House of Commons Hansard #357 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was post.


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12:40 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

Before resuming debate, I want to remind hon. members that when they are asking or answering a question, to use the third person and not directly at the person across the floor. It makes for a better debate.

Resuming debate, the hon. member fo Elmwood—Transcona.

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12:40 p.m.


Daniel Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, there is a lot to say with respect to this issue, so I am thankful for the opportunity to put some thoughts on the record about what is going on here.

There is an important thing to acknowledge at the outset. The substance of what we are talking about is a rotating strike at Canada Post that was designed to not completely interrupt the operation of Canada Post. By and large, people have actually been getting their mail. We have heard the numbers from people on the ground and in the plants who deliver the mail, and I think the government, along with management, is grossly exaggerating the extent of the backlog.

Nevertheless, we are talking about people's right to strike. We are talking about the right of Canadian workers to strike. I think it bears saying that nobody goes on strike lightly. Strikes are not pleasant or fun for the people who take part. They do it because they ultimately feel like they have no other recourse than to withhold their work to get their employer to pay attention to the demands they are making.

In this case, some of the central demands are about the injury rate and unplanned, mandatory overtime. Reasons vary from strike to strike, but the ultimate point is that it takes a lot to get workers to a place where they feel that the only thing left for them to do is not perform their work and put pressure on their employer to hear their demands so as to come to some kind of reasonable deal at the negotiating table.

Nobody should think that postal workers out there are happy to be on strike or that this is their first option. It comes at a financial price to the workers on strike, including in the case of this rotating strike. Nobody is getting paid for the days they are not working.

It is important to say that, and it is important to emphasize the right to collective bargaining. That is how workers have made gains over the past 100 or more years in order to get safe workplaces and better wages.

It is a right that is so important that it bears mentioning that the right itself is being contested today and has been contested in the past. In the general strike of 1919 in my home city of Winnipeg, the central demand was for the right to bargain collectively. At that time, it was typical that governments would step in and help companies bust up unions to make collective bargaining illegal in a workplace, which incidentally is what this Liberal law will do in the Canada Post workplace. That is why tens of thousands of people, both unionized and non-unionized workers, went out into the street. It was not because of a wage demand. It was because people saw the importance of collective bargaining in order to make a difference in their work life, their family life and in the life of their community.

Indeed, when workers have had that right to bargain collectively, we have seen healthier communities. On average, workers are paid in the order of about $5 more an hour when they have a union as opposed to when they do not. We know that some of the great gains in workplace safety and health that have happened over the last 100 or 150 years have been because organized workers in their workplaces have pushed the envelope. They pushed the envelope politically by electing people out of the labour movement to come into places like this to push those gains and have them applied to all workers, not just to workers in a unionized workplace. Collective bargaining has made that possible.

It is important to emphasize again, because the government seems to have forgotten, that the Supreme Court has recognized this form of bargaining. It is about getting together in the workplace when something is wrong that is affecting everybody in the workplace, and going to an employer with a united voice to say that something has to change. They like their work. They are proud of their work. They want to keep doing their work, but they want to be treated fairly. They want to be paid fairly and they want to come home at the end of the day. That is a right that Canadians enjoy.

RCMP members who were fighting for that right and who were barred by federal legislation for 100 years from bargaining collectively fought that battle in the Supreme Court and won in January 2015, winning a victory for themselves and for workers across the country to have that confirmed.

The Ontario Supreme Court confirmed that right in 2016 when it ruled on the back-to-work legislation of the Harper government, noting that it was unconstitutional.

I expect that that will be confirmed again by the court, because we have back-to-work legislation, again, that impinges on the right of Canadian workers to bargain collectively in their workplace to do better for themselves and their communities. We have heard from the union representing postal workers that, unfortunately, it is going to have to take the current government to court.

What it wants is a government willing to respect and defend the right to bargain collectively without a court order. I do not think that is a lot to ask.

As I said, we are coming up on the 100th anniversary of the 1919 general strike. That strike lasted six weeks, cut across all industries, cut across already unionized members and non-unionized members, and the point was to safeguard this right. We have made a lot of progress since then.

It is amazing to me that even now, in the 21st century, after the court has said it is a charter right of Canadians to bargain collectively, after we have seen all the evidence of the good that collective bargaining has done for Canadian workers over the last 100 years, we would be in this place, of all places, arguing against a government that is introducing legislation to deny that right to a category of Canadian workers. I think that is shameful. I wanted to just back up a little and talk about the importance of collective bargaining in general and what it has done.

Now I would like to talk a little about another aspect of what we are discussing today, which is a motion that pertains to the back-to-work legislation that will significantly curtail debate on the legislation itself. It bears noting that we are not yet even debating the legislation itself. We only saw that legislation yesterday, and by the end of the day today, or in the wee hours of Saturday morning, that will all be said and done. It will be over.

We saw the actual wording of the legislation yesterday, and sometime just after midnight tonight this whole thing is going to be said and done with. I do not think that is what people expect when it comes to serious scrutiny of legislation. I think people expect there to be a role for Parliament in making these kinds of decisions. The fact of the matter is, when that is all the time there is, there is not.

Who are the people most directly affected by this legislation? It is the postal workers. They were not here on the Hill yesterday when the government tabled the legislation. They are out, across the country, for the most part, still delivering the mail. It is only a rotating strike. Most of them are at work. Any Canadian who is receiving a letter in their mailbox today will know that those postal workers are out working, as they have been since October 22 when the rotating strikes began. There were only a few days in any one particular area that actually had a meaningful disruption of service, and otherwise the mail has been delivered on time.

The question becomes, why is it that the postal workers do not have a chance for what is in the legislation to filter down? The government is making some argument here about how it is going to have a mediator, and how it is going to do this and that. It is anything to distract from the fact that it is actually taking away those workers' constitutional right to bargain at the negotiating table, which is what they and their duly elected representatives at the Canadian Union of Post Workers have said that they want to do. It is anything to distract from that.

However, postal workers are not going to have a chance to debate or talk about that amongst themselves, because they are out doing their job. The legislation was only made public yesterday. By the time this all wraps up and the postal worker who has been out delivering the mail, Monday to Friday, has an opportunity on Saturday to try to catch up on what has been happening here, what they are going to read is that they have already been legislated to work on Monday.

It is not just that politicians in this place want more time to discuss the legislation. That is not the only thing that is wrong with this super-closure motion that does not even allow for as many MPs as would like to get up and speak to the legislation, it puts a limit on the debate of several hours. It is ignoring the usual rules of this place, which means that only 10 or 12 MPs, at half an hour each, would be able to rise in this place to give a speech.

It is not just that. It is also the time that it takes for information about what is happening here to filter down to the real people it affects, and then for them to be able to send feedback back here, in terms of what they think.

However, the Liberals are taking away that opportunity from members of this place and also members of civil society and the workers who are going to be directly affected by this back-to-work legislation. I say shame on the government for that.

I want to address some of the particular issues of this strike. We are now in a position where the government has decided to get involved. I would argue that the government should have been involved on the issues, not the bargaining process, a long time ago, because none of these issues are new. None of these issues are a surprise. The fact of the matter is that one of the principal reasons Canada Post workers are out on strike is because they have an obscenely high rate of injury in the workplace.

Canada Post has a long history. It is an institution that has been around for a long time, but that injury rate has not. In the last 10 years or so there have been major changes in the way that Canada Post does its delivery, the system it uses and the equipment that it has asked postal workers to use, which has correlated with a serious increase in the injury rate. The way they plan their routes has also correlated with an increase in the use of mandatory overtime and injury rate. That is what postal workers are out there for.

If we take those injury numbers and project forward between now and Christmas, if things go just as they have been going at Canada Post, we are talking about at least 315 disabling injuries happening to postal workers between when this legislation passes and Christmas Day. That is an obscene level of injury.

