House of Commons Hansard #38 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was students.


Question No. 25Routine Proceedings

12:20 p.m.


Raymond Simard Liberal Saint Boniface, MB

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all the remaining questions be allowed to stand.

Question No. 25Routine Proceedings

12:20 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is that agreed?

Question No. 25Routine Proceedings

12:20 p.m.

Some hon. members


The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-5, an act to provide financial assistance for post-secondary education savings, be read the third time and passed.

Canada Education Savings ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity on behalf of the NDP caucus to join the debate on Bill C-5 at third reading. At this point in time, we have listened to this debate in the House of Commons and at committee.

The first observation that comes to mind, which I would share with members listening today, is that virtually all of the stakeholders that are knowledgeable about the issue of access to post-secondary education are critical of Bill C-5. They do not support Bill C-5.

One would think that if the bill had merits, if the bill was hitting the mark, if the bill was actually going to meet the needs out there, we would have some kind of a split, maybe sixty-forty or seventy-thirty or eighty-twenty. One would think some stakeholders would have been motivated to come to the committee and share with MPs and the political parties they represent that this in fact was a bill that had merit, that they thought it would address the issue of access to post-secondary education, but there were none.

I think it is only fair that we should be guided by the input that we get at the standing committee. We should take guidance from what we hear from Canadians and the associations and organizations that ordinary Canadians form and we should take it seriously.

The federal government is introducing this measure to offset what it has done with post-secondary education, which is to cut, hack and slash the transfer payments in the Canada health and social transfer from which the provinces draw post-secondary education funding.

We believe that the measures found in Bill C-5 will not offset the drastic effect that these cutbacks have had over these past many years. We believe that Bill C-5 falls well short of making up for the effect of the cutbacks in social transfers. We should remind people that the Canada health and social transfer pays for health, post-secondary education and social allowances. There is no dedicated budget line for post-secondary education. This is block funding. It is all grouped together. It is up to the various provinces to do the best they can with that block funding to meet those three very important social needs: health care, education and social allowances.

Most provinces have been unable to backfill the cutbacks from the federal government without dramatic tuition increases. In the province of Manitoba where I come from, Winnipeg Centre, we wrestle with this every budget year. So far we have managed to freeze tuition increases since 1999 so we have reasonable tuition fees in relation to the other provinces, but it is still a very difficult situation for many who wish to further their education.

What we find fault with in Bill C-5 is not just the content of the bill but the very tone of the bill. This in fact is why the member for Halifax moved the amendment at report stage to delete the stated purpose in Bill C-5. The amendment she moved called into account the fact that this bill calls upon low income people, essentially, to encourage them to save for their children's futures.

That all sounds very good on paper, but nowhere in the tone of the bill or the tone of the stated purpose of the bill does it take into consideration that many people do not have the luxury of that choice, of “How much this month will I put toward my children's education?” If in fact they are seized with basic needs issues and their monthly spending choice is about paying the rent or buying food or buying clothes for their children, how much they are going to put toward their children's educations is not a luxury they have to wrestle with.

Nowhere is this more true than in the inner city riding of Winnipeg Centre that I represent. It is the third poorest riding in Canada. I see on a daily basis the predictable consequences of chronic, long term poverty, with parents, many of them heads of single parent families, struggling to meet the basic needs. It is not a matter of these people pulling up their bootstraps and making smart investments to pay for their children's post-secondary education. When we are struggling with meeting basic needs, it is not really something we can plan, no matter whether the government is going to assist us in that saving or not.

On a larger scale, this type of plan is similar to some of the funding announcements that the federal government has made for other provincial spending where it calls for matched dollars. In some recent programs, after a decade of cutbacks, as the faucet is turned back on, more often than not the federal government has put strings attached to this funding that has to be matched by the provinces or the municipalities. This never happens because the provinces and the municipalities are already struggling under the weight of trying to make up for the shortfall in the transfer of money over the past decade.

It is a bit of a smoke and mirror game where the federal government can say that it has announced spending in a certain sector and that it is being generous in its transfer to the provinces but what it does not tell the public is that the money is conditional on being matched by the province or the municipality, which rarely happens.

Money therefore is left on the table because the province or the municipality is unable to match the dollars. This is the same sort of policy guideline here. The government is looking to low income people to avail themselves of a program in which they cannot afford to participate.

As I mentioned at the outset, none of the stakeholders on this issue are fans of Bill C-5. It is helpful for us to look at some of the comments that they made. When they came and made representation to the standing committee they made many clear, articulate and well thought out objections to the program.

The president of the University College of Cape Breton noted, “As a parent who is currently enrolled in Canada's PSE system and struggling to support children, I find it an insult that the government believes it has to tell me about the importance of post-secondary education through the Canada learning bond”.

This woman was pointing out I suppose more the tone of the bill rather than the content. It is critical all the same. This particular witness went on to say “Bill C-5 would not help women who were working hard, not just to lift themselves and their children out of poverty, but who were genuinely trying to gain an education”.

That was actually a comment from the Federation of Single Parent and Blended Family Association, which represents 60 other associations from all regions of Quebec. Their argument was that the bill would not help that demographic group that is seeking to better themselves through education.

I think we are all cognizant of the fact that the way to go from poverty to middle class in one generation is through education. Therefore the New Democratic Party believes that extraordinary measures are justified if we are to deal with the embarrassing number of Canadian families and children who are living in poverty.

In my riding of Winnipeg Centre, the statistics are shocking. Forty-seven per cent of all families in my riding live below the poverty line. Fifty-two per cent of all the children in my riding live below the poverty line. One would not think that would be the case in a modern, cosmopolitan city like Winnipeg but it is the case.

We were hoping that the government would be thinking outside the box when it came to providing better access to post-secondary education for students, no matter what their means testing or what their parents' income.

After seven surplus budgets one would expect some bold policy statements from the government rather than this document, Bill C-5, which is essentially telling poor people to pull up their boot straps, save their pin money and the government will maybe help match that up to a very small amount per year.

Instead of that kind of patronizing attitude, we expected something bolder. I do not know why people in this House of Commons, where we should be having debates about broader abstract policy issues, are not talking about free education for post-secondary education.

Knowing what we know now, that kindergarten to grade 12 is not good enough, why are we not talking about using this budgetary surplus, or part of it, to broaden the public schools acts in the provinces to say that education should mean kindergarten through one's first degree for instance, or phase that policy in by saying that the student's first year of university education will be picked up by the government.

