Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on behalf of the Bloc Québécois about Bill C-47, A second Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 4, 2010 and other measures.
The Bloc Québécois voted against the budget, and rightly so, because this budget left an entire segment of the economy, the forestry sector, to fend for itself. This sector is currently going through a very tough time. This is why the Bloc Québécois once again voted against the budget.
However, members must understand that when the time comes to implement the measures in the budget, this is done through certain bills. One of these budget implementation bills is before us today.
The Bloc Québécois is in favour of sending Bill C-47, which implements certain measures in the budget, to committee to be studied. We are giving our approval because we analyzed each of these measures one by one. We often need additional information to get the government to move on these measures and show some openness—a quality that the Conservatives have yet to show. But we are in favour of several of the provisions being proposed today. I will mention the measures we support.
First, to improve the allocation of child benefits, the government agrees to pay half to each parent who shares custody. Parents who have shared custody can now divide the income from these benefits in half, which makes sense.
Also, the government is proposing to ease the tax burden of beneficiaries of a registered disability savings plan, a plan that was designed to ensure the financial security of severely disabled children. This is an interesting measure that is worth adopting.
The government is also cutting red tape for charitable organizations and some small businesses. Red tape has always put a huge burden on corporations, small companies, not-for-profit organizations and charities, which often lack the administrative staff to handle paperwork. This bill would lighten that load, and that is worthwhile.
The bill tightens the rules around TFSAs to prevent tax avoidance. TFSAs were brought in previously, but it did not take long for some people to see them as a way of avoiding and evading taxes. I think it is a good idea to ensure that measures such as the TFSA are not used to avoid taxes.
Lastly, businesses will stop benefiting from double deductions for stock options. Even though we feel that this does not go far enough, we will see what happens in committee. These measures are worth sending to committee for discussion.
But we have to be careful. We are concerned about pension plan reform, because the bill gives the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions discretionary authority in the case of pension plans that are subject to the legislation of more than one jurisdiction.
This measure must be studied, because it pertains to private pension funds and it can encroach on the provinces' jurisdiction. The pension funds can be partly under federal authority and partly under the authority of Quebec and the other provinces. We feel it is important to ensure that Quebeckers' interests will always be protected and that Quebec law will always apply.
At the same time, this is a good opportunity to talk again about the whole pension system and how the government could help. The government likes to brag that it came out of the recent economic crisis in the best shape, but one reason is that our banks were smaller than the U.S. banks.
When I arrived here as a member in 2000, the first lobbyists who came to meet me were from the banks. They wanted permission to merge so that they could buy other banks outside the country, for example, large American banks.
By fighting tooth and nail to block those mergers, we saved those banks. Canadian banks had fewer investments in American banks. They were less contaminated than the other banks. This is the reason Canada has weathered the crisis better. Our banking system was smaller, less concentrated and less at risk because it had fewer interests in the United States. That is why Canada has weathered the crisis better than other countries.
At that time, the Conservatives were in favour of bank mergers. The Liberals caused quite an uproar. Then there was an election and the mergers were blocked. I was the one who was the most surprised to see Paul Demarais Sr. admit to the media, three or four weeks ago, that his one mistake in life was supporting the merger of Canadian banks. Paul Demarais was not born yesterday. He has met all the heads of state. He was one of the biggest advocates of bank mergers. He regrets it bitterly because the fact that we blocked bank mergers is the reason that Canada weathered the crisis the best. It has nothing to do with the Conservative government, which was in favour of bank mergers, and it has nothing to do with the Liberals either because they were also in favour of bank mergers but decided to oppose them at the last minute—because of the election, I suppose.
We were always against those mergers, from start to finish. Once again, we stood up for Quebec. That allowed Canada to weather the crisis. Once again, Quebeckers came to Canada's rescue. That happens quite often. Some might say too often, since Quebec does not get the rewards it deserves.
There is also the important question of pension funds. This morning I had the chance—or the sad duty, as I told the people who invited me—of attending a march with former Fraser employees. They were all retired workers who saw their August and September pension cheques cut by 40% on average. One worker came to see me and told me that his retirement pension had been cut by 58%. What a difficult situation.
