Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
My thanks to the vice-chairs, to all the members, and to the committee's entire support team.
I am pleased to be before you today. I would like to thank all the members of Parliament who have worked to bring Bill C-253 before a committee today.
I must say that it has been a long haul. In that context, I would like to thank all the members of Parliament before me who have introduced similar bills in the last 20 or so years. It really was in the 2000s that the House of Commons first took up the issue. At least a couple of decades, therefore. But amendments such as the ones I am proposing today have never really been put forward.
I also introduced a bill along the same lines in the last Parliament. Unfortunately, it was not able to make its way through. Allow me to make a quick, critical comment on the legislative process here. Under our rules, some worthwhile bills that could well be in the public interest have no chance of being debated, let alone passed. They do not get through the process if they are not priorities or if, in the case of private members' bills, they simply do not get the luck of the draw.
So, of course, I hope that the government will not be calling an election anytime soon. Then this bill might go even further and go back to the House in order to pass another stage there.
Let me return to the background and the principles that informed the bill as it was being developed. It is basically very simple, despite its title that is almost as long as the bill itself.
In terms of the background, this is a grassroots bill. As members of Parliament, you know that we want to be close to the public and we listen to them. Personally, I make it a point of honour to bring the people's requests to the House. We are conveyor belts. Whether we are in government or in opposition, we are above all representatives of our constituents, not representatives of ourselves or of any particular body.
This bill, therefore, first saw the light of day on the Côte-Nord. But it could equally well have been born in the constituency of my colleague from Newfoundland and Labrador, a constituency also affected by the bankruptcy of Cliffs Natural Resources in 2015. Because of that bankruptcy, workers who had paid into a defined benefits pension plan for their entire careers were deprived of 25% of their pension funds and their insurance when the drama, I might almost say the tragedy, occurred. I will come back to that a little later.
The basic principle, on which a majority of members of the House were in agreement when we voted, is one of deferred salary. In the negotiations between the employer and the unions representing the workers, an agreement is reached that, at a certain point in their careers, they will do without some salary, in order to ensure that they have a pension fund when they retire. Simply put, it means that the money belongs to the workers.
Put another way, to repeat myself in the negative, just like in photography, I could use as an example a worker currently earning $20 an hour. Overnight, he sees his hourly rate dropped to $15. We could not accept that. We could not imagine depriving workers of 25% of their salary. A current salary and a deferred salary should be considered in exactly the same way. It's a salary; it belongs to the workers.
That is the very concrete principle on which the bill is based. Of course, as I am the one proposing it, you might agree that I may possibly have, or appear to have, a conflict of interest. But I completely agree with myself. All joking aside, there is still a principle behind this. Depriving people of a part of their pension fund has concrete and direct consequences in a number of areas.
Those consequences might be manifested in a lot of ways, with many examples, but I will simply talk about two major consequences.
The first consequence is a social one. I am talking here about the Cliffs Natural Resources case, which is really well documented. There have been many mental health issues, such as depression or suicidal behaviour. Of course, people were deprived of a lot. We must also think about the surviving husbands and wives. Women are also affected because they receive no benefits.
We must also consider the entire economic impact, of course.
I see that I have to move a little quicker, because I only have two minutes left.
So we also have the entire economic issue. We must not forget that people buy and invest in the communities where they live. The fact that they are not receiving their full pension deprives them but it also deprives the communities of resources. Individuals are affected by the situation, but so is the surrounding society.
I will really not have the time to talk about the two points that my bill seeks to amend, but I can address them very quickly.
The first is about the priority of the creditors. I deal with this in a very balanced, even very humble, way.
The second is about compensation for insurance, because that is what retirees face in the event of restructuring or bankruptcy.
Let me end with a thought that will surely find agreement among those who have hoped for this bill and the former parliamentarians who have tried to put forward solutions such as the ones I am putting before you today. We should be making legislation for our workers, because they vote. Large companies clearly do not.