Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Windsor West.
I am very happy to bring forward discussion on Bill C-55 today, the first part of the NDP's plan to address the issue of workers' wages in the event of bankruptcies. I will come back to that in a moment.
Bill C-55 is in large part a result of the NDP's negotiation for a better balanced budget last spring where we saw for the first time in some time a federal budget that actually responded to the needs of ordinary Canadians from coast to coast to coast. Part of our agenda has been wage protection. The other part of our agenda is pension protection. I have to flag the member for Winnipeg Centre's Bill C-281 which would protect pensions in the event of bankruptcy. We need to see is both wage protection and pension protection. We are happy to see that initial addressing of the NDP's concern, which we have had for some time, in Bill C-55.
Ordinary Canadians are having a harder and harder time of it. Over the past 15 years most Canadian family incomes have eroded. Lower income Canadians, working Canadians, Canadians in the middle class have lost 5% to 10% in real terms in family income over the past 15 years. That is the unfortunate legacy of both the Conservative government and the current Liberal government. Over this 15 year period Canadians are having a harder and harder time of it. Real income has declined at the same time as we have seen overtime charges and longer and longer working weeks. It is skyrocketing up to 33%. Canadian families are working harder and harder for less and less. They are working longer and longer weeks for smaller and smaller real income.
In addition, they have had no protection in the event of bankruptcies. That is why the NDP caucus pushed very hard last spring to change the budget to eliminate the corporate income tax cuts put forward by the Liberal government and to put in place wage earner protection. We will be working equally hard to put in place pension protection.
I would like to briefly work through the four key elements of the bill, most of which we support and some of which needs to be modified. We are hoping in committee to push forward those amendments. These are the kinds of changes that will help make a difference on the main streets of the country, from coast to coast to coast. We have seen Bay Street receive a lot of attention over the last 10 or 15 years. Now it is main street's turn. As a result of pushing forward these amendments, we hope to make Bill C-55 better.
First let us talk about the key elements. I would like to address the issue of the threshold of $3,000 that would go to wage earners in the event of bankruptcy. That is an important first step in addressing workers' concerns in the event of bankruptcies. We have 10,000 bankruptcies a year in our country. We need to ensure that workers are protected. However, we believe the $3,000 threshold is not high enough to address the valid concerns that come out of bankruptcies and how workers are impacted.
We have seen a couple of elements that are very positive. For example, the change that does not allow judges to arbitrarily change collective agreements any more is an important step in recognizing collective bargaining rights. Now we finally have union and management sitting down and if there is mutual agreement to make changes through a collective bargaining process, that may take place. It is not to be imposed by an outside judge. It is not to be imposed on the workers. That is a important key improvement in Bill C-55.
We also are strongly in support of closing the loopholes that we have seen in the tax system, particularly for wealthy Canadians.
We saw with the George Radwanski affair where a wealthy civil servant started a new job at $230,000 a year and saw back taxes of $630,000 basically rubbed out with the stroke of a pen. It is a type of income tax system where ordinary Canadians are paying their taxes, ensuring that their responsibility to their community and country is kept. Yet wealthier Canadians have had the option to simply have their back taxes written off, even in the case of somebody like Mr. Radwanski who was starting a job which paid almost a quarter of a million dollars a year. It is very important that we close this loophole.
We in the NDP have been fighting the types of loopholes that exist. The member for Winnipeg Centre has been one of the strongest proponents in this regard. We need a tax system that is fair to all Canadians, where all Canadians pay their fair share. That is our collective wealth and our collective resources to deal with things like our health care system, to help support new child care programs, to help support working families. It is extremely important that we do not have these loopholes. It is extremely important that we not allow certain wealthy individuals to get off from paying taxes that they owe to the nation, to our country, to all Canadians.
We are certainly in favour of these key elements. There are other elements as I mentioned that need to be addressed in committee. As we adopt this bill in principle and send it to committee, we need to pay particular attention to these key issues, such as the threshold which I mentioned is too low, and particularly the elements affecting students.
What we are saying right now with the current bill, if there are no amendments, is that a student who undertakes student debt because of the current chaos in the post-secondary education funding in the country is chained to that debt for a 10 year period. Yet we know that inadequate funding for post-secondary education and inadequate supports for students across the country have led to the debt crisis among students. Many students have had no other option because there has not been the support in place for post-secondary education.
Our post-secondary critic, the member for Halifax, has been front and centre in this regard, pushing forward an agenda that meets the needs of students. We need to make sure that this bill does not handcuff students and does not treat them differently from how other Canadians are treated in the event of bankruptcy.
Still, it is important that certain elements of this legislation be adopted. We know full well that workers all over Canada have been suffering for the last 15 years because of policies put in place by this Liberal government and the Conservative government that came before it. Indeed, family incomes were reduced by 5 to 10%. A majority of Canadians have been hit.
It is important that we amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act in order to help workers who lost their job because their company went bankrupt. This is what the NDP tried to negotiate last spring.
First, we want to deal with the issue of the money owed by these businesses to their employees. Second, with Bill C-281, we want to deal also with pensions lost because of the bankruptcy of businesses. The NDP member for Winnipeg Centre raises the issue of pensions and the CPP and the fact that we must protect the pensions of workers. This is the second aspect of the proposal that the NDP will make to this Parliament.
Consequently, we support Bill C-55, at first, in principle, so that, later on, in committee, we can improve it and ensure that it better protects the interests of all Canadians.