This is the kind of bold thinking that we would expect. We could have the debate about how that will be paid for, but I do not hear anyone putting forward the idea that if a person cannot get by in today's workforce without at least one university degree, why are we talking about the public schools act being extended to include kindergarten through 12 and one's first university degree. If a person wants to specialized then he or she can find ways to finance that tuition.

If that had been the starting point of this debate perhaps then we could have had people tell us why it would be difficult or tough to implement, or to debate how we would get the financing for that. However I do not hear that kind of thing being debated here. I hear nickel-and-diming to offset the cutbacks to post-secondary education that has occurred in the last year which has put such a terrible stress on the provinces to finance the institutions that were once international leaders in terms of adequately funded institutions for which we could be proud.

The University of Winnipeg has a net mesh surrounding the exterior of Wesley Hall so that bits of crumbling brick and mortar do not fall on the students' heads as they go to university. That is the crumbling state of the institutions across the country, both figuratively and literally, because as much as there is stress on the physical side, there is an equal amount of stress on the budget to pay salaries, provide research money and to be at the leading edge of the subject matter on which they are supposed to be authorities. Our post-secondary structure is crumbling through neglect because it has not been prioritized.

For all the flowery and romantic language we hear from the Prime Minister and others that post-secondary education is the vehicle by which a generation shall rise from poverty, et cetera, access is getting more difficult. Yes, more students are going to university, so statistically the tuition rates have not been an absolute barrier to participation, but when we look at who is getting to go, it is not the children of the families who need it most. It is the children of middle class and well off families who are prioritizing education because they know they need at least one degree to make it in the world today.

That brings me to another aspect of my riding of Winnipeg Centre. I have an urban aboriginal population of over 16,000 who self-identify as aboriginal on the census. We believe there are many more who have come since the census was taken and some who do not fill out that box on the census. I raise this only to indicate that the stated policy objective of the Minister of Indian Affairs for this Parliament is to get more aboriginal and first nations kids into post-secondary education to help build the administrative capacity in that population and help lead their people out of the abject poverty that we know is a national social tragedy.

However this incredible glaring contradiction exists, which will come into effect on January 1. The government will start taxing all the benefits given to first nations kids for post-secondary education by their community as income. What a glaring contradiction. It should be exposed here in the House of Commons and it should be exposed publicly because the predictable consequence of this action will be that fewer first nations kids will be able to go to university. If they are given $10,000 this year to pay for tuition and living out expenses and they have to pay 40% of that off the top in taxes, the community will have to give them more money to live, ergo they can send fewer kids to school, ergo there will be fewer kids in university from first nations and aboriginal backgrounds.

This is more about a shot across the bow on aboriginal and treaty rights than it is about any kind of logic having to do with post-secondary education. I am critical of the government for coming through the back door in what I believe is a cowardly way. If the Liberals cannot win the debate publicly that they do not accept post-secondary education as an aboriginal and treaty right, they are trying to introduce this concept by saying that because we only view post-secondary education as a government policy, not an aboriginal and treaty right, we can unilaterally and arbitrarily change that policy and start viewing it as income and therefore taxable. That is the disagreeable part of this fundamental policy shift, notwithstanding the disagreeable nature of the predictable results, which will be fewer aboriginal kids in university. However, coming in through the back door with this kind of change is a shot across the bow on aboriginal and treaty rights.

Education has always been an aspect of treaty rights and the courts have always viewed education to be open-ended. However, to be fair, when the treaties were signed nobody ever expected an Indian would want to go to university. Maybe they were talking about education as basic literacy or basic reading and writing, but the courts have viewed education to be open-ended. There is no stated limit. In the absence of any language to the contrary in these treaties, education was viewed to be education period.

As of January 1 the government will challenge that orthodoxy. The government will say that it views aboriginal rights to education to mean kindergarten to grade 12 and that anything else is an optional government policy that it will allocate and award at its pleasure or will change the nature unilaterally without consultation at its pleasure.

If this is an indication of how the government is trying to deviate from or derogate aboriginal and treaty rights, it is very worrisome. It is also contrary to the flowery and even romantic language with which the Prime Minister began his tenure in this Parliament with the smudging ceremony and the Speech from the Throne that cited aboriginal progress, in the social tragedy that is aboriginal life in this country, as the number one key priority of his government, when it seems the government is going to chip away and erode aboriginal and treaty rights and look toward a completely different mindset in addressing those issues.

I could not make a speech on post-secondary education without mentioning this, as I am reluctant to deviate from the comments that have been made on Bill C-5. Bill C-5 and post-secondary education policy in my riding means aboriginal access to post-secondary education. I believe it is related in a way that is unavoidable.

I do not see how the government can ignore the fact that virtually every one of the stakeholders who came before the committee to speak to Bill C-5 criticized it resoundingly and made the point that it was going in the wrong direction. They were not satisfied.

Mr. James Kusie, the national director of Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, said:

The greatest problem of learning bonds, however, is that they place heavy expectations on low-income families that simply do not have the resources to contribute significant amounts annually to an RESP for each of their children. Even if families are completely aware of the benefits of saving for education, low-income Canadians cannot afford to save the necessary funds to pay for education funds while still putting food on the table.'s like giving a low-income family $500 and a Mercedes-Benz and expecting them to finance the rest of the car.

What a profound statement from Mr. James Kusie, the national director of CASA, who is probably a student himself. His statement accurately reflects the reservations that we have about Bill C-5.

Canada Education Savings ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am in favour of Bill C-5 and the principle of helping aboriginal youth to get an education.

The member misspoke himself on the example he used about $10,000 being given to students and that they would be taxed 40% right off the top. The fact of the matter is that every taxpayer in Canada is eligible for a personal non-refundable tax credit which is worth some $8,000 plus the tuition itself as a tuition expense deduction, plus there is the education expense deduction.

In fact, the person would pay no tax, not 40% off the top. Indeed, the unused amount of the tuition and the education expense deduction are transferable to the parents, so that they can use it to reduce their income. The member misspoke himself and I hope he will be able to acknowledge that.

I would also like to suggest that across the board benefits are very expensive. The reason we would want to tax or include the amounts paid to someone for this benefit and include it in income is because there are some people who do not need it. If we apply it across the board, we are taking a defined pie and spreading it very thinly as opposed to paying a higher level of benefits to those who really need it.