I worked in the construction industry as an electrician before getting elected to this place. If I had showed up on a job site and been told that in the last year 25% of the construction workers who walked onto the site were injured, members better believe they would have a hard time finding people willing to do that. Therefore, it is a testament to the dedication of postal workers. It is exactly because they take pride in their job, and exactly because they believe in the work they are doing and understand the importance of people getting their mail, particularly vulnerable people and seniors who depend on getting that door-to-door delivery. Postal workers understand that better than anyone. It is a testament to them and their dedication that they have been out doing that work.

However, it is tough to hear the minister impugning their motives and talking about needing to do this on behalf of the vulnerable, on behalf of people who need their cheque, when we know, because we have been seen the evidence of it to our offices in pictures and emails and everything else, that there was a missive sent out by Canada Post management ordering the withholding of those OAS, GIS or social assistance cheques. If I were a postal worker, frankly, I cannot use the word to describe how I would feel because it is not parliamentary, but I would be angry if I heard, after receiving an order like that from management, that the minister was getting up in the House and blaming a rotating strike for the fact that those people were not getting paid. We know full well that it is because management chose to withhold those cheques that people are not getting paid.

I would point to an example from 2011 when postal workers were not on strike but locked out. It was the company that said it wanted to put a kibosh on delivering the mail, because it would put pressure on the government, or give an excuse. I do not think Canada Post needed to put pressure on the Harper government to intervene, but it provided a fig leaf for the Harper government to come in and legislate them back to work. The company locked them out, but postal workers showed up voluntarily to deliver people's cheques, because they knew the effect that would have. They should have expected some reciprocity from the government.

However, the minister has the audacity to get up in this place and talk about how concerned she is about people not getting their cheques. What about the Canada Post workers that the company cut off on October 22 when the rotating strike began, who were on short-term disability and have not been paid since, or the mothers who were on maternity leave and budgeted based on a top-up in their collective agreement that the company summarily took away from them? What about those people? Where is the concern for them?

What about the people on long-term disability who were denied their payments because of the company? Where is the sympathy for them? Where is the action for them? There are crocodile tears, indeed, from this minister, who wants to get up and sing some big swan song about people not being paid, when we know that postal workers would be happy to make sure that those cheques were delivered.

This is a government that did not even have the decency to make sure that people who are on short-term disability, because they work in a workplace with one of the highest injury rates in the country, were getting their cheques from the government. It is too much, frankly. It really is. One can get pretty worked up about it, and I have, on occasion.

It is all pretty rich coming from a government that says that it wants to stand up for women in the workplace and that it believes in pay equity. One of the major issues of this strike, along with the injury rate, is the fact that rural and suburban mail carriers, who are predominantly women, are not paid the same for doing the exact same work as their counterparts in urban centres, where there is a higher percentage of men delivering that mail. That is one of the union's key demands.

We have the minister of labour, on the one hand, getting up and bragging about pay equity legislation, which, if and when passed, will come into effect some 10 years from now. We are supposed to give her a pat on the back and be really proud of her for the great work she is doing, when the government is screwing Canada Post workers with this back-to-work legislation and not letting them get meaningful action on pay equity. This is something it could do now, just by getting out of the way, at least.

It would be better if the government gave a meaningful mandate to the Canada Post managers it hired and told them to get to the bargaining table and get serious about pay equity, get serious about reducing the injury rate, and actually listen to what the union is proposing, because the government wants a deal that brings that injury rate down and brings meaningful pay equity to postal workers. That is what the government should be doing.

Instead, from the beginning, there has been inaction. The Liberals talk about how negotiations have been going on for a year but have not gotten anywhere. That is because Canada Post management clearly does not have a mandate to make progress. Canada Post does not have a mandate to take the demands of the union seriously, when it comes to the workplace injury rate or pay equity, or we would have seen some movement, and we have not. There is a reason for that.

The Liberal government is now saying that now there is a crisis, and it has no choice but to do this. It has had a choice. The Liberals have had a choice since they formed the government to put a management team in Canada Post that was going to tackle these issues and make meaningful progress so that by the time they got to the bargaining table, there was a better relationship because there was evidence of it actually reducing the injury rate and making progress on pay equity. They decided not to do that. That is how we got here.

When the rotating strike began, and Canada Post made the callous decision to punish its most sick and vulnerable workers, the government could have sent a signal that this was not okay, that it was not going to be that kind of bargaining. If management at Canada Post thought it was to go on the attack to try to break this strike instead of taking meaningful action on those demands, it was going to have to answer to the government. Instead, the government stood silent.

We stood up day after day asking the government to do something about it, and it took a pass. If my colleagues think that did not send a clear message to Canada Post that it was going to get off the hook acting like a bunch of Pinkertons and strike breakers, they have another think coming.

Two weeks into the rotating strike, when the government signalled a readiness to bring in back-to-work legislation, it poisoned the well. From that point on, at least when it was public, there was no chance that Canada Post was going to provide a negotiated deal at the table, because it knew that the government was going to come in and save its skin. For the Liberal members to get up and tell us that they had no choice or that they have not been partisan in these negotiations is just a total load of crap. Wake up.

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1 p.m.


Nathaniel Erskine-Smith Liberal Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, this is a difficult conversation. I agree with the minister when she says that a negotiated outcome and decision would be better.

The parties do not seem to be close. There are obviously consequences for the Canadian economy more broadly. I do not say that as a member of the government formally, but I can imagine sitting in the minister's shoes and looking more broadly at my responsibility to the Canadian economy and Canadian society. I have heard about the impact on small business and international commerce. How do we balance all these considerations?

The member was very insistent that this legislation would be unconstitutional. However, we know that in 2011, when the court made a decision that the 2011 legislation was unconstitutional, it was because it was not minimally impairing and did not allow the union to have an equal footing in the mediation and arbitration process, which this legislation, in my view, would do in a proper way.

I wonder if the member can speak to minimal impairment and why he thinks this legislation is unconstitutional.

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1 p.m.


Daniel Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I said that the union is going to be taking this legislation to court, and I suspect that it may well find that the government does not respect people's right to bargain collectively, because it should be at the table.

If we heard it from the Conservatives it would be one thing. We are hearing it from a government that swears up and down that it believes in the collective bargaining process.

I talked about all the things the government has done in terms of failing to act on the injury rate and other things. This crisis did not just come because the workers, as a last resort, decided to go out on rotating strikes. These are not new issues. They did not come out of nowhere. Instead of trying to put this on Canada Post workers, who are using their tool of last resort to get action, the government needs to own up and say that it should have been doing something about this a long time ago. It needs to recognize the fact that a number of actions the government took in this process over the last four weeks or five weeks poisoned the well. That is not what good-faith collective bargaining looks like, and it is certainly not what a government that supports collective bargaining looks like.

As long as governments that profess to be supportive of collective bargaining are the ones to undercut it and effectively take it away, then, legal point notwithstanding, we are not going to find ourselves in a position in Canada where workers are able to exercise their rights meaningfully. Companies are going to know that when they come asking, as long as they are big enough, as long as they are an eBay, a Netflix, a Facebook or an Air Canada, and I am thinking about what the Liberals did to aircraft maintenance workers with Bill C-10, which allowed Air Canada to offshore a bunch of maintenance work, contrary to what the government was saying before the election, the government is going to see to it that they get their way. Workers are not going to have meaningful rights in Canada, whatever their legal status is.

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1 p.m.


Erin O'Toole Conservative Durham, ON

Mr. Speaker, I know my colleague's track record in raising concerns by union members and constituents in his riding. I would like him to address two things. I have been hearing from a lot of small and medium-sized businesses in my riding, recently from a Bobcat business and The Bowmanville Foundry, about problems with payments because of the mail situation. I would like the member to comment on whether he is hearing those same concerns. I think what Parliament needs to balance are these concerns.

I would also like his comments on the parliamentary secretary and how that member, when he was in opposition, certainly took a different approach to back-to-work legislation and how it must frustrate the NDP to see the Liberals on their side in opposition and not on their side in government. I would like his thoughts on that.

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1:05 p.m.


Daniel Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am thankful for the opportunity to comment on a couple of things. I will start with the last one. It has been a real disappointment. I think we can see in the ashen look of the parliamentary secretary when he gets up to speak that he does not even believe what he is saying. However, he is part of a government, whatever the principles of the people who may happen to belong to it are, that is first and foremost committed to Bay Street.

