of legislation that were before the House: Bill C-405 in the 42nd Parliament and Bill C-253 in the 43rd Parliament.

Bill C-405, which was tabled by my hon. colleague from Durham, was unfortunately defeated at second reading. The logic from the government according to the now Minister of Justice, was that the “proposed changes reduce the flexibility of courts based on particular situations and facts. These current flexibilities help to achieve the best outcome for the company and the pensioners and they might conflict with important policy objectives.” The NDP felt that the legislation did not accurately protect pensions.

The following Parliament saw a little more progress on the file. The member for Manicouagan managed to garner enough support to send her attempt to committee despite opposition from the Liberals, who claimed:

[T]he employee group benefit claims would be weakened and that could ultimately weaken companies in their ability to restructure and affect that sense of competitiveness of firms with respect to defined benefit pension plans as well as group insurance benefit plans, which would not necessarily help pensioners and workers in all cases. It has the potential to threaten the existence of defined pension plans.

While the bill may not have been perfect, we on this side of the House were willing to put the financial security of Canadians ahead of any partisan differences and we pledged to send the bill to committee so that it could be improved. Over seven meetings and after consultations with dozens of witnesses and expert testimony, the bill was returned to Parliament amended and improved.

I bring up Bill C-253 because this legislation that we are speaking about here today is very much a spiritual successor to that earlier piece of legislation. The two pieces of legislation share a very large amount of the same text. What Bill C-228 does is build on the very good work that was done on the file in the last parliamentary sitting by amending the Pension Benefits Standards Act, 1985, to empower the Superintendent of Financial Institutions to determine that the funding of a pension plan is impaired or that the pension plan administrator is at risk and to set out measures to be taken by the employer in respect of the funding of the plan in such cases.

Michael Powell, president of the Canadian Federation of Pensioners, said:

We support Bill C-253 and the extension of superpriority to pension deficits. This is the simplest solution to meaningfully improve pension protection for Canadian seniors.

In our Canadian regulatory environment, the only single place to protect pensions is within insolvency regulations. This committee and Parliament face a decision between the status quo—which leaves seniors' future financial well-being at risk and perpetuates an unfair system designed to exclude seniors from protecting their own financial interests, an unfair system that has been proven to significantly harm older Canadians—and a new future that offers protection to vulnerable seniors.

Mr. Hassan Yussuff, former president of the Canadian Labour Congress, was also supportive, saying, “The CLC, of course, supports Bill C-253, and I want to thank the members who voted to advance this bill.”

Unfortunately, an election call meant the death knell for Bill C-253. While the bill itself is dead, the spirit of co-operation among all parties that followed Bill C-253 need not be.

During debate on Bill C-253, the legislation's previous iteration of Bill C-228, the former member for Hamilton Mountain called for support of the legislation, even though he had a similar piece of legislation tabled before the House, Bill C-259. Unless I missed my mark, that legislation has been reintroduced in this Parliament by the member for Elmwood—Transcona as Bill C-225. The former member for Hamilton Mountain said, “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.”

I hope my honourable friend and his party will continue down the path of co-operation and multipartisanship that his predecessor did.

I mentioned earlier how I had a previous life as a financial adviser. I saw first-hand the complete destruction of livelihoods that tore through Hastings—Lennox and Addington when Nortel and Sears went belly up. The financial security of nearly 37,000 Canadians went up in smoke overnight.

These were terrible lessons that affected every single one of our ridings and lessons that we cannot continue to ignore. We, as a legislature, need to work toward protecting Canadian pensioners. We have before us a piece of legislation that has previously received support from the majority of parties in this House. It is a piece of legislation that, in fact, has been tabled by two separate parties. How often can we say that? It is a piece of legislation that has already gone through the scrutiny of a parliamentary committee and debate.

I would suggest to my colleagues in the House that we do the right thing, pass Bill C-228 into law and avoid the fate of so many other attempts to protect Canadian pensioners.

Bankruptcy and Insolvency ActPrivate Members' Business

April 1st, 2022 / 2:20 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Chris Lewis Conservative Essex, ON

Madam Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-228, a bill brought forward by my good friend and colleague, the MP for Sarnia—Lambton.

The intent of this excellently drafted bill is to offer concrete pension protection for Canadian seniors, something that is seriously lacking in Canada’s existing laws. In the context of rising inflation, the alarming increase in our national debt and climbing daily costs, this bill is never more needed than now. As the cost of living keeps going up, seniors will be left without enough to live on if their pensions are subject to insolvency.