I raise those points for the member's consideration and I would entertain his comments.

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12:40 p.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, we view this policy change as a shot across the bow on aboriginal and treaty rights and changing the definition of what education means as it pertains to aboriginal and treaty rights.

This is a fundamental shift, a unilateral policy shift by the government. Were it viewed as an aboriginal and treaty right by the government, there would be a requirement for a consultation process. The government is allowed to deviate from constitutional rights as they pertain to aboriginal people but only with justification, which is what the recent court rulings have told us.

In extreme and rare cases where there is justification, then the government may in fact deviate from these constitutionally protected rights usually with compensation and after consultation. Consultation does not mean just posting the change. It means accommodating some of the views expressed by the other party. Therefore, consultation with accommodation is a much different thing than the government unilaterally firing this salvo on the issue of whether or not education is to be considered an aboriginal or treaty right.

The reservations that I raised about Bill C-5 could be summed up in a simple way. I think I speak on behalf of many of the stakeholders who came before the committee. They said to take the same amount of money that we were dedicating into this program and put it back into the Canada health and social transfer so that the provinces could adequately fund the universities and cope with some of the systematic cutbacks of the last 10, 12, and 15 years, The government paid down the deficit and at least one-third of the money that it put toward the debt came from savings in the Canada health and social transfer. That is education, health and social welfare.

The government must have predictions. Its policy people must have worked out the total cost of this program. If it were to apply the total cost, it could put that back into the CHST and let the provinces shore up their sagging post-secondary education structure in bricks and mortar and fund those programs.

Canada Education Savings ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.


Bradley Trost Conservative Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to my hon. colleague's comments. I think he has a sincere interest in advancing the cause of his constituents and advancing the cause of young people who grew up in poverty and want to get a better and more adequate education.

I have a comment and a question. The member seems to concentrate on the institution of the university and not so much on the individual person. Coming from a rural background, many of my schoolmates and friends never had the ambition or interest to go to university. They wanted to become electricians, carpenters, start their own farms, start a business, and so on.

When I listen to the debate about funding the institution, I wonder why we do not get around to talking about delivering the need to individuals. Individuals can more directly and more adequately make the decision about their education and how their lives will be more productive, be it a tech school, a trade or starting up an innovative new business.

What ideas would the hon. member have and how would he encourage more emphasis on the individual, instead of merely an institutional approach of funding universities?

Canada Education Savings ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, personally, I am a journeyman carpenter. I am not university educated. I hold great value in the idea that not everyone chooses the academic route for their post-secondary learning.

When people ask me what my education is, I show them my carpenter's certificate with as much pride as people who show copies of their B.A. that they hang on the wall. I certainly value other types of post-secondary education, and in fact life-long learning. I will concede that some of the remarks from Liberals on the government side today, in speaking about Bill C-5, were that the money saved in this account could be applied later in life for life-long learning or career change education. I recognize that as a valuable thing.

I view the skilled trades as post-secondary education. I would encourage young people to consider going into these skilled trades as a viable career option. It is a well-paid viable career option. I have friends who worked at the Husky upgrader in the member's home province and who 10 years ago were making $60,000 and $70,000 a year as pipefitters et cetera, although unionized pipefitters. There is a good life to be made in the skilled trades as long as workers belong to the appropriate building trades union.

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12:45 p.m.


David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member for Winnipeg Centre is certainly the first one I have heard who has introduced the notion of aboriginal and first nation needs vis-à-vis the education system.

Within the last couple of weeks at the public accounts committee, we received the annual report from the Auditor General which indicated that post-secondary education accessibility as it relates to aboriginal and first nations peoples compared to the rest of the population was way out of wack. In fact, it was so far out of wack that in order to get the proportion of the population graduating within the aboriginal first nations community as compared to the balance of the population in the nation, it would take 27 years to catch up.

The Auditor General reported that, as a result of the government not following up on commitments it made to the public accounts committee, and more importantly, to those communities themselves, we are now in a situation where the Auditor General reports that instead of taking 27 years to catch up it would take 28 years. The trend line is going the wrong way. I wonder what the member for Winnipeg Centre would have to say about that.

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12:50 p.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, no matter what social indicator we use, aboriginal people rank at the bottom of the socio-economic scale in this country. The level of participation in post-secondary education of aboriginal people is almost as embarrassing as the over-representation of aboriginal people in our prison population. It is a glaring and socially predictable juxtaposition that we have here.

Whatever indicators we use, the country can no longer ignore that it is in nobody's interest to have this permanent underclass and all the predictable consequences that come from having a permanent underclass. The measures we are taking are clearly not working. I try not to be critical in this regard. I simply point out that we have failed to adequately put an end to this social tragedy and until it becomes a key social objective of Parliament, we will continue to face these glaring social inequities.

Canada Education Savings ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.


David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to join in the debate with my own remarks as they relate to Bill C-5. I had an opportunity earlier this morning to raise a few comments in response to the speeches of others. The message, for any members who were here earlier, certainly has not changed.

The difficulty we have with this is not what it does, so much as what it does not do. It provides for those who already have some means, to the extent they have disposable income, to put away money for their children's education. It does not address the needs of those families and individuals that do not have the means to make the contribution, which at the end of the day means that accessibility is not what Canadians have come to believe accessibility to be.

Let us take a step back. This is a whole new era. Parliamentarians and middle aged people who are watching did not see all of this when we were younger. We did not have the registered education savings plans and the whole notion that individuals needed to put money away for university. When I was growing up, if a person was smart enough, worked hard enough, and wanted it bad enough, a university education was not out of reach even though mom and dad were not rich.

In fact, one of the things that has made this a great nation is that we ensure that people with the ability, desire and willingness to work hard can achieve their goals in this country. We see it somewhat differently from our friends to the south, who see it almost as a dog eat dog situation. We have approached it in a somewhat more gentile manner. We think that the more successful people we have in Canada, the more successful everyone will be. It is not a question of pushing someone down so someone else can get ahead. The more of us we can lift up, the stronger we are as a nation.

I run the risk of getting into serious trouble with the highest authority in this room, but I suspect the Speaker is of an age where he would recall, through his studies I am sure, as I can, that throughout decades past, serious investment was made in post-secondary education at the college level and university level. Certainly in Ontario, which I know best. That is when the college system came into being.