In this case, the oddity is that it is Canada Post. It is a publicly run corporation, so the question is why the government would not do something about it. The answer is the letter from eBay. A big multinational is upset about what is going on, so the government has to jump to it. I do not think the parliamentary secretary believes what he is saying, and all the more the shame. On something this important, we should be getting a sincere answer. If the government cannot provide a sincere answer, that is how we know it is doing the wrong thing.

On the question of businesses being impacted by the rotating strikes, first of all, I express some sympathy. There is some disruption. There is no strike without disruption. Part of the point is to show the value of the work postal workers do every day, and when they are not there to do it, it is a problem. However, when 25% of them are being injured in a year, there is going to be a crisis eventually. It is not going to be because of a strike; it is going to be because they cannot maintain the workforce that is out pounding the pavement and getting those letters and parcels delivered. There is a crisis at Canada Post in terms of the injury rate, and something needs to be done about it.

I have sympathy for business. I have sympathy for Canadians. I am among them. Christmas is coming, and we do online shopping too. It is inconvenient. It is a pain. I understand that. However, I do not think it is appropriate to put this all back on workers who have been working under terrible conditions for years.

We need to be asking why Canada Post does not take responsibility for the fact that there has been a work stoppage because there is a seriously high injury rate and other issues of fairness in its workplace. It should be it sorted out for the sake of business.

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1:05 p.m.


Erin Weir Independent Regina—Lewvan, SK

Mr. Speaker, we just had a government member stand up and ask the opposition to explain why this proposed back-to-work legislation might be unconstitutional. All we know for sure is that the last time the Government of Canada ordered postal workers back to work, it was ruled unconstitutional.

A way we might be able to figure out whether this proposed legislation is also unconstitutional is by having a full debate on it in the House and a rigorous study of it at committee. If even Liberal MPs are asking whether this legislation is unconstitutional, it really seems to make the case against the motion to accelerate the back-to-work legislation and in favour of doing our due diligence as parliamentarians.

Something else the government has said is a bit rich. We heard the Minister of Public Services and Procurement say that other countries have stopped delivering mail to Canada, as though this is some sort of international crisis. It is pretty important to put on the record that the reason other countries are not delivering mail to Canada is that Canada Post itself has asked them not to. There is a problem with the government taking an action from Canada Post management and using it as a justification for applying back-to-work legislation against its employees.

I wonder if the member for Elmwood—Transcona can think of any other instances of the government using that tactic in this debate.

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1:05 p.m.


Daniel Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, this is one of the great frustrations of this whole situation. We have had Canada Post management claim that there is a huge backlog. We have reports from the people who actually work in the facilities where the trucks are saying that those numbers are hugely inflated.

As the member rightly pointed out, we have Canada Post telling mail services outside of Canada not to send mail into Canada and then saying, “Oh my God, nobody's sending mail to Canada. This is terrible. We need to have back-to-work legislation”. We have a minister who herself got up earlier and talked about people's assistance cheques not being delivered. She failed to mention the fact that, actually, Canada Post management told its employees that they were not allowed to deliver that mail.

This has been part of the problem all along. It is consistent with the pattern of signalling we have seen from the government when it decided to ignore the attack on sick and vulnerable workers and when it signalled, only a couple of weeks into the strike, that it was contemplating back-to-work legislation. It has been complicit in, and in fact, is now starting to repeat, these trumped-up claims by management about a crisis.

These are textbook strike-breaking techniques. It is not a mystery what they are doing or where the ideas come from. This is the way these things are done. To see a government that says that it is pro-labour and wants to defend the middle class and have a good relationship with Canada's unions using the textbook techniques of strike-breaking, right here in this place with its legislation, is just too much to take, frankly. It makes me really angry. I hope Canadians out there who are working people who want fairness in their workplaces and fair wages are paying attention and can see through this sham.

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1:10 p.m.


Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, one of my favourite expressions is that everybody is a democrat when they win. However, the true test to determine people's commitment to a principle of democracy is how they act when they lose, because the whole system is predicated upon people ascribing to a principle that in exchange for a peaceful exchange of ideas in a competition for votes, everybody agrees to live by the end result. That is how we know if someone really believes in democracy.

It is the same thing when it comes to labour rights. A lot of people profess to believe in free collective bargaining as a fundamental right. However, the true test of whether or not they really do is how they act when presented with a situation where they have to actually implement a decision.

In this case here, we are watching a government that has clearly showed its true nature, that when push comes to shove, it absolutely rejects the notion of and will trample over the rights of Canadians to exercise their right to free collective bargaining. I will develop that idea in a moment, but I want to pause for a moment to talk about process.

With respect to democracy, the Liberal government has tabled legislation that purports to limit debate of members of Parliament in this House on something as important as back-to-work legislation that will be implemented on a national scale, country-wide, on a major Canadian Crown corporation. It wants to limit debate to a few hours. That is unbelievable.

It does not matter where we sit on the merits of the question before the House. I think all Canadians who are fair-minded, all Canadians who value democracy, all Canadians who understand the need for a free and fair exchange of ideas in debate in this chamber will condemn a government that does not have the courage to allow the people in this House to fully express not only their thoughts on this legislation but also the interests and opinions of the constituents who we come to this House to represent. That is shameful and it is cowardly.

I want to talk about free collective bargaining. People either believe in it or they do not. The way we determine whether or not politicians or policy-makers really believe in it is how they act when the chips are on the table.

Here we have a rotating strike by Canada Post workers. We have job action that is being taken. What is happening? We are being inconvenienced. The country is being inconvenienced. Customers are being inconvenienced. Businesses are being inconvenienced. We all are being inconvenienced. That is what the purpose of job action is. It is the withdrawal of services or a lockout by management which is intended to put economic pressure on the other side and the members of the public as a means for resolving the issues between the parties when they are unable to do so by agreement. That is what job action is. That is what a strike does. That is what a lockout does.

Therefore, for the Liberals to say that they believe in free collective bargaining but they will interfere to make sure that nobody will ever actually be able to take that final job action, which is the final expression of the right to free collective bargaining, makes a mockery of their so-called avowed commitment to the principle of free collective bargaining. Saying that one believes in the right of free collective bargaining but not in the right to exercise the right to strike or a lockout is absurd. That is what the Liberal government is saying right now.

What I have noticed about the Conservatives and Liberals is that they tend to believe in the right to strike when workers are on strike and it does not have any real impact. However, the minute that workers withdraw their services and it actually has an impact on the economy, that is when they scramble for return-to-work legislation and strip those workers of their right to exercise their economic impact. Basically, people have a right to strike in this country so long as the strike has no impact. That is the net result of the approach by the Liberals and Conservatives to free collective bargaining and labour in this country, and it is wrong. It is unconstitutional and it violates Canada's signature on any number of international treaties where we say to the world that we believe in the right of free collective bargaining. We say that when we are out of Canada, yet in Canada we strip our workers of that right any time those workers take a move to act on that right and it actually has an impact.

The longshore union in this country does not even have a strike fund anymore. Why? Longshore workers always get ordered back to work. The longshore workers belong to a federally regulated union. They have taken the decision that under Liberal and Conservative federal governments that regulate them, they should not even bother having a strike fund because if they ever move to strike, within days they get ordered back to work. Why? When longshore workers go on strike, the government indicates to the Canadian public how important the value of their labour is to the Canadian economy. Again, workers can strike if they have no impact on the Canadian economy, but if they have a pivotal impact on the Canadian economy, then they do not have the right to strike. That lays bear the contradiction that exists in the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party in this House. There is only one party in this House that stands completely for the principle of free collective bargaining, and that is the New Democratic Party of Canada, and we are going to continue to do that.