For the past five years here in Ottawa, we have been calling for programs to help the forestry industry. That industry was the first to be affected, even before the big crisis. The government started to react when Ontario was affected by the automotive crisis, but the forestry crisis had already been going on for three years before the recent financial and banking crisis. This was not important to the government, since it was happening primarily in Quebec and in the northern areas of some provinces. The fact remains that this bad financial situation led to losses for many companies.
Now the government is telling us that it is a question of markets, or lack thereof, even though what the big forestry companies wanted was loan guarantees, which are allowed by the WTO. We have proven that in this House. Was the problem in the automobile sector not a market problem? Cars were not selling. Yet the Conservatives still gave the auto industry $10 billion to help it through the crisis, which was causing a drop in the market. They did not do the same thing for the forestry industry. In fact, that is why the Bloc voted against the most recent budget.
Let us go back to pension funds. Today, 200 Fraser workers and their families organized a march. Approximately 300 pensioners have been affected. They were there to try to make sense of the situation. The owner of Fraser is the majority owner of Brookfield Renewable Power. This corporation made more than $900 million in profits for the period ending December 31, 2009. The majority shareholder is a multi-billion dollar corporation that posted huge profits even during the economic downturn. The employees have difficulty understanding why governments allow a rich multinational to close its subsidiaries, to place them in bankruptcy, when the unfunded liabilities of their pension fund total $175 million.
Considering Brookfield's profit of almost $980 billion at the end of the 2009 fiscal year, this amount would have been acceptable had the company been nudged by governments to cover the liability, given that it was very rich. I am putting myself in the shoes of these workers and their families, who are wondering how this can be permitted. How can governments allow a multi-billion dollar corporation, through its subsidiary, to go bankrupt with the result that the workers, who have worked all their lives for the company, have their income cut by 40%?
In the La Lièvre and La Petite-Nation area, that amounts to $470,000 less per month and $5 million less per year in the local economy. Some will say that it is a small business and that 300 employees are not very many. However, the same thing has happened with other companies such as Nortel and AbitibiBowater. Once again, I was reading the Nortel agreement in which the employees instructed the government to make risky investments in order to not lose their pension income. They instructed the government, which is now managing their pension fund, to make risky investments. Is there someone somewhere who will stand by these investments in these times? It is suicide, but that is the decision they made in order to not lose their monthly income. We shall see what happens in the medium and the long term.
As for AbitibiBowater, the corporation negotiated a secret agreement. All we know is that governments allowed it, and that the union consented. Governments will say that the union said yes. But what choice did it have? When the time comes to renegotiate an agreement allowing a corporation to forego making up the pension shortfall, the choices are approve it or watch the company close its doors. The reality is that the employees are doomed and governments give their approval. But afterwards, governments take no responsibility. They say yes to the company and give it five to ten years to make up the pension shortfall. In the case of AbitibiBowater, rumour has it that it may even have up to fifteen years. Once again, if the company does not make it and declares bankruptcy, the employees have the most to lose. Governments do not have a plan because the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act does not protect the unfunded liabilities of pension funds, even if they were approved by governments. The government does not want to change the law.
The Bloc Québécois introduced Bill C-270, which would create a refundable tax credit to cover such losses. The government is not interested. The Liberals and the Conservatives oppose it. They say we must not spend money.
That is how it starts, with 300 Fraser employees losing 40% of their income. It will happen with other companies. In this region, many people are employed by the government, with good pension plans. But one day, a political party will get elected by promising a 35% cut in pension plans for public servants, to save money or to invest it elsewhere. As was mentioned earlier, the Liberals pillaged $54 billion from the employment insurance fund surplus to spend on their budget. The Conservatives keep telling us here that the Liberals pillaged $54 billion and spent it. But when the Conservatives were bringing in $17 billion a year, they never offered to pay back the money taken from the employment insurance fund. Now, when we want to improve the plan, the government says that we need to increase premiums. The government would never tell us to take the $54 billion that was originally pillaged to try to cover other expenses. No, it will blame the Liberals, but it would never do that. Inevitably, it is always the worker who pays.
