Madam Speaker, I really enjoyed a lot of the remarks made by the member for Kootenay—Columbia. I appreciate the support for this legislation. It is important legislation.
I rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-55, an act to establish the wage earner protection program act, to amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act and the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act and to make amendments to other acts. The House has witnessed much good debate on this legislation already. I know it will continue in committee should the House see fit to send the bill there, and I feel very confident that it will.
I think all in the House would agree that this is a very important piece of legislation. It is the result of extensive consultations with Canadians and stakeholders all across this great country.
The bill's four main objectives are to encourage viable but financially troubled companies to restructure as an alternative to bankruptcy, to better protect workers' claims for unpaid wages and vacation pay, to make the bankruptcy system fairer and reduce abuse, and to improve the administration of that system. These objectives offer positive changes for businesses and employees alike. This will serve to help the continued strength of our economy.
I know full well the difficulty that people experience when a company is in financial difficulty. The turmoil people personally feel is hard on them and their families. They worry about their next paycheque and what will happen if worst comes to worst and their employer shuts down. That alone is very hard on families. Then begins the task of recovering the wages that other people owe them. It is not pleasant and a task many Canadians consider far too difficult. For those who do attempt it, far too often they find, quite frankly, that they are unsuccessful.
That is one of the reasons I support this bill. We are making workers' claims for unpaid wages and vacation pay a higher priority than secured creditors' claims in bankruptcy situations. Workers will benefit from a limited superpriority for unpaid wage claims up to $2,000. The people who need it most will be given increased priority.
This legislation also establishes the wage earner protection program. The responsibility for this program will be housed under the portfolio of my colleague from southwestern Ontario, the Minister of Labour. He is very familiar with the challenges facing hard-working Canadians. Quite frankly, I cannot think of a better minister to administer this program.
The minister has indicated that an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 workers in every workplace across this country in both federal and provincial jurisdictions are left with unpaid wages or reduced pensions due to employer bankruptcies in Canada. The wage earner protection program will for the first time in history provide workers with a guaranteed payment for unpaid wages up to $3,000. This is a good thing and I am proud that the government is acting.
I also like the fact that the government will recover a portion of the cost of this program by making claims against the employer's estate, thereby making it unnecessary for an employee to do so. I know that some of my colleagues in the New Democratic Party have questioned the sufficiency of only being able to draw $3,000 in back wages. I think that is a fair question and one which should be given further consideration in committee.
The minister indicated that the $3,000 figure represented approximately 97% of the usual amount of wages lost. If the committee has a reasonable recommendation of a different amount that members can support, I look forward to giving it every consideration. From the minister's remarks in the House, I would say that he does also.
I also know that my colleagues in the NDP have questions about the limited superpriority for wage claims up to $2,000. Here again I think that the committee has work to do. The minister has indicated that there is evidence to support this figure. I think the committee should see what this evidence is and should give that serious consideration also.
Concern over their pensions is another issue that many Canadians worry about when their employer goes bankrupt. I am glad to note that Bill C-55 addresses this too. Many workers rely on their company pensions for retirement. Faced with the loss of this retirement income, many would be put into severe financial difficulty. It is just not right that the pensions of those workers are sometimes used to pay other creditors instead of being returned to those who have paid into them. The proposed reforms would improve on this situation.
One of my colleagues from the reform alliance Conservative Party was concerned that these initiatives might relocate the burden from employers to government and that these initiatives might encourage companies facing potential bankruptcies to offload responsibilities to government. The government is aware of this possibility and has taken that into account in the legislation.
We are seeking to help those employees who have faced an unfortunate and unexpected event, not to shift the burden to the taxpayer or government. If the provisions within the legislation to this end are not sufficient, I am sure that the committee will come forward with additional recommendations.