Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to a very important issue. Bill C-55 is critical. For the first time we have legislation before us that would allow workers to be put on the top of the heap as opposed to on the bottom of the heap when bankruptcy happens.
I can speak from personal experience. My brother worked for years at a plastics company here in Canada. He was a very diligent worker who went to work every single day. He made sure he made his contributions to the union, to his pension, and to the United Way. The company declared bankruptcy and went to the United States. The company not only took the workers' wages, but it also took their pensions.
It is very important to note that pensions are a deferred wage. They are a negotiated settlement among the workers, management and owners of a company. Pensions are deferred wages. They are important not only to the workers but also to our society. Pension earnings are a requirement for seniors in their lives after they have finished working. They are wages owed to them through their own planning and through arrangements made with management and the company. Those pensions belong to them. It is important to note that. This is missing from Bill C-55 and it is something our party is going to work on.
The company where my brother worked took the pension money. It also took the United Way money that the workers had contributed. It literally robbed the community of the contributions which the workers had made for the benefit of others.
The United Way in my community has had the highest donation per worker for a number of years. The money provides a full range of programs and services for people in need. I commend the executive director of our United Way, Sheila Wisdom. We have been challenged lately because many jobs have been lost in the auto industry and we have had to make sure that the United Way campaign expands into other groups and organizations.
We do not need companies leaving and taking money that workers have contributed toward their pensions. Sadly enough, Bill C-55 does not yet address this issue.
I want to continue the discussion with regard to students declaring bankruptcy. It is unconscionable that students have to wait 10 years to declare bankruptcy. We have witnessed a very significant escalation in tuition costs across the country, as well as other costs associated with going to school, such as apartment rentals, books, or other supports. Those costs have all gone up significantly and as a result, students have gone into more debt.
Young people have to be trained. People going back to college or university have to invest a lot of money in training, and they can accumulate a lot of debt as a result. With the record the students have with respect to repayment of their loans, they have earned the right to be treated better rather than being chastised at the 10 year limit. That is unacceptable.
As this crisis continues in terms of the educational system needing the necessary funds to run the programs, the training and the degree of technological improvements that are so important to compete in the world, people are increasingly being put into debt when they exit school and pursue their careers.
Some people are going to school later in life. They are not able to earn the necessary wages to pay off the debt. This also delays the start of families, which is a very important issue. Canadians are having children later in life. We need to put supports in place to avoid that. It is important that Bill C-55 address this problem.
I look forward to seeing amendments to this legislation. I am still not satisfied with the seven years. That can be improved.
I would like to note one of the other important issues related to this. It is the fact that as I started my speech this evening it is the first time ever that there is some mechanism whereby workers are at the front of the line, through the fact that they get $3,000 back in wages. That is very important. When a company goes bankrupt, for whatever reason, whether it is mismanagement or good management and the market conditions change, people lose their employment and do not have an opportunity to plan appropriately.
Three thousand dollars is a mere pittance. People cannot get by on that for very long, but at least it is something immediate that people can get. It will provide some sense of stability for them and their families as they look for employment transitions. That is important.
What I cannot understand about the legislation, though, is that the government will then try to get only $2,000 back. Why would it only go back for $2,000, not $3,000, from the company after insolvency? I do not understand that logic. I do not know why it would not, on behalf of taxpayers, try to recover the full amount. This should be looked at for sure.
The member for Winnipeg Centre has worked very hard on his private member's legislation on these matters, Bill C-281, which is much better than this bill, but this bill does have some elements of his. I want to recognize the fact that he has been able to push the debate on the matter this far and get Bill C-55 some attention because there has been a reaction. I am a member of the industry committee, where Bill C-281 has actually been sitting for a while. If we do not get to that bill right away, we will be looking at Bill C-55 as well. It at least encourages some modest improvements.
The member for Winnipeg Centre should be acknowledged for bringing this issue to the forefront far sooner than many expected. He has done similar work on the oil and gas industry with progressive legislation and also with a series of other bills. I want to acknowledge that and the pension issue, which I think definitely needs to be expanded upon.
Also important is the fact that the bill is going to take away a procedure that right now allows a judge, on a whim, to basically throw out a collective agreement between a company and a union. That is an atrocious abuse of an agreement collectively negotiated between a company and a union. The bill will require dialogue, and that was the spirit when this was originally dreamed up in the 1930s: that there would be some actual collective working together at the table before the judge would make some type of arbitrary decision in regard to anyone. This is important because the deals negotiated in terms of pensions, wages, benefits and all of those things come out of good faith negotiations.
Let me note that this is what should be happening with the CBC right now. The lockout should end. People should be back working together to make sure that they actually have a good agreement.
So that dialogue is what the judge will be doing in this new agreement. That is very important because it also, I believe, will create a healthier environment for the future.
We also want to note that it will be very important to change the legislation in regard to the $200,000 tax debt no longer being eligible for automatic discharge. It is something that could be abusive. We think this would be an important change to the legislation.
Last, I want to touch on the Radwanski example of the loophole that is finally going to be closed. It is unconscionable that an individual in our society can get hundreds of thousands of dollars of tax relief and then one day later receive a job for a quarter of a million dollars a year. That is unacceptable. This change is a very important one, because that was an absolute abuse of the people who get up and go to work every single day just to make a living.
(Bill S-31. On the Order: Government Orders)
June 22, 2005 — The Minister of Transport — Second reading, report stage and third reading of Bill S-31, An Act to authorize the construction and maintenance of a bridge over the St. Lawrence River and a bridge over the Beauharnois Canal for the purpose of completing Highway 30.