Mr. Speaker, today I want to speak about the Singer affair.
Over a period of some time, we have asked three different ministers a dozen questions in all concerning Singer. Unfortunately, we are still getting vague answers. It is clear from the minister's latest answers that the door to any out of court settlement is being slammed shut. I find this completely disgraceful.
Of course, we could have asked that this matter be raised during proceedings on the adjournment motion each time, but you know that an MP's duties are already sufficiently thankless, difficult and numerous. We do not always have the time, but since we have been stepping up our questions over the last few weeks, we felt it very appropriate today to table a request for a reply from the government. I am pleased that the House is able to grant me four minutes so that I can at least explain the problem.
Today, I want to tell you about a terrible injustice. Between 1942 and 1967, the federal government was trustee of a retirement fund for Singer employees, who, at the time, had great confidence in the federal government. They told themselves that, if the government was looking after it, there was no problem.
Unfortunately, several decades later, there is an enormous problem. From 1942 to 1967, surpluses accumulated in the fund. Instead of observing the terms of the contract it had signed at the time with Singer employees to the effect that these dividends could be paid out at the end to employees, the federal government allowed Singer to stop paying premiums.
Instead of paying its annual share for the employees' pension plan, the company, seeing that there was a surplus, said: "This year, we will pay only part". If the surplus was greater, it said: "We will not pay at all".
Employees continued to pay their fair share, but Singer did not, with the result that, at the end of 1967, the accumulated dividends should have been $450,000. It does not take long to figure out that, if the amount is doubled every eight years, it would be close to $6 million today.
Therefore, if the federal government had kept its part of the bargain, these retired employees, whose average age is now 80, would be receiving $6 million. Unfortunately, the employees and ex-workers perhaps placed a little too much trust in the federal government, because we have asked these questions of three ministers, and three ministers have shut the door in our face.
These employees won their first suit, because there are a number of potential suits. I was telling you that, from 1942 to 1967, the Canada Pension Plan was involved, and then, from 1967 to 1986, the Quebec Pension Plan. They have just won their case against the Quebec Pension Plan and many other cases are pending. One of them is the case involving the federal government, where we will have to get involved in lengthy legal proceedings if the minister shuts the door in our face tomorrow and the day after, the last days before the House rises. There is a statute of limitation, and employees will have to go to court.
People in their eighties have a rather short life expectancy. Although the minister has said some nice things, and told us he will act with all due diligence, being forced into a lengthy lawsuit at this time does not leave these employees very hopeful.
I have some typical examples. My own father worked for Singer for almost 45 years. Do you know what he now gets from the Canada Pension Plan, the federal plan? My father gets $12 a month, after 45 years of contributions. It is a complete travesty. These retired employees are getting $20 a month on average.
They are victims of the federal government and of Montreal Trust, because, beginning in 1967, Montreal Trust also held the money in trust. When their spokesman, Mr. Châteauneuf, to whom I give my regards by the way, lodged his claim, the court agreed to freeze the Montreal Trust fund with approximately $2 million in it.
Despite all that, Singer's counsel took their fees out of the Montreal Trust fund. Montreal Trust was guilty too. Singer, which had changed its name to TSCO in the United States, got away with approximately $10 million. The workers are up against employers who have exploited them all their lives, while these same workers have worked all their lives to build up a pension fund. Now they are staring at nothing.
In conclusion, I tell you that time is of the essence. This case must be resolved. Singer has been granted a $30 million tariff exemption. Now it is the employees' turn. We are asking the department to resolve this matter before the House rises.