A pension is the portion of a worker’s wages that companies put aside for the worker’s retirement. This is not only money that employees have earned; it is understood to be their reward for their years of hard work. It is heartbreaking to hear countless stories of employees who have had their pensions drastically cut and their plans for retirement dashed. One local example of the devastation that results in the absence of adequate pension protection is the former General Chemical plant, a company that was located in the town of Amherstburg in my riding. On the brink of bankruptcy, it pulled up stakes, leaving only hardship in its wake.

In an article in the Windsor Star in 2010, recently updated in 2020, we learned of Fran McLean and how she was impacted. Fran worked for 47 years at the Amherstburg plant. A significant portion of the money Fran had worked hard to set aside for her retirement during those 47 years was lost. She had worked all those years at the same company, sacrificing her time and energy and the better part of her life, only to have the bulk of her pension income taken from her.

Fran’s pension income fell from $2,500 to $1,900, and then came a final cut to $1,000 a month. Imagine the impact of an income cut of $1,500 during retirement years. What does this kind of situation do to a person's mental health? What does it do to their family? What does it say about our nation and the value we put on the seniors who have built our communities?

One of the greatest days of my life was when my grandson, Levi, came into this world. He is a joy to be with. One thing I especially look forward to as he grows up is to be able to buy him hockey gear and take him out for fun activities together with his grammy, my beautiful wife Allison, when we retire, but for those who have lost a major part of their pension, this can be a huge challenge. Now, on top of all that, inflation is making it difficult to even pay for necessities, never mind the things that bring us joy.

Those who have worked hard to contribute to their pensions in the first place now live in fear that without the proper laws in place to protect those pensions, all can be lost. Workers are not even considered priority creditors, and sometimes, as was the case at General Chemical, they are not at the table at all. That is just not right.

I want Canada to lead the way in rewarding hard-working seniors in what are supposed to be their golden years. I just do not see that with the current laws regarding pensions. All Canadians should have a secure and dignified retirement, along with peace of mind when it comes to the contributions they have made to their retirement pensions.

As General Chemical and Sears have shown, the security of a pension can be lost in a moment. We must and can do better for our seniors.

Cody Cooper lives in my riding. He is president of the Chrysler Canada retirees organization. Mr. Cooper puts it like this: “We need to stop using pensions as piggy banks to solve liquidity problems. It doesn’t cost taxpayers anything to ensure people get the pensions they worked their whole lives for.”

That is exactly right. We are not asking the government to pay money to anyone it does not belong to. To be clear, prioritizing workers during bankruptcy does not cost the taxpayer anything. If a company signs a contract with an employee, that agreement should be kept to the end of their employment, and in the case of a pension, to the end of the person’s life. A company should not be able to back out when it comes time to pay.

Bill C-228 brings together past bills of a similar nature and would add some new and significant changes to the existing legislation. The current legislation makes it optional for companies to act on insolvency. Meanwhile, courts can step in, but only voluntarily. This must change.

Bill C-228 answers the problem of pension insolvency in three main areas. First, it would require that an annual report on the solvency of pension funds be tabled here in the House of Commons for greater transparency and oversight. This is exactly the kind of issue that needs more transparency and oversight from the government. Second, it would provide a mechanism to transfer funds into a pension fund to restore it to solvency, to ensure the insolvent portion until the fund can be restored. These first two points will make sure there is scrutiny to ensure that pension funds are solvent, that they remain solvent or that they are fixed if they are starting to slip. Third, in the case of bankruptcy, pensions would be paid out ahead of large creditors and especially executive bonuses. With respect to the latter, companies have been giving out bonuses or paying off their debt to creditors before they pay their employees' pensions. This is a classic example of the rich getting richer.

My good friend and colleague, the MP for Sarnia—Lambton, has shared in her op-ed in The Sarnia Observer that one of her neighbours was let go amid Sears's bankruptcy. At the end of the day, she was only paid 70¢ on the dollar, yet “All the executives got big bonuses”, she said, and “That is just not right.”

In the case of the Sears bankruptcy, former employees had the pain of losing their jobs at Sears and a portion of their pensions from the $270-million deficit in the pension plan. Bill McKinnon from Windsor, who started at Sears in 1975, said, “For us pensioners that were counting on that, we’ve lost our medical, we’ve lost our life insurance, we’ve lost our dental, we’ve lost our prescriptions, and by the looks of it, we’re going to lose over 20 per cent of our pension.”

The Canadian Association of Retired Persons, CARP, did a survey of its members who had pensions, and almost 40% said they were afraid they were going to outlive their money. This is the reality of the current legislation. Seniors have no control of their own money and no control over their finances for their retirement years.