I want to talk about the impact. In this case, the government is acting as if Canada Post is an essential service. I just pointed out that I have great respect for the value and importance of the work of Canada Post, but according to the legal definition under labour law, it is not an essential service. If the government wants to treat it as an essential service, then it can make an application to the Canada Industrial Relations Board and make the case that Canada Post should be declared an essential service. If that is the case, the government is then entitled to perhaps place some restrictions on the right to strike. The government has not done that, is not doing it and will not do it. Why? It is because Canada Post is not an essential service.

The very argument the Liberals want Canadians to believe, that they have to legislate Canada Post workers back to work because they are essential to the Canadian economy, the Liberals actually do not have the intellectual integrity to demonstrate that before an independent arbitrator to determine if that is the case because they know they cannot. Why? It is because there are alternatives.

Yes, of course, if Canada Post workers are on a rotating strike, or even if there is a full strike and they withdraw services, that will have an impact on Canada, but there are alternatives. There is UPS. There is FedEx. There is DHL. There is Purolator, although it is owned by Canada Post. I am not sure if it is affected by this job action, but assuming it is not, there is Purolator. There is any number of courier services across this country that can make sure things still move.

That is the difference between that and true essential services like health care workers, police, firefighters or air traffic controllers, where Canadians accept that there could be meaningful limitations on the right to strike because the withdrawal of those services may put public health and safety at risk. That is not the case with Canada Post and the government is trying to slide this regressive act underneath that sort of fabric of essential service when it knows that is not the case.

I want to talk about the middle class. The government constantly repeats “middle class” ad nauseam in the House, as if the Liberal Party is the only party that cares about the middle class. My Conservative colleagues care about the middle class and the NDP cares about the middle class. We all do. However, for the Liberals, middle class is almost like their trademark. They have made it a talking point. The true test of whether the Liberals really believe in the middle class is not what they say, because I have heard more rhetoric in the last three years from the Liberals than I have heard in my lifetime, it is how they act.

What is the best way to enter the middle class? It is to carry a union card, to sign a union card. Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize winning economist, and any number of economists across the political spectrum will tell us that countries that have high rates of unionization have higher rates of people in the middle class. That is only common sense. Obviously, unions work to raise wages and improve working conditions. That is how people enter the middle class.

What do the Liberals do when what is happening in the private and public sectors and a union fights for improvements to its workers' wages and working conditions? They move to scuttle it. They move to restrict the ability of CUPW to improve the working conditions of its workers to enter the middle class. It is pure rhetoric on the Liberal side. The emperor has no clothes on this. If they really cared about the middle class, they would be letting CUPW and Canada Post bargain and allow CUPW come to a resolution, fight for its workers and gain improvements in the workplace that would assist them in moving to the middle class, but no, the Liberals are rushing to order them back to work.

I want to talk about workplace safety. About two and a half years ago, not one kilometre from here, I was present at a ceremony attended by the Prime Minister and all sorts of cabinet ministers and members of the Liberal Party. It was a function organized by Canada Building Trades Unions, where it unveiled its monument to the construction worker. It also served to remind us of those construction workers who have paid with their lives and injuries to build this country. It is a monument to injured construction workers. All the Liberals showed up and beamed with pride and it looked like they were completely happy about this and showed their support for the building trades and union leaders across this country as they stuck up for health and safety. Now how do they act? The single most important issue going on right now in the bargaining between CUPW and Canada Post is their rates of injury, and health and safety in the workplace.

We have already heard the shocking numbers that 25% of the workers at Canada Post have a workplace health or safety incident every year. These are the issues that the unions bring to the bargaining table. They are not asking, but are seeking and demanding a response from the employer. At the end of the day, unions only have one power. Management has all the power to determine the jobs, the terms and conditions in the workplace and unions can ask, can grieve, can seek to persuade someone else, can seek to persuade the employer who has the ultimate decision. The only power unions have at the end of the day is the power to withdraw their services. When that is taken away from a union, it has no power whatsoever. That is not collective bargaining any more. It is collective begging.

That is what the Liberal government is forcing CUPW to do. Instead of letting CUPW do its job, exercise its constitutional right and reflect the constitutional rights of its members and bring those issues to the table and refuse to go back to work and to continue to put economic pressure on Canada Post until they get improvements in health and safety in the workplace, the government seeks to interfere with that process.

Do the Liberals really care about health and safety like they professed on that day when that monument was unveiled and they clapped politely? No. Now they will throw that in front of an arbitrator and that, like a lot of other issues, will be swept under the rug.

The government claims to care about pay equity. Liberals have entered their fourth year of government. With a majority government they could have done anything they want in the last three years. They have entered their fourth year and now they pat themselves on the back for introducing pay equity legislation some time in the future with no money attached to it. Other than that, it is a great pay equity scheme.

What does CUPW do at the bargaining table? It is seeking to get redress for the inequities between the wages of men and women and between urban and rural carriers and workers. Again, what is the government doing with that? When the Liberals have a chance to really see actors in the Canadian economy get real improvements now to pay equity and to health and safety in the workplace, they seek to interfere in that process and derail it. That is some commitment to pay equity.

The rights of labour in this country have been hard fought for. They were not given to them. The rights of labour in this country were paid for by the sacrifice, by the sweat, and frankly, by the blood of workers from coast to coast who stood up and sacrificed for the rights of their sisters and brothers, sons and daughters and grandchildren to be able to live in a free, democratic country where workers have rights. The government shows again by this behaviour, this anti-democratic, anti-union behaviour that it is spitting in the face of that sacrifice.

I want to talk about what happens when we end job action by referring a matter to binding arbitration. I was a labour lawyer for 16 years before I was elected and I have lots of experience with this kind of situation. Something that everybody knows and the government members may or may not have the courage to admit, is that when they refer matters in the collective bargaining environment to an arbitrator in any kind of forum, whether final offer selection or any of the myriad of processes used to come to a binding dispute, they give the power to resolve the issues in dispute to one person. In that kind of environment, they always get a mediated, moderated compromise. They rarely get principled, real solutions to the crux of the issues in dispute. The only way labour really wins the day and has an opportunity to win its case is on the street when it is flexing its economic power and when it is taking the risk of having management exercise its economic power back.

Job action, as I have heard my colleagues say, is not taken lightly. It is not a picnic; it is a sacrifice. We have CUPW workers out there in the freezing cold who are receiving a fraction of their real wages. In fact, sick and injured workers have had their benefits cut off by Canada Post, as the most shameful, disgusting form of pressure to be put in a labour dispute, putting pressure on the most vulnerable workers who are sick and injured, and the Liberal MPs said nothing about it. They let Canada Post use injured workers as a pawn in a labour dispute, and they did not say a word about it.

These workers are out sacrificing, and when Canada Post loses business to companies like UPS and DHL and the other courier companies that are no doubt taking its work right now, they run the risk, when they go back to work, of not having that business there. There is risk, but that is the nature of a strike. It is economic conflict at its base. We do not like to say it, but that is what it is.

Again, I come back to my first point. People either believe in free collective bargaining in this chamber and in this country or they do not. If someone says, “I don't like the economic impact of a strike,” then they do not believe in free collective bargaining. He or she should have the courage to say that then. I challenge my Liberal colleagues, in 2019, to go to the union leaders, go to all of the union halls across this country, walk in there and tell them that they believe in the right to strike as long as there is no economic impact; and tell them that if there is any economic impact, then no, unions get ordered back to work and they will let some appointed person with no interest or accountability in the process make the decision for them.

I have been in this chamber 10 years, and the worst times I am in this chamber are when I see a government violate the constitutional rights of Canadians, and I am going to end with this. The right to strike is a constitutional right. The right to join a union and exercise all of the associated benefits of that is a constitutional right. A government that will interfere with that in this case will interfere with it in any situation. Therefore, we are not just standing up for CUPW workers today or for all workers across this country, we in the New Democratic Party are standing up for all Canadians who believe that this is a country ruled by a Constitution and rights. That means sticking up for them in all situations, not only when it is convenient to do so.

Postal Services Resumption and Continuation ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.


Linda Lapointe Liberal Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to my hon. colleague with a great deal of interest. I imagine he is aware that today is November 23, one month before Christmas. This is a very busy time for e-commerce. Today is actually Black Friday, as it is called.

