Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to respond on behalf of the Minister of Human Resources Development to my hon. colleague's question.
Based on the advice we have received we believe that the Government of Canada has fulfilled all its contractual and legal obligations concerning the contract between it and Singer.
However, the points of law raised by the former employees are serious and complex, and existing precedents do not provide a definitive answer to the issues raised.
The Minister of Human Resources Development had to refuse the offer to settle out of court made by the lawyer representing the
former Singer employees. The legal issues raised by the employees are, briefly stated, simply too serious and complex.
The minister must ensure that the plan is administered in compliance with the Annuities Act and that the rights of all citizens are respected. The department has nevertheless shown compassion by co-operating fully with the receiver, that is the liquidator, appointed in 1995 by the Régis des rentes du Québec.
Consequently, HRDC employees have done a considerable amount of work without charging liquidator's fees to help divide surpluses held by a private trustee by providing detailed information about each annuitant to the actuaries hired by the receiver.
We should also remember that the Government of Canada has always borne all the administrative costs incurred under the Annuities Act, which today amount to approximately $3 million per year.
The government finds the situation regrettable. Let us remember, however, that the Government of Canada has not abandoned its seniors. Through the combination of old age security benefits and the guaranteed income supplement, the Government of Canada offers low income seniors a monthly income up to $875.16.
We want to repeat that these former Singer employees, if they are to go to court, the Government of Canada will try to ensure that any costs that they may incur are kept to a minimum and that the case progresses as quickly as possible.