I have attacked a former Conservative Ontario premier, Mike Harris, which I will probably do frequently in my time in this place. However, I am also prepared to acknowledge when a Conservative premier does the right thing. The premier who brought in the college system and beefed up the university system as it is now known in Ontario was Bill Davis.

Canada Education Savings ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.


Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON

In a minority government.

Canada Education Savings ActGovernment Orders

December 3rd, 2004 / 12:50 p.m.


David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

In a minority government, my friend from the government benches reminds me. That is another good reason to continue with a fine tradition we have started with the 38th Parliament. In those years the premier of the minority government of Ontario recognized that, with a little pressure, sure enough, but I try to give credit where credit is due. We have a warm spot for former premier Davis in our province for the initiatives that he took as the education minister, which were significant and made a difference.

Our generation, people who are my age, give or take, the boomers, benefited from the dividends of those public investments in the university system, and in the creation and funding of the community college system. For those whose skills, talents and desires did not suit university, the college system was there to provide skills development, so that those with other talents still had an opportunity to play a significant role in our economy and have the best quality of life for themselves and their families. We benefited from that.

At that time, the politicians of the day, like us here, said this was important and so they made the investment. These were Tories who saw this, not as my friend earlier referred to as willy-nilly throwing money but investing. Tories understand that. They understand investing today. Then it builds and we have something down the road. We are investing the time in trying to educate those who are having some trouble with this because they need to understand that not all Canadians are going to benefit from this.

We are benefiting from the dividends of that investment, and believe me they were massive. This is the same party, the Tories in Ontario, whose mantra was often “tax cuts, tax cuts”, but there was a recognition. It scares me when the younger Tories are like that. The older ones I can almost understand, but I do not know how one gets to be 25 years old and is already 50.

We are benefiting. My colleague who was applauding is at the tail end of the generation that benefited from that investment. I hope I am not wronging the member in any way by assuming that he went on to pursue some post-secondary education, but if he or other members did, they benefited from the investment that was made in post-secondary education in the post-World War II era, in the 1950s, 1960s and into the 1970s. The difficulty is that without a reinvestment, like maintenance money for machinery and other means of production, it is going to break down, and when it breaks down it is not going to serve us the way that we expect it to.

The education system is the same way. There have to be investments along the way to maintain it, to build on it, to make sure that we maintain the vision that the original architects had of what post-secondary education would be in this country. If they had not done that, we would not have that benefit now, but it is petering out because there has not been the subsequent investments over the last 10 years or so.

Instead of addressing that head on and being the generation that picks up the gauntlet to make sure that the investment goes back into the post-secondary education system, we get this system that benefits families with disposable income. I grant that for families that have disposable income, that have enough money to make the investment, this is not a bad thing. This is not an evil bill. What upsets us is the suggestion by the government that this bill addresses a real need.

Odds are for those who have a few thousand dollars and it is not a big deal, they could put it into an RESP. The reality is that that is probably a nice financial tool in their portfolios but it is not the determining factor in whether or not their children will be able to go to university. In other words, if they have the money to put into an RESP, some of those folks are going to have the money to send their kids to university.

That has never been that problem. The wealthy in Canada, the wealthy around the world, the wealthy historically have always made sure that their children were well educated. All of us want that for our children but historically it has only been those who have the means who have been able to send their children to get the kind of education that people took for granted when I was younger.

I want to take just a moment to talk of the role of post-secondary education. I want to set the stage here as to how this fits into the context of education now in Canada and what it means to individuals, the students and their families, but also to our nation on the broader scale.

One of our economic advantages is not that we have the lowest tax structure in the world. Our competitive advantage is not that we have the lowest environmental protection laws in the world, where people can come in and make all the investments they want without having to worry about environmental protections or any of that sort of thing. That is not why. Our competitive strength does not come from having the weakest labour laws in the world so people can come in and exploit our citizens.

Our competitive advantage in large part comes because of the value added that our workforce--and I say that whether one is a doctor or a bus driver--is healthy, skilled, and well educated in the broadest sense. That is the advantage. If it was pure tax cuts, we could go to one of the southern states in the U.S. If it was just about exploitation, right now the hot spot seems to be China or other third world nations.

We have significant investment in Canada. I read a report the other day that suggests Ontario is about to surpass Michigan in terms of the greatest number of cars produced.

That is not done for the reasons I have mentioned and it is not done because we have weak environmental laws. It is not based on our weaknesses or how we can undercut other states and jurisdictions around the world. Those who can pay their workers the least amount get the investment will not work in Canada. It never has and never will.

This is what does work for those who want to invest in Canada. First of all in honour of Tommy Douglas, we have got about a $6 to $10 an hour advantage because Canadian employers do not have to pay health insurance premiums for their employees. It is part of the national system. It is part of our general revenue system. We have that built in structurally. It is another good reason to maintain our universal health care system.

More important, modern assembly plants now require people who can operate a lot of high end technical equipment, and it is changing all the time. Exploited workers do not learn how to adapt to a new technology very quickly. The fact that we have a skilled and educated workforce, homegrown, makes the difference. It is everything. That is our competitive advantage.

If we could not do it on that front, then unfortunately, we would have to say, “We will have to water down environmental protection, health and safety and cut the minimum wage. We will have to find some other way where we have an advantage over others”. No, most countries would give their right arms to have the challenge that we have, which is simply to maintain what we already have which is one of the most educated, healthy workforces in the world.

As a result, we do get investment. It is not always the best, but I can say that the billion dollars that just went into Ford in Ontario was very welcome. Ford did not make that investment based on all those other issues I mentioned. Ford made it because it can make money in Canada, in large part because of the workforce we can provide to any future employer.

We talk about the university level, the Ph.D. Obviously I do not have a post-secondary education and maybe I appreciate it more than most because I do not have one. However, I know that the more people who graduate from universities, the more people who graduate from our colleges and the more people who get active in our apprenticeship programs and become journeypersons, like my friend from Winnipeg Centre, the stronger I will be, the stronger my family will be, the stronger my hometown of Hamilton will be and the stronger this country will be.

We do not disagree on that. I did not hear a whole lot of heckling or see too many dirty looks as I was making these comments. Most people accept that the value added of our skilled workforce is one of our key competitive advantages.

That takes us full circle, right back to the inevitability of the critical importance of providing the population with an education system that is accessible to them. All that I have talked about means nothing if ordinary families cannot send their sons and daughters to the post-secondary education institutions. It does not work. That is why we are a little louder in terms of raising this issue than we might otherwise be. We are not so much opposed to what Bill C-5 does. What Bill C-5 purports to do and what the government says it will do, is what upsets us.