Seventy per cent of all e-commerce is in fact delivered by Canada Post. Right now, small and medium-sized businesses are suffering because of the situation.

Earlier, my colleague suggested using UPS or FedEx, but SMEs have very tight profit margins. It is therefore uncertain whether they can turn to another service to deliver their parcels.

I would like to hear from my colleague who does not support imposing legislation to ensure the service. Yes, the workers have rights, but so does the public; they have the right to receive their mail, here in Canada.

The NDP in Ontario has previously passed back-to-work legislation. I would like to hear from my hon. colleague on the fact that, in Ontario, the government has previously implemented back-to-work legislation, a practice which the opposition in this House opposes.

Postal Services Resumption and Continuation ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

The hon. member for Vancouver Kingsway. We are running into Private Members' Business, so I will let him give a brief answer and then he will be able to continue after with more questions coming to him when we return. The hon. member.

Postal Services Resumption and Continuation ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.


Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will be forced to be brief.

First, there is a difference when governments bring in back-to-work legislation when dealing with essential services. Provincial governments of all stripes have done that.

Second, the Government of Ontario, under Bob Rae, never ordered teachers back to work. That is completely false. It never happened.

Third, the Liberal MPs all seem to think that the right to strike in this country depends on the month of the year. It does not. That is not the way the Constitution works.

Finally, small business does have options. Small businesses will get packages and parcels delivered. They will simply use other service modalities to do so.

I do not trade off constitutional rights of workers in this country for the convenience of the business sector, like the Liberals do.

Postal Services Resumption and Continuation ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

We will break now for Private Members' Business. The hon. member will have seven minutes, 45 seconds coming to him in questions when we return to the debate.

It being 1:34 p.m., the House will now proceed to consideration of Private Members' Business as listed on today's Order Paper.

The House resumed from October 17 consideration of the motion that Bill C-405, An Act to amend the Pension Benefits Standards Act, 1985 and the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (pension plans), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Pension Benefits Standards ActPrivate Members' Business

1:30 p.m.


Erin O'Toole Conservative Durham, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is my privilege as the member of Parliament for Durham to rise to speak again at second reading debate on my private member's Bill C-405 on pensions, and particularly bringing to the attention of all Canadians the risks that are inherent with defined benefit pension plans that are underfunded at a time that the company is approaching insolvency challenges.

In my last speech, I spoke a lot about the underpinnings of insolvency law in Canada, both the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act and also the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act, which is for larger companies.

Many Canadians might be aware that there have been a lot of challenges with pensioners' benefits—

Pension Benefits Standards ActPrivate Members' Business

1:30 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

I am afraid I am going to have to interrupt the hon. member for Durham. We had a bit of confusion here. The hon. member spoke to this already. The hon. member is going to have the right to reply, but we will move on the hon. member for Sherbrooke at this point. There was a little mix-up here, my apologies.

The hon. member for Sherbrooke.

Pension Benefits Standards ActPrivate Members' Business

1:30 p.m.


Pierre-Luc Dusseault NDP Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am sorry for the confusion about the debate on the bill introduced by my colleague who has just spoken.

I am pleased to provide our party's recommendations on the bill. He is to be commended for his contribution to the debate and the quality of his approach.

Mr. Speaker, can you remind me of the number and title of the bill, please?

Pension Benefits Standards ActPrivate Members' Business

1:35 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

It is Bill C-405, an act to amend the Pension Benefits Standards Act, 1985 and the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act with regard to pension plans. We are at the second reading.

Pension Benefits Standards ActPrivate Members' Business

1:35 p.m.


Pierre-Luc Dusseault NDP Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, my apologies. I was not exactly sure which bill we were debating today.

My colleague's bill, Bill C-405, deals with Canadians' pension benefits. Clearly, this is an extremely delicate subject, as we were able to see with the government's approach to Bill C-27. This sought to allow Crown corporations, and ultimately all other employers in Canada, to change the category of defined benefit retirement plans to target benefit plans.

The direction that the government took is really bad. Thanks to the pressure from many Canadians and from unions, the government seems to have decided to keep the idea of introducing target benefit plans on hold. That means that retirees' benefits will change over time.

When you sign a collective agreement and a defined benefit pension plan, you know what to expect when you retire. With Bill C-27, the government was ready to move forward and change that standard, replacing it with a target benefit plan, that is, one in which benefits can change over time. If that were the case, employees would not get the same amounts as if the defined benefits were maintained.

My colleague's bill is similar to that one. It seeks to enable employers who already offer defined benefit pension plans to convert them into target benefit plans or defined contribution pension plans, which are slightly different, and thereby transfer all of the risk to workers and absolve employers from the obligation to provide their employees with predictable pension benefits.

Pension plans are deferred wages. As I said earlier, they are often negotiated as part of collective agreements.

This bill would change benefits that were negotiated ahead of time and, as I just mentioned, it would also transfer the burden to employees since, in a defined benefit pension plan, the burden is on the employer to deliver what it promised to its employees.

In target benefit plans or defined contribution pension plans, the burden is on employees, who are forced to bear the brunt of any losses that may occur if a company, Crown corporation or government can no longer fulfill its retirement obligations. There has been a lot of debate about that in 2018. This reality has been catching up with workers over the past several years. Employers, whether government or private, are waking up to the fact that, in the future, they will not be able to fulfill the working conditions and retirement pensions that they promised to employees, even though they signed agreements to that effect, and so they are changing the benefits along the way. They are changing conditions that were negotiated. That is unacceptable. It goes completely against the spirit of negotiation and violates a signed agreement to which the two parties agreed and in which both parties must keep their commitments.

Unfortunately, we know what side the Conservatives are on in this kind of debate that affects workers and employers. They always side with the employer. What we are seeing today with Bill C-405 is nothing new.

The bill before us is diametrically opposed to the NDP's proposed approach to correcting major shortcomings in Canada's bankruptcy and insolvency legislation and protecting Canadian workers' and retirees' pensions and benefits. This is 2018, and workers are facing a whole new reality. We have seen it in the past, and we saw it again recently with Sears. Not only can the pension benefit terms and conditions be changed, but pensions can be cancelled altogether. I know workers in Sherbrooke, my region, who worked for 30 years and then suddenly found themselves in that very situation. The employer went bankrupt and closed up shop, and workers' pensions evaporated.

Those employees worked for years to build up their pensions. That money belongs to them. It is deferred income. They worked their whole lives to save that money, and then from one day to the next, their employer was no longer in a position to give the money that belongs to them.

Sears is the latest example, but this is something we have seen in Estrie as well. I know a person who worked at Olymel in Magog. That person, along with everyone else who worked there, lost their pension because their employer suddenly announced that it was no longer able to honour the conditions they had initially agreed to. The workers' money went up in smoke.

That leads to very sad situations. Some of these people are elderly and have to go back to work because they lost all the benefits they were promised initially. They are left in the lurch. They have to go back to work and, for some of them, the working conditions are not nearly as good as when they were working for a business that was thriving and prospering but suddenly had to shut down.

Unfortunately, the Conservatives are unlikely to surprise us today with such a bill to stop executives from giving themselves excessive bonuses in any liquidation and bankruptcy procedures.

I mentioned Sears, but there have been other cases of bankruptcy where the executives took off with the employees' savings. That money does not necessarily always go to the creditors. Sometimes it winds up in the pockets of the executives of those companies. Then the executives or shareholders tell the board of directors that after liquidating the company's assets, that is, before putting the money in their own pockets, there is nothing left for everyone else. There is nothing left for the other creditors.

We in the NDP believe that workers are the priority creditors. That has always been our position. When a company goes bankrupt, the priority creditors are the workers. Whether it is salaries, unpaid sick leave or pensions, priority must be given to what has already been promised, before the banks are even consulted to proceed with the liquidation and pay out the creditors. The workers should always come first.

Unfortunately, once again, we know whose side the Conservatives are on: the employers and the executives. They allow these unacceptable situations to continue, and that is a shame. Bill C-405 does not solve anything. On the contrary, it makes matters worse.

