Greetings, and thank you for this opportunity to present to the INDU committee review on Bill C-253.
My name is Trish McAuliffe, and I'm president of the National Pensioners Federation, representing nearly one million members across Canada for over 75 years—not me in particular, but we have been around for 75 years.
We have a strong advocacy group on pension protection. Today, we're here to support Bill C-253, and respectfully, I would like to support your committee with our posed question of “Why now?” after nearly two decades of seeing similar bills being presented in the House of Commons to no avail.
What is different now is our emerging seniors demographic and the 4.2 million retired seniors who rely on defined benefit pension plans.
DB plans are known to be an essential part of Canada’s three economic pillars of our retirement system. We must safeguard all of this, and it will be at no cost to the government, as proposed here in Bill C-253.
Further, it is a COVID crisis response, and for years to come. It is true that the government has provided financial backups for seniors with increases in OAS and GIS funding, recognizing that it is important for every senior to live and retire in dignity at all costs. The best and most efficient way to provide a secure and predictable income for all Canadian workers is, in fact, by having protected defined benefit pension plans and a healthy CPP. Otherwise, government-funded backstops and hard times would only continue to mount.
Again, I know we are all here because we understand this and we want to ensure that all Canadians have a secure retirement income.
Noticeably, the Conservative Party of the past voted down similar bills, yet the new leader, the Honourable Erin O'Toole, has pledged his support towards building better relationships with unions and workers. Here, Bill C-253 could be the start of that opportunity.
Let me further emphasize that defined benefit pension plans are the most efficient way to use current earnings to fund retirement. Worker-organized workplaces, such as unions and associations, have proven track records of working with employers to ensure that defined benefit pension plans are sustainable. Sustainable plans are in workers' best interests as well. Pension plan members pay a significant portion of the cost of their pensions, and these plans are a part of the negotiated total compensation package—a contract, if you will, that your investment will be there for you at the end of your work life, guaranteed. In this context, a “defined benefit” means that the pension promises that an employer makes to a worker become legally binding obligations on the employer. We would argue that it's a deemed trust. Why should that change in priority at any time, and why are retirees not at the table or, at the very least, consulted?
The Canadian economic landscape of the past two decades has offered up many reasons for financial crisis for big business. I experienced this fright myself in 2008, just shy of my own retirement. Workers associations and unions came to the table to negotiate with their employers and the government in the 2008 bailouts to find viable solutions ahead of bankruptcy. Workers and retirees gave concessions, and today those corporations thrive. Workers and retirees have never recovered, nor are they expected to. Is that fair?
Ultimately, banks thrive. Why do we fixate on the lenders and their actors when we've seen, for the past 20 years and more, that it's the retirees, the workers, their families and the community that bear the heavy burden from such sudden bankruptcies?
No sector is untouched by the harms of the CCAA and the BIA. Today, Laurentian University is the first Ontario university to declare insolvency and enter CCAA proceedings, the first line of defence under financial distress. These are public sector workers, and undoubtedly they'll be followed by P3 workplaces as we promote them.
History has shown us that sharpshooter insolvency lawyers have made quarter-century careers of abusing bankruptcy and insolvency legislation to disassemble companies and sell them off for pennies on the dollar. They regularly gut workers' pensions, tear up their contracts and enrich their clients at the expense of employees who were never in positions of power. It's their job, and they're well compensated for it. What's more, they've been destroying the lives of employees and families for the 20 years while we have watched governments debate this devil of a detail.
Madame Gill reminded you of the social toll of bankruptcies. Well, here's a life lesson: Don't expect a different result when you keep on doing the same harm. Try something different.
As coalition advocates for pension security, we have provided many solutions with credible submissions with no cost to government. I ask this question: What have opponents of Bill C-253 or the past likes of it provided?