The parliamentary secretary and I had an interesting exchange earlier. We talked about the fact that while enrolment rates are up, it is going the wrong way for lower income families. With the growing gap between the haves and the have nots, not just in the world but in our own country, it means that we need to take steps to ensure that those students are getting an opportunity to go on. We are acknowledging that this will not do that, so we are still left with the problem.

I would feel a whole lot better about this whole debate if the government would simply stop saying that this is some kind of panacea, that this will be the big piece that solves the problem. It will not. All the major student union groups are opposed to this for that reason, because of what the government says it will do and they know it will not.

Leading educational experts, not just a small group here from the opposition, are opposed to Bill C-5. Why would students oppose it if it worked? If it worked they would be happy and we would not be having all these great quotes. They are here because the students themselves see that Bill C-5 will not answer the question.

This legislation will still leave a lot of students with debts of $30,000, $40,000, $50,000, or $100,000. We talked earlier about the fact that a lot of them are not going into the system. They are not going into the system because they are looking at that debt and they do not want to start their lives with that kind of anchor around them.

I do not recall my contemporaries when I was growing up being fearful of going to university because it would somehow have a negative impact on their lives. That is not the way it was. It ought not be that way now. It does not have to be that way now.

It makes so much sense to invest the dollars where it will help the nation, where it will help all of our respective provinces and territories, all of our hometowns, right to the centre of each of our universes, our own families. That is the impact of this issue. We collectively, and the government specifically, are not responding in that fashion.

Maybe the government has taken a look at the demographics. Maybe it has done its polling and found that the people who are not accessing post-secondary education or putting money into RESPs do not have the money, or whatever reason, and that most of them do not vote anyway. We all know the truth. The reality is the higher the income, the higher the education, the higher up people are on the socio-economic scale, the more likely they are to vote in this country. I would like to think that is not what is happening.

I am at a loss to understand why the government would be so reticent to make investments that would give back so much. If this were done right, as former premier Bill Davis did, those dividends would pay for generations. It requires each of us in our time, during our watch, to stand up and ensure that we make the necessary investment to pay respect to those who came before us and to maintain and make better the education system that we want and need for our young people.

I look forward to the give and take over the next 10 minutes. Bill C-5 does not do any great harm, but it sure falls short of the speechifying of the Liberal caucus.

Canada Education Savings ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.


Pierre Poilievre Conservative Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by first informing the hon. members across the way that oftentimes the unions of students who come to this place to lobby do not speak for the students that they purport to represent. I say that as the youngest member of Parliament in Canada, I also am probably the most recent attendee at a Canadian university of anyone in this room.

There is tremendous frustration among students at the radicalism of some of the student organizations that find themselves here. Indeed, these organizations spend hard earned student dollars on radical causes and on protests that have no correspondence with the issues that matter to real, every day students.

I want to move on to an entirely different point. There is some area where we can find some agreement with the hon. member from the New Democratic Party.

As a recent student, I can point to one of the greatest costs that students face. It is beyond tuition and it is beyond just food and other traditional costs that one would expect. It is the enormous cost of books.

What a lot of non-students do not realize is our young people are paying in the neighbourhood of $1,500 to $2,000 a year on textbooks. This bill does not deal directly with it, but I want to take this opportunity to address what I believe is an injustice which students face every year.

These books could be far cheaper. We could get them for the price of maybe 10% of what we are paying now. The reason we cannot is because year after year the professors in the universities demand that a new edition of the textbook be purchased. Instead of allowing students to sell their used books to students who take over their seats in the class, the books collect dust in their basements for the next six or seven decades. New students then have to pay between $150 or $200 for the same textbook that they could have bought for a fraction of the price from the outgoing students.

I do not know exactly what the remedy is for this problem. It seems utterly insane that young people are spending exorbitant amounts of money, paying for books that they could acquire for a fraction of the price if only it were not for the need to buy the new edition every year.

It is very clever for the publishing companies. They change a few pages and alter a bit of the content. The reality is, substantively the book is the same. They run year after year profits on the backs of students.

Would the hon. member offer some solutions to this problem?

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1:15 p.m.


David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for paying enough attention to want to comment. I did note that he was listening.

I might also say it was pure happenstance. Sometimes we just get darn lucky. I was trying to find a younger member of the House and I happened to pick the youngest. I think I made my point. I am pleased he got a chance to enunciate his particular place in history in this place, and I say that sincerely. There are 308, so grab whatever the member can. We work hard for it.

I will be right upfront. I do not know a lot about the whole issue of professors insisting on upgrades every year. I would not be doing justice to the member's comments, other than it seems there are some common sense concerns there. I will leave it to others who know more to maybe speak to that.

I was a little disappointed. I had hoped the member would take a moment to reflect on the fact that he indeed had benefited from that major investment made so many decades ago. He is one of the last generational beneficiaries of the original investment. I believe he has an obligation, as do I, to ensure that our generation here on our watch ensure that we pony up the money that we need to give his children and grandchildren the same opportunities that he and I have had.

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1:15 p.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, to my colleague from Hamilton, I would like to ask him his views of another contradictory move from the government.

When the current Prime Minister was the minister of finance, he changed the bankruptcy laws so students who may be saddled with crippling debt load as a result of high tuition, which stemmed from his cutbacks to social transfers for education to the provinces, could not file bankruptcy for 10 years. Whereas, I believe the limit is three years for an ordinary citizen.

Not only did the government saddle students with unprecedented debt load, it took away their one avenue of recourse, or remedy, to come out from under that should the situation become unbearable to them from a financial point of view. Would the member speak to that contradiction?

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1:15 p.m.


David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to focus on that. It has been the subject of some serious discussion and debate within our caucus. In fact our colleague from Halifax has sponsored Bill C-236 which is meant to change that very issue and move it from 10 years to two years so students have some opportunity to have a sound footing for a future.

It makes no sense to go through the whole process of doing everything we can collectively to provide accessibility and professionalism in a post-secondary education system if students who come out of that system in their early twenties feel their financial life is over before it has even begun.

We see this as an important critical component. We hope colleagues would look at Bill C-236 in that light. Hopefully, if not the Prime Minister, his representative would acknowledge that they made a mistake when they made that change. Now in this minority government, we have a unique opportunity, through the bill of the hon. member for Halifax, to correct that mistake. That represents another positive step forward as opposed to the sort of pretend step that Bill C-5 is taking.