In the case of the Fraser employees, it is the workers who pay. Their income has dropped by 40%. They are between 64 and 75, and 75 and 80 years of age, and they cannot find a new job, because now is not a good time to try to find one. So they have to cut expenses and are forced to pinch pennies after spending their whole lives working.
Let us all think about it. One day, we will be pensioners ourselves. If our governments decided to cut our pension fund by 40%, I do not think that we would be happy about it. This will happen because we will have allowed multi-billion dollar companies like Brookfield to cut employee pension funds, claiming that it was just that one company. Then, there will be another. In the end, all pension funds will be cut by 25% to 30%. Will federal, provincial and municipal public servants be able to protect their pension funds? No. One day, the majority will say that the government must cut all pension funds. I thought that the bill before us would address this situation.
So it must be understood that in committee the Bloc Québécois will do everything it can to make the government understand that it could show some interest in jurisdictional issues. Should Ottawa, Quebec or the provinces be managing this? We also need to discuss the real problem. When the plans post actuarial losses and governments have covered those losses, how will the people be compensated? Often, because we do not want companies to close, these losses are authorized and this has happened on a medium, large and extra-large scale.
So we can try to reduce these losses for the people. I am not talking about eliminating them. But the 200 families that I saw today were resigned. They knew they were going to lose money. But when it is that much, it starts to hurt. At first, they thought it was a bad joke, but now they are not finding it so funny.
Often, these people are not the most educated, but, once again, they dig around and try to find out who the shareholders, the owners, are. For example, the majority shareholder of Brookfield is a multibillionaire who is still making billions of dollars in profit annually. This is paid out in dividends to dozens or hundreds or thousands of shareholders, but no more. There are not hundreds of thousands of shareholders, just tens of thousands. At some point, governments need to think about that.
Inevitably, one day the people will have the power and will try to put everything back in order. And you wonder why the Bloc Québécois does so well. It is because we are close to people and because, as I did this morning, we walk with the retirees to try and understand their situation, to try and sympathize with them but, above all, to try and see if we can find solutions. We were elected to represent them and to help them understand why they have lost 40% of their pension funds, of their life's work, and that, every month, that 40% will be lost.
Meanwhile, here in Parliament, we see Conservative government misspending, we see contracts going to friends of the party, we see all sorts of things going on. People wonder why politicians do not sit down with them to work out solutions. As I said, they are willing to make sacrifices. They know they are going to lose money, but is 40% a norm we should hope for or accept? It is unacceptable. We are going to have to sit down very soon to discuss the future of all the pension funds of all the companies.
Government employees often watch us and listen to us. One day, political parties will get elected by promising to cut pension funds by 35%, because that is the only way to get money back. That will happen because the government allowed private companies to cut their pension funds and stood by while banks made bad investments. The bank managers were not put in prison; they were given bonuses. That is what happened.
People see that and they realize that the bank managers, who were often paid to give talks, all lost money during the recent crisis, like sheep. It always amazed me that a chamber of commerce or some other organization would pay a bank manager to come and give a talk. They may have had all the staff they needed, but they all got caught with risky investments. They all lost money, and not one went to jail. I find that shocking. What is more, they are protected by all of us here, and we allow them to get outrageous bonuses, because the practice of paying bonuses is starting to take off again. Bank managers are getting bonuses because the banks are restructuring. They have laid off employees, yet they are entitled to bonuses.
No one ever thought they might lose everything because they had lost 25%, 30% or 40% of people's pension funds. No one ever thought that. Once again, it is time to stop standing up for the wealthy and start looking after the people with problems.
I would say that pension funds are a real problem. All of us need to use our position here in the House of Commons to stand up for our workers who pay taxes and who pay our salaries. If there were no workers and no pensioners who still pay taxes—because pensioners do pay taxes—we would be out of a job.