Laura Tamblyn Watts is the chief executive of CanAge, a non-partisan national advocacy group for seniors, and a lawyer and seniors advocate. She said that “everyday Canadians” may not understand the technical terms in the law, but they understand the Sears Canada story. She notes, “For instance, if you tell somebody that the pensioners at Sears in the U.S. didn't lose any money or any benefits—but they lost 20 per cent (of their pension payments) in Canada and really all of their benefits—people are shocked to understand that the U.S. has better protection.”

Bill C-228 has taken into consideration the content of several previous bills, such as Bill C-405 from the Conservative MP for Durham, Bill C-253 from the Bloc member for Manicouagan and a bill from the NDP member for Elmwood—Transcona, who reintroduced the bill by former MP Scott Duvall. That was Bill C-259 in 2020 and is now Bill C-225. In drafting this bill, my hon. colleague has studied and researched the current laws, and has included the many organizations, experts and individuals needed to make this bill a success.

My colleague, the MP for Sarnia—Lambton, is open to amendments to this bill as debate and research continue at committee. Anything proposed that would improve pension protection for our seniors would be on the table for review. That is why I am more than happy to support this excellent bill. I commend my colleague for bringing this issue before the House. Furthermore, in my new role as shadow minister for labour, I am thrilled that this long overdue legislation has been presented to the House. Let us act now before we have another General Chemical or Sears. It is always a good time to do the right thing.

Bankruptcy and Insolvency ActPrivate Members' Business

April 1st, 2022 / 2:10 p.m.
See context

NDP

Daniel Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-228, because it is a bill that grapples with a very important and long-standing issue in Canada's bankruptcy laws.

For far too long, Canadian workers who have had the company either that they work at or used to work at go into bankruptcy have seen their retirement plans and their pensions up for grabs as part of insolvency proceedings. They are having to get in line behind some of the big banks and financial institutions, who are doing very well and get paid out before they do, the people who contributed in good faith over the course of years, in fact, decades in order to be able to safeguard a retirement plan for themselves and for their families.

It is an important issue and something that we have to deal with. I appreciate that the member for Sarnia—Lambton put forth this effort to deal with this issue.

I also thank the member for Manicouagan who has been working hard to resolve this major issue over the past several Parliaments.

I would remiss if I did not give a big thanks to Scott Duvall, a former member of Parliament for Hamilton Mountain and a proud steelworker out of Hamilton, who I think developed the gold standard on how to address this deficiency in our bankruptcy laws. It is something I have tried to honour by re-presenting his bill from the last Parliament as Bill C-225 in this Parliament.

Some of the features of Scott's bill that I think are important would not only amend the bankruptcy laws so that the unfunded liabilities of pension funds take precedence over secured and unsecured creditors, but also seek to ensure that companies cannot stop the payment of retirement benefits during bankruptcy proceedings. It would also require companies to pay any termination or severance pay owing before paying secured creditors.

I think Scott really put together a package on something that he knows well as a steelworker out of Hamilton. He worked for Stelco for many years, and he was an officer in the union that represented those workers. He saw first-hand the really brutal effects of this kind of game that companies sometimes choose to play in bankruptcy proceedings. The kicker, of course, is that sometimes it is the multinational parent company of the very company that is declaring bankruptcy that is a secured creditor and gets paid out before the workers they made the pension promise to and who contributed in good faith. That is one of the further perversions in the state of bankruptcy law in Canada that have to be addressed.

The member for Durham at one point in the last Parliament or the Parliament previous made an attempt to broach this issue in ways that, frankly, we found unsatisfactory and did not think really got to the point. However, I think it is a promising sign that the member for Sarnia—Lambton has addressed the question of so-called superpriority, where pensioners actually are in the line of creditors who have to be paid out in the case of bankruptcy. We welcome that development in this iteration of a Conservative private member's bill on this topic.

I think it is a promising sign to have Conservatives in the fold, to have the Bloc with a demonstrated history of good advocacy on this issue, to have the New Democrats who have cared a lot about this and to have a Liberal government that did commit, in 2015, to take action on this issue and has had some lines in subsequent budgets about trying to deal with it. However, the important fact to note is that, for as much as there has been some commitments on the part of the government, it has not happened yet.

Unlike certain policies, particularly ones that require spending, the virtue of this issue is that it can be solved by legislators with or without the permission or support of government, particularly in the context of a minority Parliament. Where there is good faith, and we have heard some important and sincere signals of good faith from the member for Sarnia—Lambton to work through some of the issues in this particular bill, then we can make progress. As people know, New Democrats are very committed to working with people, whatever their party, if we think we can make progress on important issues that have a direct impact on people.