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1:15 p.m.


Ed Broadbent NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to speak briefly in this important debate. I want to begin with what I think is a salient fact that should be relevant to Canadian decision makers on this subject.

Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Belgium and Finland are countries with comparable national incomes to our own. I am speaking now not only as a member of Parliament, but as a man who spent the last few years teaching at universities in the country.

These countries have the lowest child poverty rates in the world, varying between 2% and 5%. What do they provide in their societies? Free child care, free secondary education and free university education. In fact, in a number of these countries, in addition to waiving tuition, they provide money for books and some of them residence costs for students.

Incidentally, this is not only is this social justice. They show the lowest gaps in final income distribution between the rich and the poor of any other societies in the world. They also have, from the point of view of the economy, the most innovative economic systems, if we are to generalize. If we look at productivity increases in these five countries and compare them with Canada in recent years, they either meet or in most cases exceed our productivity increases as an economy.

What is the moral of this? The moral is, and it goes to the root of social democratic philosophy, that it is not only correct to invest our resources as a society in our children in principle, but to ensure equality of the right to development. The real opportunity for a young boy or young girl to maximize his or her potential as a human being is the ethical impulse of social democracy. The economic spin-off is immense. If we put these resources in early on, then the whole society benefits later on. That is the point.

For me, it is not accidental that almost 90% of those who appeared before the committee on the bill opposed it.

I heard a young Conservative a minute ago ask a question of my colleague. He made a point that these so-called radical student associations often did not speak for their students as a whole. I taught students recently. I taught in British Columbia at SFU, at Queen's University in Kingston and most recently at McGill in Montreal, for three years. I can tell the member that overwhelmingly the students, whether they are in Ontario, Quebec or British Columbia, would condemn the bill.

As for the associations that came before the committee, it was not just student associations. Student associations in English Canada were there. The Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec was there. As well, the Canadian Association of University Teachers was there. Is that a radical group? The Canadian Council on Social Development and the National Anti-Poverty Organization opposed the bill. These groups are concerned about the well-being in the context of average and low income students. They are not out furthering some so-called radical agenda.

Why are they opposed? What is the problem? I saw it with my students in these universities. Working class kids, if they get into university, had to spend up to half their time working outside the classroom to pay the cost of tuition.

I came from a working class family in the 1950s. I did not have to spend all my time working while I was at university. I worked at Christmas, I worked in the summer. On some weekends, I had a part time job. However, I spent most of my time learning. That is what university students should be free to do. They should not have to spend all their time working, I had students who spent up to 30 hours a week, because they could not afford the tuition or the costs to live at university.

The problem is existing students have a burden on them out of all disproportion compared to what we had when we were growing up. My students, upon graduating, correspond to the statistics of a $30,000 debt burden to the statistics of having a $30,000 debt burden. I ran into one of them two weeks ago on the streets of Ottawa. It is outrageous that a young person should start out in life with a $30,000 debt. We used to buy a house for that.

The problem is students cannot afford to go to university, particularly low income kids. We are now seeing the data. The poorest income kids are starting to be deterred from even considering it because of the fee levels. The bill will not help them.

There is a shortage in university funding that cannot be ignored either. As one of my colleagues pointed out, universities are literally crumbling, and the bill does not help that.

As for the learning bonds, as has been pointed out by all these associations, low income families barely have enough money to pay the rent and buy food for their kids, let alone buy bonds for some long term investment strategy. I can afford to do this. Indeed, I can afford to do it for my grandchildren. I am doing it because I can afford it, but I can tell members that most low income families cannot afford it, particularly the low income families that produced a lot of the students I taught at university. They will not get it.

In fact, we know that most of the money disproportionately is going to families earning over $70,000, who will get much more than families below $35,000, so this is not going to meet the needs--I repeat, it is not going to meet the needs--of low income kids in this country.

If a democracy means anything in the real world, it should mean that we are allocating resources, whether it is at the child care level, in our health care system or for education, and from the bottom up. We have to concentrate on those citizens who most need assistance to develop their capacities and talents in society. That ought to be the primary objective of a government. This bill totally fails in meeting that objective.

In the past seven years we have accumulated over $61 billion in surpluses. In the 1990s, there were cutbacks not only in post-secondary funding but across the board, cutbacks in housing and in other social dimensions of policy. No one faulted the government for dealing with the deficit issue in the early 1990s, but in the last seven budgets we have had surpluses, considerable surpluses.

It boggles the mind. Of the five countries I mentioned that provide free university and free child care and have the lowest poverty rates, not one of those countries would have a Minister of Finance who would go around boasting that we have the lowest debt to GDP ratio in the G-7 when we have child poverty at the level we have or student debt burdens at the level we have. He should be ashamed of that. He should not be boasting at this time.

And I do not want my argument to be misunderstood: I am not talking about going into deficit financing. I am talking about using the more than $61 billion in surplus we have had in the past seven budgets in a better distribution. Yes, we should bring down the debt somewhat, but as some of my colleagues have already said, if we bring it down we have several billions of dollars that could be otherwise used.

Across this country we have thousands of low income kids in every province who deserve financial assistance. We should scrap the existing programs and scrap this bill and replace it with a system of income-based grants to students right across the country. On the other hand, we should provide to the universities the funding they need. Second, we should work with the provinces and put a freeze on the fee structure. Third, we should provide money to the provinces on the condition that they put a freeze on the fees to help rebuild the universities themselves to make up for the money they will not get once they freeze tuition fees.

We are opposed to this bill because we believe in social justice. We believe in genuine equality for kids wherever they live in this country.

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1:25 p.m.

Peterborough Ontario


Peter Adams LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development

Mr. Speaker, we all greatly respect the member.

He quoted a number of countries at the beginning of his remarks and then said there was a very high cost of university and college education here in Canada, but he knows that in this country tuition fees and, by the way, the non-tuition fees that our colleague opposite was talking about are the responsibility of the provinces. In the other countries they are not, so the other countries can control what they give to students and what the students have to pay. In this country we cannot do that.

I do not know if the member realizes that for universities in Canada at the moment roughly $11 billion a year comes from the federal government and roughly $8 billion a year comes from the provincial governments. I make the point that we put in a great deal of federal moneys, including grants to students, but we cannot control the costs at the other end.