Pension Benefits Standards ActPrivate Members' Business

1:40 p.m.


Pat Kelly Conservative Calgary Rocky Ridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, perhaps my friend from Sherbrooke might have misunderstood what the bill sets out to do. It does in fact set out to address many of the problems he identified in his speech. There is certainly a problem with the way pension assets are addressed in a bankruptcy proceeding. I completely agree with him on that point. This legislation is part of a solution to some of these issues.

In a free and competitive economy, firms compete with each other for goods and services to consumers. This is the most efficient and effective way for people to get what they want.

However, in a free society with a market economy, businesses will fail from time to time. When a business fails, we need to have appropriate laws in place so companies that have to restructure under bankruptcy remain viable, but can minimize losses to investors, to creditors, to past and present employees and ensure fairness.

Bill C-405 addresses a weakness in Canada's balance between these competing interests in its approach to pensions and bankruptcy and insolvency law. The bill provides a timely and practical approach to an issue that concerns unfunded pensions and bankruptcy cases.

Before speaking further on the content, I want to take a moment to thank the member for Durham for tackling this issue through a private member's bill.

Private members' bills are a great way for opposition members from all parties, as well as non-government members within the governing party, to contribute to the legislative process even if they are not members of the government.

The legislation is great example of a way, through Private Members' Business, we can tackle a problem with a precisely targeted practical and non-ideological approach to a national problem. I encourage all my colleagues from all parties to support this common sense bill.

Canada's current bankruptcy and insolvency laws suffer from weaknesses, which exacerbate unfunded pensions when a business fails.

First, when administering pension plans during bankruptcy proceedings, Canadian companies are required to purchase annuities in order to make payments in the plan. These annuities return only a fraction of what pensioners are owed and prevent pensioners from agreeing to other investment options to salvage their contributions. It often has the effect of forcing the conversion of pension assets at precisely the wrong possible time.

Corporate bankruptcies are more likely to happen at exactly the same time as a general downturn in the economy and in financial markets. What actually causes the bankruptcy in the first place will also cause a conversion of pension assets at the least advantageous time and at the least advantageous valuations. It creates a perfect storm that can destroy pension assets. Administrators of pension plans currently have no flexibility for how best to preserve existing assets in a pension fund.

The second problem is that companies at any time undergoing bankruptcy proceedings need to have strong leadership to guide them back to profitability. They need to have their best employees in order to have any chance to recover.

However, at the same time, paying retention bonuses to executives or key employees of firms with an unfunded pension liability is unfair. Employees do not want to see company executives receiving bonuses, while they are losing their job, having their wages or hours reduced or simply having to endure the strain of uncertainty during a difficult time. Key employees are going to be needed to somehow be retained if a business is going to survive. Limiting or putting conditions on key employee retention payments are needed in cases where a business that has failed has an unfunded pension liability.

The third problem is that pension plans often are opaque. Important information about a pension plans sustainability can be difficult to access by its members. Canadians should be able to see how their pension plan is doing and be able to press their employer to adequately fund a pension.

The best way to solve the problem of unfunded pension liabilities is to not allow a pension to become unfunded in the first place.

By introducing Bill C-405, the member for Durham proposes a solution to these three problems.

The bill would allow pension administrators to secure approval from pensioners to amend the plan or to transfer assets to other plans instead of having to buy annuities at the worst possible time. This would allow more funds to stay in the plan or be reinvested to continue earning returns while bankruptcy proceedings were in progress. It would give administrators more flexibility to salvage the value held in the plan and it would give plan members more say in how their plan would be managed. The bill would ensure plan members themselves would be the ones who would determine whether the administrators would keep the assets invested or convert them to annuities.

Bill C-405 would also improve fairness when restructuring companies have unfunded pensions. It would limit the key employee retention payments that executives could receive during the restructuring, setting pre-conditions for such payments to be made and limiting their size. These measures would prevent executives, officers and owners from profiting from mismanagement and would incentivize them to keep pension plans in good order.

The bill sets the right balance between protecting employee assets and ensuring the business has the best opportunity to recover.

Third, the bill would give past and present employees greater access to information about their plan by requiring an annual public report on its health. It would also facilitate coordination with provincial governments and securities regulators around pension sustainability.

Again, the most effective way to deal with the problem of unfunded pensions is to stop or discourage them from becoming unfunded in the first place. Greater transparency is a key to that objective. With greater transparency comes greater incentive from management to ensure pensions are viable.

These are reasonable means to increase protection for Canadian pensioners, without harming competitiveness and access to capital. The member for Durham explained these points in detail in the first hour of debate, but I will focus on why these measures are superior to other proposals that have been put forward, in particular, the option of creating a super-priority for pensions, which some members of the House would prefer.

Like many of my parliamentary colleagues across Canada, I have received many letters from constituents urging me to protect Canadian pensioners through the creation of a super-priority for pensions in bankruptcy and insolvency cases. They often mention particular examples that are heartbreaking in the way employees have lost their savings after working for many years. They mention companies like Sears, Algoma, Nortel and many others.

We all are tremendously sympathetic to pensioners of companies like those and other failed businesses when the business could not meet its pension obligations. However, creating a super-priority for pensions will not fix the problem. In fact, a super-priority would probably make the problem worse.

Super-priority for pensions would risk creating disincentives to outside investment. It could undermine investor confidence, which would mean more business failures, bankruptcies, lost employment and lost pensions. Super-priority would also make it much more difficult for a business that is being restructured to attract investment at a critical time.

I recognize that some in the House might disagree with me on the issue of super-priority, but why not support the bill anyway? The bill clearly would move the balance of competing interests in the event of a corporate bankruptcy toward workers and pensioners. The bill is surely a move in the direction that those who favour super-priority would want to take us.

The bill would do many things. Therefore, I encourage members to vote for it for what it does rather than what it does not do. The bill would change the current rules to allow more businesses to recover from bankruptcy, more pension assets to be salvaged during bankruptcy, regulate retention bonuses to be paid during bankruptcy and increase transparency on pension plans before they become subject to a bankruptcy proceedings in the first place. The bill is good for workers, for pensioners, for shareholders and creditors.

In conclusion, Canadian workers deserve practical laws that protect their interests and the years of hard work they have put into their companies and pensions. Such laws must strike the best balance between allowing companies to restructure and not being a disincentive to investment. This bill would achieve that balance. I encourage all members of the House to support the bill.

Pension Benefits Standards ActPrivate Members' Business

1:55 p.m.

Jennifer O'Connell Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance (Youth Economic Opportunity), Lib.

Mr. Speaker, I am glad to have this opportunity to speak with my hon. colleagues to Bill C-405, which would amend the Pension Benefits Standards Act of 1985, or the PBSA, as well as the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act, or the CCAA.

Before turning to the bill, I want to remind us all that Canadians work hard and expect their government to do the same. They expect us to make smart and responsible investments that grow the economy now and for the long term. Canadians understand that when we invest in the middle class and in people working hard to join it, everyone benefits.

Canadians expect their hard work will bring about a better quality of life, one where their families and children have greater opportunities and a bright future ahead of them. As well, after a lifetime of hard work, Canadians have earned a safe, secure and dignified retirement. That is why we have some concerns with the bill before the House today.

Bill C-405 was introduced in the spirit of providing greater flexibility for companies to address their pension deficits and protecting Canadians' retirement security. However, the bill contains problematic and unnecessary changes that would endanger Canadians' hard-earned pension benefits.

To give a bit more context, I would like to remind the House of some of the measures the government is undertaking to support Canadians' retirement goals.

In June 2016, we reached a historic agreement with the provinces to enhance the Canada pension plan. The strengthened CPP will provide more money to Canadians when they retire, so they can worry less about their savings and focus more on enjoying time with their families. Increased CPP contributions will be slowly phased in over a seven-year period, starting next January. It will take roughly 40 years of contributions for a worker to fully accumulate the enhanced benefit, which will raise the maximum CPP retirement benefit up to 50%.