I do want to flag some of the issues that I think come out of this particular piece of legislation. I alluded to one of those issues earlier in my question to the member for Sarnia—Lambton. I think there is concern about the ability of fund administrators, consulting only with the superintendent, to be able to change the terms and conditions of pension plans.

Of course, we heard loud and clear from Canadians across the country when the government tabled Bill C-27, which would have allowed for a significant restructuring of pension plans without appropriate permission from members or some consent of members, but we know that unfortunately sometimes companies engage in fear campaigns with their membership about the consequences of not doing what the company wants. The company will say the fund will not be solvent and the members are going to lose all their benefits. Often times, there is a lot of misinformation and disinformation in those communication campaigns with members.

We heard loud and clear that people who have defined benefit pensions do not want the rug pulled out from under them. They want to make sure that continues to be the case. We think that it is important that, no matter who it is, whether the superintendent or plan administrator, that they not be able to make unilateral changes to the terms of conditions of a person's plan without their informed consent and without some further rules around what can be done, because sometimes members are told certain things that may or may not be true. If a clause like this is going to go ahead, there needs to be a lot more said about the direction that would be given to plan administrators and the superintendent on how they could try to restructure a plan before taking it to the membership. That is an important point to make.

I also would want to look more carefully at the ability of companies to buy insurance against their unfunded pension liabilities as opposed to simply having to fund them out of their own resources. Insurance sometimes can be used as a tool, but it can also create cracks that people fall through. If it ends up being that the terms and conditions of the insurance do not quite match the circumstances surrounding that particular insolvency, then we might see a company discharged of its obligation to its pensioners without the insurance actually coming through and providing the full support of people's full pension, which they should have a right to.

This point was made earlier but I want to make it again. It is really important to note that, when we talk about people's private pensions, which they have contributed to usually over the course of decades, this is not a handout, this is not a charity thing and this is not a nice thing to have. It is part of the wage package. This is deferred wages.

I think Canadians would be outraged if, in a bankruptcy insolvency, the company could call up their former workers to say they had paid them a bunch of wages and now they want it back, and those people would have to pay their wages back from 1975 because the company got itself into trouble and expects the employees to bail it out.

It is no different when the company goes after the assets in the pension fund because those assets were never meant for the business of the company. They were always meant for the workers who showed up to work, did their part, held up their end of the bargain and made their contributions. They deserve to get the pension they were promised. When we, as legislators, fail to ensure that that pension promise is protected, we hurt not only the people who worked and contributed in good faith over all of those years and their families, but also the very idea of the pension promise at all.

I belong not only to a political party but to a political movement that wants to see more people have defined benefit pensions because it is future people can bank on. When we allow bankruptcy proceedings to undermine the pension promise, what we are saying to workers now is that they should be skeptical of a defined benefit pension plan, that they cannot trust it and maybe they should be investing elsewhere. However, we know that often that does not come to fruition. It is difficult as an individual investor in the market to be able to get the kind of pension security one needs, which is why defined benefit pensions have been such an important tool for working Canadians to carve out a meaningful retirement over the years.

It is why it is so important that we do that, and it is why New Democrats are committed to working with people in this place, as well as with retirees, workers and the organizations that represent them, to make sure that we can get a fix to this problem quickly and we can do it in the best possible way.

Bankruptcy and Insolvency ActRoutine Proceedings

February 2nd, 2022 / 3:20 p.m.
See context

NDP

Daniel Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-225, An Act to amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act, the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act and the Pension Benefits Standards Act, 1985 (pension plans and group insurance plans).

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to present a bill that would correct a long-standing deficiency in Canada's bankruptcy laws, which have had the perverse impact of expecting Canadian workers who have paid in good faith into pension plans throughout their entire career to take a back seat to professional risk-takers, whether those be banks, creditors, investors or others, who invest in companies with surplus capital in order to make money when workers do not have the opportunity to have a whole other 25-year career on the cusp of their retirement.

It is really important that the pension promise be honoured in Canada, as it is in other jurisdictions that have far better protection for the pensions of their workers.

I would be remiss if I did not say a big thank you to the former MP for Hamilton Mountain, Scott Duvall, who did excellent work in developing this piece of legislation, not only as a parliamentarian but also out of his personal experience as a worker and a union officer at Stelco, where workers for many years had the future of their pension called into question because of these inadequacies in our bankruptcy laws.

I look forward to working with members of all parties to find a way forward to get this change finally done.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)