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1:30 p.m.


Ed Broadbent NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member is right and I appreciate his comment. We cannot at the federal level control the costs at the other end. At the university level it is administered by the provinces, but with all due respect, that is in one sense beside the point in terms of what we can do and how we can contribute.

Of course we should be interested in controlling costs, but I have seen some evidence and I have spent time, as I have just indicated, at three major universities in the last decade in different parts of the country. Frankly, I do not see our universities wasting money. They have all felt budget pressures for 15 to 20 years now. They are in a big crunch themselves so we cannot control the costs, but what we can do at this level is make sure money goes to help those who need it, both students and universities. Federal money can go and should be going to help them.

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1:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The hon. member will have additional time for questions and comments when debate on this bill resumes. It being 1:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Bankruptcy and Insolvency ActPrivate Members' Business

1:30 p.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

moved that Bill C-281, an act to amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act, the Canada Business Corporations Act, the Employment Insurance Act and the Employment Insurance Regulations, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker,it is a great honour for me to speak at second reading of the bill I introduced, Bill C-281. I would like to begin by recognizing the contribution of my colleagues in the NDP caucus in the development of the bill, first, my seconder, the member for Hamilton Centre, who was instrumental in developing the content of the bill to the form it is in now, and second, my colleague from Ottawa Centre, who brought forward recommendations regarding the bankruptcy laws as they affect workers and employees in this country. I want to recognize and thank both of these colleagues for their contribution.

Every week in this country there are roughly 200 commercial bankruptcies, 1,000 bankruptcies a month, and roughly 10,000 bankruptcies per year, many of which leave behind employees who are owed back wages, benefits and pension contributions. The total figures we can only estimate. Over $1 billion per year is a figure that has been used.

It is workers who pay the price when workplaces shut down. This is especially true when these shutdowns are triggered by bankruptcy, because not only do the employees lose their jobs and their source of income, they also often lose wages that they have not been paid, as I have stated, and vacation pay, termination pay and severance pay.

The reason for this is the order of priority in which employees find themselves when it comes to the distribution of the proceeds of the remaining assets of the company. Workers find themselves at the bottom of the list. I argue that today in the House of Commons in 2004, the members congregated here should be putting workers first in the event of a bankruptcy.

My bill simply reverses the order of priority. Back wages and benefits owing to employees would be ranked at the top of the list when it comes to the distribution of the remaining assets. I urge colleagues to remember or to at least contemplate that big money has controlled things in Ottawa for so long, in my view, that it is no surprise that many of the laws are crafted in such a way as to look after the interests of big money better than they look after the interests of ordinary Canadian voters.

Working people in Canada send us to Parliament to put their interests first, I argue, and in this case, this is one thing we could be doing to look after the interests of Canadian workers as a prime concern, as a priority, by putting them first in line in the event of a bankruptcy.

Parliament has tried to address the inadequacies of the bankruptcy act a number of times in recent years. I am the first to acknowledge that both the House of Commons and the Senate have been seized of the issue and I think this illustrates a growing awareness in Canada that the bankruptcy laws are in fact unfair to workers or at least do not recognize their unique status in the event of a bankruptcy.

When I argue about putting workers as the first priority, we have to view workers who are owed back wages as creditors. I think there is a case to be made that if the company has been operating on or using back wages owed to employees to operate the company, the employees are in fact creditors. Maybe they are creditors against their will in that they certainly did not give any approval to use the back wages and pension contributions to operate the company, but that is in fact what they are.

This is what we are asking members of Parliament to recognize. Employees are justified in being viewed as creditors in the distribution of the assets. In fact, we are asking Parliament to entertain the idea that they should have superpriority, because the other aspect we should acknowledge is the unique trust relationship that exists between the employer and the employee.

Banks, should they take some loss in the event of a bankruptcy, are in that business, we argue. They mitigate that loss by charging interest rates throughout the period of the loan. Even if the order of priority were reversed and employees were paid first, our research shows that the banks would still get most of what was owed to them. They would not lose all of it if some went to workers. The inverse is true, too, in that employees are vulnerable creditors, more so than the banks or the other lenders because they cannot spread that risk over a number of investments. All of their eggs are in one basket.

In the case of a bankruptcy, it is not just the back wages and benefits that are left owing. More often than not in recent high profile bankruptcies, it is the contributions to the pension plan that have a lasting effect, with an underfunded plan leaving employees with far, far less for their monthly retirement than they had earned and were led to believe they would receive.

All of those points add up to a compelling case that the current Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act does not serve the interests of Canadian workers-Canadian voters as it should. We in the House of Commons should put as a priority the best interests of workers and employees, not the best interests of banks and financiers who would object to this reprioritization.

We tested the views of the Canadian public. I brought with me the results of a Vector poll that we conducted with the cooperation of our partners in the labour movement, specifically the United Steel Workers of America which represents a number of workplaces that have been affected by bankruptcy recently.

This nationwide Vector poll of 1,200 Canadians, conducted with what is called a plus or minus accuracy of 1.9%, asked the following question: “Under current laws usually a bankruptcy pays its debts in this order: first, taxes, followed by the banks and other lenders, suppliers and then employees. Do you think the current bankruptcy laws are fair or not fair to employees?” Eighty-four per cent of Canadians said that the current situation was not fair to employees.

When asked a more specific question: “Sometimes bankrupt companies do not get enough money from selling off the assets to pay everyone. Under the current laws, the first to be paid are secured creditors and lenders who have a guarantee. Employees, however, are not secured creditors and may not get the wages owed to them when a company goes into bankruptcy. Should the law be changed to provide more protection for employees' unpaid wages?” Eighty-nine percent of Canadians across the country said that the law should be changed so that it provides more protection for employees' unpaid wages.

I would think that if there was any need for further argument in the House of Commons or any question of whether this is the political ground that the government wants to take, this should give it some comfort that this is what Canadians want it to do.

I welcome any other polls to this effect but I challenge anyone to show us results that are dramatically different from what we have demonstrated here today.

Canadians want a fair shake for employees. We want to put workers first. This after all is the House of Commons and it is not called the House of Commons for nothing. This is where common people send their representatives to make laws that work for them. It is as simple as that.

Lobbyists for the financial interests have been so prominent that laws have been crafted in such a way that they do not look after our concerns any more, at least not in this one example of the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act.

Bill C-281 would do three things. First, it would reverse the order of priority to put employees first in the distribution of the proceeds from the assets of the bankrupt company.