To make this clearer, I will provide an example. Today, the current maximum benefit is just over $13,850. If the CPP enhancement were fully in place today, it would represent an increase of nearly $7,300 on that amount, to a maximum benefit of more than $21,100 in today's dollars.

The increase is due to two changes. First, the government is increasing the level of earnings replacement provided by the CPP from one-quarter to one-third of eligible earnings. This means an individual making $55,000 a year in today's dollars over their working life will receive approximately $4,500 more per year when they retire.

Second, it will increase by 14% the maximum income range covered by the CPP, so those who earn more will receive more in retirement.

Now that similar enhancements to the Quebec pension plan are also in place, all Canadian workers can look forward to a more secure retirement. In 2017, the government built on this achievement by reaching an agreement with provincial partners to further strengthen the CPP. Budget 2018 included measures that will give greater benefits to parents whose income drops after the birth or adoption of a child. It also included measures that will provide greater benefits for persons with disabilities, for spouses who are widowed at a young age, and for the estate of lower-income contributors.

These new benefit enhancements will be implemented without raising CPP contribution rates. Strengthening the economy and growing the middle class are important, but so too is making sure people working hard to join the middle class have the help they need to succeed. This is why the Government of Canada has taken steps to ensure more and more people benefit from Canada's economic growth.

In addition to enhancing the CPP, the government also strengthened the guaranteed income supplement. This action provides greater income security for close to 900,000 low-income, single seniors, 70% of whom are women. The enhanced guaranteed income supplement has lifted 57,000 vulnerable seniors out of poverty.

Coming back to Bill C-405, this bill would weaken the security of retirement benefits for workers and pensioners, undermining the government's achievements in enhancing our retirement income system.

The bill would allow the restructuring of employees to reduce pension benefits, subject only to the consent of a minority of plan members. It would allow employers to walk away from their pension promises instead of fulfilling their legal obligation to fully fund all benefits.

As such, the bill runs counter to the government's commitment to find a balanced way to address retirement security. The bill would also harm the ability of companies to retain key employees when undergoing restructuring proceedings. This could make it more difficult to complete a successful restructuring that keeps the company in business and preserves jobs.

In conclusion, over the last three years, our government has been focused on strengthening and growing the middle class, offering real help to people working hard to join it. The government is also focused on building an economy that works for everyone, and the results speak for themselves.

Since we came to office, Canadians have created more than half a million new full-time jobs; the unemployment rate is at the lowest level this country has seen in four decades, and the youth unemployment rate has dropped two percentage points since the beginning of last year. The Canadian economy was also remarkably strong last year, with growth that outpaced all the other G7 countries. It is expected that Canada will remain among the fastest-growing economies this year and next.

We are proud of these achievements, because they are proof positive that our investment and innovations are reaping rewards for all Canadians. However, Bill C-405 would weaken benefit security, running counter to the achievements our government has made and those we are pursuing. For that reason, I urge every member of this House to oppose the bill.

Pension Benefits Standards ActPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.


Anne Minh-Thu Quach NDP Salaberry—Suroît, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin my remarks by saying that today is indeed a very black Friday for workers.

In addition, the government has introduced a bill to require Canada Post mail carriers to return to work, despite the fact that they were in the middle of negotiating a collective agreement freely and in good faith. After only 11 months, the government has decided to intrude on these negotiations and force them back to work. We are being allowed less than three hours of debate for the bill, which we have already started debating and will continue to debate this afternoon. This is abominable conduct from a government that says that workers' rights should be very important. It says it respects bargaining rights, but its actions paint a different picture.

What is more, in 2011, when the Conservatives imposed back-to-work legislation for these same Canada Post employees, the Liberals got all worked up, saying that it was terribly disrespectful and violated workers' rights. Now they are doing exactly the same thing, with even fewer scruples, because they are giving MPs even less time to debate and defend workers.

In addition, today, the Conservatives are introducing a bill that will make pension benefits even more precarious. Bill C-405, an act to amend the Pension Benefits Standards Act, 1985 and the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act with respect to pension plans, which was introduced by the member for Durham, seeks to transfer all the risks of deferred wages to workers by replacing defined benefits. Under defined benefit plans, when someone is working, a portion of their salary is deferred, set aside for their retirement. They know exactly how much money they will receive every year from the day they retire.

The Conservatives are doing the same thing as the Liberals did with Bill C-27. However, that bill has been put on hold for the time being because of the outcry from workers. It actually made the headlines. The NDP denounced the situation. My colleague from Hamilton Mountain did a tremendous job of demonstrating how this change would put the future of workers at risk and create two pension plans, one for those who have already accumulated some pension money and another for young people who are just entering the workforce. The young people would get a different and much more precarious pension plan. I will explain as I go along.

The end result would be that even though people would continue to have a known fixed amount at retirement, instead of receiving a fixed payment, the benefits would vary depending on the performance of the investments and the market. That is what the Conservatives are proposing. We know that investments sometimes do very well. They can yield a good amount one year, and then the next year, if the performance is negative, there might be no money for pensioners.

Do workers really want an income that fluctuates from year to year, an income that they cannot predict? I do not think so. Do they want a negative differential of $15,000 from one year to the next? How can they budget for renovations? How can they deal with a contingency? How can they plan a trip? Pensioners have contributed and set aside money their entire lives, but that money could go up in smoke because of this bill.

This goes against NDP values. It should also be contrary to what the Liberals are proposing in the way of protections for workers. This really puts the future of workers at risk.

That is like telling young people entering the workforce that even though they do the same work and make the same contributions to their pension, they might not get the same pension as those who have been working for the same company for 10 years. That is what will happen under Bill C-405. Is it fair for every worker to pay the same amount but not get the same pension at the end of the line? No. I think the answer is obvious.

The NDP is strongly opposed to this type of bill. Just look at what happened in the Sears scandal. Legislation is indispensable for protecting workers' pensions when businesses go bankrupt, and Canada's legislation in this area is woefully inadequate.

Pensions are supposed to be paid, and deferred wages are supposed to be paid for by creditors, but that is not happening. Under the current Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act, secured creditors always get paid first. Workers' pension funds always come second. In fact, that money is always the last to get paid out. In almost every case, there is practically nothing left to pay back the workers' pension fund.

Retired Sears employees were not the first to be severely affected by the bankruptcy of a Canadian company. Many will remember the collapse of Nortel. The star of Canada's high-tech industry was snuffed out in 2009. It was one of the largest bankruptcy cases in Canadian history. Thousands of Canadians lost their jobs, with no severance or termination pay. Nortel's pension plan had a $2.5-billion shortfall. After eight years of negotiations, Nortel employees learned that their pension benefits would be cut by 30% to 45%.

Let us go back to the Sears case, which happened not long ago. Thousands of employees were laid off without severance or termination pay. However, we know that Sears executives paid themselves bonuses totalling several billion dollars, while their employees were thrown out on the street. Many of them had to find new jobs, which can be hard for people who worked in the same place for 25, 30 or 40 years. Some had no degrees. They found themselves in a tough spot, because it is extremely difficult to find a job at age 50 or 55 these days.

The NDP supports the idea of making it illegal to pay loyalty bonuses to executives who drove a company into bankruptcy. We also want companies to be required to keep their pension plans solvent and to limit unfunded liability. When companies are allowed to get out of these payments, they are essentially stealing workers' pensions, and this is unacceptable.

I do not find this legislation particularly surprising coming from the Conservatives. However, on this dark November 23, at a time when the government is trying to stop free negotiation for postal workers, this bill comes at a bad time.

We will certainly oppose this bill because we want to protect workers' pension plans for all generations, including workers in my generation and our children's generation, and we want to make sure that the risks are shared. In fact, the NDP does not want there to be any risk at all. We believes that all generations of workers who contribute should receive fair, defined benefits.

Pension Benefits Standards ActPrivate Members' Business

2:10 p.m.


Gérard Deltell Conservative Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to speak to Bill C-405 at this stage. It was introduced by my colleague, the member for Durham, as distinguished an MP as ever there was, who had a brilliant career as a military officer. Before being elected by the people of Durham and serving as a minister of the crown in the Harper government, he was also a corporate litigator, so he knows this issue inside out and knows the concerns of businesses, suppliers and employees.

As a result, we believe Bill C-405 strikes a balance between all parties—the business, its employees and its suppliers—when a business, unfortunately, goes bankrupt.

Let me say that our thoughts are with all those who worked very hard for their company over the years and who were left in the lurch when their employer went belly up.

In my riding, there are people who worked for Sears and other companies. I cannot say his name since I was not able to obtain permission ahead of time, but I want to acknowledge an outstanding volunteer in my riding who is involved in charitable activities. He works a lot with the Montcalm Knights of Columbus in Loretteville. I want to acknowledge him because he has brought up the the Sears situation often enough with me. I think of him when I rise in the House to talk about this subject.

As I said earlier, when it comes to pension funds, we need to find a fair balance between the workers—who are the first to be affected by a bankruptcy—and the other parties involved. This includes the company itself, which never wants to go bankrupt, unless it is run by scoundrels or boors, and the suppliers, who put their trust in the company and the owners, and who also end up high and dry when their partners unfortunately go bankrupt.

In our minds, Bill C-405 gives business owners the flexibility they need to avoid bankruptcy, and it gives employees the chance to come out on top. In addition, the bill would prevent partner companies, like the suppliers of the company affected, from having to pay the price for the mismanagement, tough breaks, or problems that led the company to bankruptcy.

This bill will give company managers more flexibility. However, the bill requires these managers to be more transparent about how they had been managing the company, especially with respect to the pension fund. This bill also provides for safeguards to prevent company administrators from playing around with the workers' pension fund.

Because it strikes that balance, we believe that this bill deserves to be appreciated and passed. It offers a solution to this very serious problem. Ultimately, we hope that all companies can avoid bankruptcy. However, it does happen that businesses go bankrupt and have no other choice but to make necessary but unfortunate decisions. Most importantly, this bill gives businesses the flexibility they need to take a step back before getting back into business in a more positive and constructive way.

Once a company goes bankrupt, it is hard to go back. As the perhaps somewhat overused saying goes, “you can't put the toothpaste back in the tube”. Once a company goes bankrupt, it has to live with the consequences, so it is important to prevent that from happening.

In general, what can be done to prevent a company from going bankrupt? First, it requires sound management. Second, the government needs to stop increasing the tax burden on businesses. This may not be the main topic of my speech, but it is important to remember that imposing a Liberal carbon tax will not do anything to help our businesses prosper.

Maintaining or adding more taxes, as the Liberals have been doing for the past three years, will not help either, nor will mounting frontal attacks, as the government did when it had the Minister of Finance table the proposed tax changes for small and medium-sized businesses on July 18, 2017, in which the government treated business owners as potential fraudsters who were abusing the system. As someone already said outside the House, not all small business owners behave the way the Prime Minister does in his business dealings, quite the contrary.

That is why we need to do everything we can to prevent companies from going bankrupt. The best way for the government to do that is by reducing red tape, by offering more flexibility for financial transactions, and most importantly, by not creating any new taxes as the government has done.

I am pleased to close by saying that, for us, this bill is a step in the right direction to solve the problem facing pensioners in bankruptcy proceedings. It is about having the option to prioritize the status of pensioners when companies are dealing with bankruptcy. As we know, pensioners currently rank in sixth place when a bankruptcy is being finalized. Perhaps we could increase the margin. I have spoken with unions, union members and bankruptcy trustees about this. They all say that, generally speaking, if that is done at the very beginning, it could create more problems, because it will hamper the company's access to financing and greater flexibility in an effort to possibly avoid the bankruptcy. No one wants that.

Giving employees super priority is more likely to create problems in the medium and long term than provide any short-term solutions and could have critical repercussions. That is why we think Bill C-405, an act to amend the Pension Benefits Standards Act, 1985 and the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act with regard to pension plans, introduced by my colleague from Durham, deserves the support of all members of the House.

Pension Benefits Standards ActPrivate Members' Business

2:15 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The hon. member for Durham has up to five minutes for his right of reply.

Pension Benefits Standards ActPrivate Members' Business

2:20 p.m.


Erin O'Toole Conservative Durham, ON

Mr. Speaker, there has been much confusion today and much surprise, frankly, at the fact that my NDP colleagues did not even know the name, number, or the content of the bill. That should concern all pensioners. The speech given by the member for Pickering—Uxbridge shows that she did not know the bill either and spoke about unrelated terms.

I am seeking a compromise. It reminds me of the humourist Stephen Fry who said, “Compromise is stalling between two fools.” Maybe I am one of those fools, but certainly when my other friends in the House today did not speak on the content of my bill, it shows that we cannot seem to get anything done.

I would welcome my friends from the NDP making comparisons with Bill C-384, which will not pass the House. If they want to talk about super-priority and a whole range of other issues related to defined benefit risks in insolvency, vote for this bill and bring forward witnesses at committee. This is a substantive measure to make progress.

I have never suggested this is the magic bullet that will solve all issues, but of the 19 million workers we have in Canada, only about 4.2 million still have a defined benefit pension plan. If a company is approaching insolvency and has an underfunded plan, those people are at risk. Our Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act allows for the preservation of firms. I have worked on this as a corporate lawyer on the preservation of Air Canada, and many members will be taking that airline home this weekend. It did not go bankrupt. All the retirees were not left in the lurch. The suppliers' jobs were preserved. Keeping a company a going concern is the goal of CCAA proceedings. We do not want to see liquidations. That is the intent. Make progress on three key areas and that is what Bill C-405 does.

First, it allows pension administrators to preserve and enhance the funds that are left. As my colleague from Calgary said quite eloquently, when there is insolvency and liquidations, there are usually bad economic times. That is the worst time possible to annuitize that remaining fund. If it is already underfunded and only 80% of the funds are available for retirees, the annuity they have to purchase at the worst time to preserve payments might take another 10% or so away from that. We need to preserve and enhance those funds. That is one thing the bill would do. Why would anyone oppose that?

If we want to argue about the threshold of how many pensioners have to vote for approval of the administrator to merge the fund with another plan or do something to preserve and enhance those assets, let us debate that at committee. Let us have experts say whether the threshold should be that one-third reject the plan or that one-third approve it, but at least we need to have options to preserve and potentially give pensioners better returns in the future. Keep that fund going with enhanced pooling of resources and all the benefits of the plan. That is one thing.

The second thing the bill does is eliminate the abuse and unfairness of key employee retention plan payments. My friends from the NDP talked a lot about Nortel and other companies, with $200 million being paid out unfairly in many people's view to senior executives. This would constrain that. This would curb that by changing our insolvency regime, by denying companies' ability to make unfair, large bonuses and payments while there is an underlying pension liability. It would also allow national reporting to the OSC at the provincial legislatures, because pensions are provincial and federal.

I would like to thank many people who have helped me in the process. There is Brian Rutherford, my pal from GENMO. Even though they do not agree with the substance of some elements, this is what I brought forward. There are also Don Raymond, Keith Ambachtsheer, Rob Corkum, Paul Forestell, Andrea Boctor at Stikeman Elliott, and Natasha Monkman, a pension lawyer from Curtis.

Pensioners are emailing all of us. Yesterday, I spoke with Vic Morden who worked on these issues for a union for many years. He thinks the bill is a step forward. Wayne Routley, Jennifer Bankay, Charlotte Wooler, Margaret Ann Dobbin, Thomas Airey and Alexander Fox all have have concerns about the viability of their pensions in the future or their security in retirement.

Bill C-405 would make tangible steps and we should send it to committee. If the NDP want to look at super-priority or other issues, those can be considered at committee.

We are in a situation where the Liberals would rather have no progress than make substantive progress in the three areas I mentioned. I predict that a bill on super-priority will not pass in this Parliament. Therefore, why would we not at least provide the certainty for pensioners that this bill does?

I would like the other parties to put politics aside. Let us make steady progress, pass the bill at second reading, and let us talk more about the risks to pensioners at committee.