The second thing it would do, until we can add more fairness to the bankruptcy laws, is it would change the Employment Insurance Act. If employees were laid off due to a bankruptcy and were collecting EI, if they received some settlement for back wages owed to him, those back wages would not be viewed as income in the period of time they were collecting EI. If the wages were, they would be deducted dollar for dollar from their EI payments. Seeing as they earned those wages while the company was still open, those earnings when paid later on should not be viewed as income for the purpose of EI. This is a consequential amendment to the principle and the concept of what we are introducing.

Third, the bill would change the Canada Business Corporations Act to provide a more efficacious procedure by which former employees of a bankrupt corporation who are owed wages by the corporation can proceed with claims against its directors.

In other words, under the current law if the proceeds of the bankruptcy are not adequate to pay for the back wages and benefits, the employees are currently allowed to sue the directors of the corporation to make up for any shortfall. However the process is tedious. It can take years, and not all the employees involved have a union to advocate for them. The bill would expedite that process. The employees could still make a claim against the directors for any shortfall but it would be expedited by an arbitration board or tribunal which could fast track the claim against the directors.

The key principle I ask members to please keep in mind is that what we are trying to do is rejig the order of priority whereby employees would rank first in priority and not at the bottom. Canadians want this and expect it. When members of Parliament are given the opportunity they should be fighting for the little guy, speaking out for the person who is left in the wake of these corporate decisions that are far beyond their control or input.

We can point to dozens of recent examples of Canadians who have been impacted. When there are almost 10,000 commercial bankruptcies per year in Canada there is no shortage of empirical evidence to point to and to draw from. In one recent example in the province of Ontario, 1,300 unionized employees with Ontario Store Fixtures lost their jobs because of bankruptcy. Even though another company restarted the business for a brief period of time it too filed for bankruptcy. When the dust settled in that, over 1,200 employees had lost their jobs. They are owed roughly $12 million in back wages and benefits.

In the case of Ontario Store Fixtures, no money was in the bankruptcy estate to pay for any of these claims. Guess who got paid first? Any cash that was available at the time of the first bankruptcy went to the company's banker, CIBC. Assets from the auction of the property of the second bankruptcy automatically went to other secured creditors, who in this case were the shareholders of the Ontario Store Fixtures partnership.

Virtually everybody received their money except for the actual employees of the company. I ask my colleagues to consider the ancient trust relationship that exists between the employer and the employee.

I, and many people with whom I have spoken, would like to think that whatever assets remain after a bankruptcy and after the owners have walked away, that the company would like to see that money go toward paying some of the wages it owes its employees and then whatever is left could be distributed among other creditors on the list.

This is an idea whose time has come. In the interest of fairness and on behalf of Canadian workers everywhere, I urge my colleagues to allow the bill to pass at second reading and go to committee where we can give it a more fulsome review, submit amendments, craft it whichever way we want as long as the end result is that our number one concern is to protect the interests of employees in the event of a bankruptcy. We must put workers first.

Bankruptcy and Insolvency ActPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.


David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, this is truly a significant and important day for Hamilton, the Hamilton steelworkers and certainly the retirees who would have been affected by this who did not even have the benefit of a union. This is their day.

I am very proud to have seconded the bill. I am proud of the job my colleague from Winnipeg Centre has done on this. I also know that a lot of Hamiltonians and a lot of steelworkers are glad that somebody is standing up in the House of Commons and giving their issues the airing that they deserve.

I run the risk of being called out of order, I serve notice to the Speaker, but we do have a number of activists and leaders from the labour movement. I will only mention one, Wayne Samuelson, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour, who is with us today for this kick-off debate of one hour. This is a smaller piece of the whole bill in terms of what will happen, but it is so important that the president and a number of other leaders in the labour movement from the CLC, and the steelworkers themselves are here because this is crucial.

Of all the things we ever debate, this is not an esoteric, theoretical debate. This is about real people, with real families and a real crisis. And, do hon. members know what? They are real scared because as far as they are concerned somebody is trying to steal their pensions. I cannot imagine anything that could be more terrifying for people who are on the brink of retirement or in retirement than to hear, after having done their duty, having worked hard their whole working life, having made commitments to their communities, having raised their families and having taken money out of their wallets to put toward their future, that their retirement savings were in jeopardy and that they could be facing poverty after all those decades doing their bit.

If ever there was the business of the people to be done, this is the bill. I want to urge members to at least send the bill to committee and give the workers at Stelco, the steelworkers and other workers, their day in court.

A similar bill to this one was introduced by the member in the last Parliament, the 37th Parliament. It had a co-sponsor from Hamilton, a member of the governing party at that time, the former member for Hamilton East. However it was a majority government and the bill died on the order paper.

Now we are in a minority situation and a similar bill is in front of us being debated. It will be voted on. We have every hope that it will get to committee. Does the member think that because this is a minority Parliament versus a majority in the previous Parliament it has anything to do with why we have some optimism that we will get the bill passed at second reading, sent to committee and ultimately passed into law?

Bankruptcy and Insolvency ActPrivate Members' Business

1:50 p.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Hamilton is right when he says that previous parliaments have attempted to deal with this thorny issue, and as recently as the last Parliament. I was seconded by a Liberal MP, the member for Hamilton East, when I introduced a very similar bill in the House of Commons.

Minority government works for ordinary Canadians. We are faced with a unique opportunity to do something historic here. In my view, if we do nothing else in this minority Parliament, if we move this issue toward justice for working people, our time will be well served and our political capital well spent.

From a Hamilton point of view, which both the hon. member and my previous seconder from Hamilton raised, Cold Metal Products stands as a glaring example here. Cold Metal Products, which was located in Hamilton, went bankrupt in 2003. When it shut down, 80 members of the Steelworkers Union were shocked to learn that their employer sponsored pension plan was only 55% funded and that their pensions would be cut back, not just the employees who lost their jobs due to the bankruptcy, but the pensioners, the beneficiaries of the plan. The core plan was 55% underfunded.

This is a pattern. It is becoming a typical norm among employers. They are allowed, although I never understood why, to underfund their pension by 20%, but they push it and there is no enforcement of those who exceed that limit. They run at 50% underfunded and if they run into financial difficulty that funding is never made up.

The bill would require and mandate that the shortfall be made up so that the beneficiaries and the current employees do not lose their pension benefits.