Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to this important bill today.
As a left-leaning progressive politician and union man, it is really important for me to be here in the House to support the initiative of the member who introduced this private member's bill. This initiative is completely in line with the values of the NDP, which has been the political party of workers since its foundation.
We have always been there to fight to give workers decent working conditions, decent work schedules, decent insurance, and adequate and decent wages so that they and their families and children can have a good quality of life.
With that perspective, the fight to protect people's retirement plans and pensions when a business goes bankrupt has always been a major concern for the NDP, as the working class party and the labour party. This is not the first time we have debated this issue. I must point out the work of NDP colleagues in the previous caucus who fought for this, who were pioneers and who worked very hard.
I am thinking of Chris Charlton, Wayne Marston and Scott Duvall, who, before retiring from political life, took up this cause. All the work done by my current colleagues in the NDP caucus and past colleagues has ensured that today we are about to arrive at solution that, although not perfect, is positive.
However, I cannot help but point out that when Chris Charlton, Wayne Marston and Scott Duvall introduced similar bills to protect the rights of pensioners, the Conservative Party systematically voted against them.
Today, we find ourselves in a new situation. I am pleased to note that the Conservative Party seems to have gone on the road to Damascus and seen the light. They have had a change of heart, and I hope that it is not being opportunistic in order to portray itself to voters as the friend of workers for the next election, but that it is something more deeply rooted and serious.
I always welcome spontaneous conversions, but I also remember that, when he was a minister in Stephen Harper's government, the Leader of the Opposition was one of the harshest critics of workers' rights. He levied sustained, systematic attacks against worker and union movements with bills such as C‑377 and C‑525, which would have weakened or even wiped out unions in Canada and Quebec. That is always on my mind, so I am always a little apprehensive, a little suspicious because, as a minister, he repeatedly attacked the union movement that stands up for workers' rights. I think people need to be aware and keep that in mind right now. Nevertheless, I applaud the work of the Conservative Party member who introduced this bill, which the NDP obviously supports because it is about time.
We have seen extremely tragic situations where people who dedicated their lives to a business, to a company, who set money aside, wound up in extremely difficult, trying situations when their company went bankrupt.
For example, when Sears went bankrupt, people in Quebec, Ontario and western Canada saw their pensions drop by 20%, 25% or 30% per month. These people lost hundreds of dollars because they were not priority creditors under the law. Bankers and investors took precedence over the workers who had, in some cases, devoted their entire lives to these companies and counted on them. This is not a question of charity, a gift to these workers. It is their money. They set aside wages for years, decades, to cover their golden years. It is their money.
It is good that today, as parliamentarians in the House of Commons, we can act soon to help these people, to protect them and to avoid dramatic situations like those we have seen with Sears and many other companies.
I will tell a quick personal story. I was a teenager when my grandfather died. I am from Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, and my grandfather Urgel worked at Singer for 44 years. Singer was the big factory that drew people to the town for work. It employed thousands of people. My grandfather worked there for 44 years and then he retired. A few years later, Singer went bankrupt. Not only did it go bankrupt, but its executives took off with the pension fund. Those folks just took the money and ran.
The Singer pensioners had to fight in court for years. They had to hire lawyers to get some of their money back. Unfortunately, by the end of the long legal proceedings, my grandfather, like many of his co-workers, had died. My grandmother did finally receive a small portion of the pension that Singer had stolen from them. This is just a family example, not a personal one, because it did not affect me. However, I was told this story, and it really did affect my family. The fact that no one had any protection at the time, the fact that the workers were not considered priority creditors ahead of the investors and bankers, really affected my family.
The NDP chooses to put people first and stand up for them ahead of the banks, and we are not afraid that people are going to stop investing in Canada and that the sky is going to fall because of it. In fact, I think we can go even further. When the rules of the game are known and they are the same for everyone, then investors can make informed investments, knowing what the rules are, what the consequences of bankruptcy will be and who will be paid first because it is their money first and foremost.
The bill could have been improved. My NDP colleague, the member for Elmwood—Transcona, tried to do so by proposing an amendment in committee to protect not only pensions and retirement plans, but also severance pay. Oddly enough, the committee chair ruled that the amendment was out of order, that it fell outside the scope of the bill. However, this friendly amendment had been welcomed by the member of Parliament who is is responsible for this bill. It is therefore rather odd that the Liberal chair of the committee would reject a friendly amendment, which seemed to me to be perfectly in order since it concerned the rights of workers in the event of a company's bankruptcy. It was done in exactly the same spirit, and the majority of the committee members agreed with the amendment.
That decision was upheld by a Speaker's ruling. The NDP tried to pass a unanimous consent motion to undo the Speaker's ruling, which is something that can be done and is well within the rules. Unfortunately, some Liberal members refused to overturn the Speaker's ruling, refused to respect the will of the committee, and refused to protect the rights of workers when it comes to severance pay. Usually, in the House, we do not know who said no. However, oddly enough, the member for Winnipeg North said he was not the only person who said “no”. In saying that, he himself admitted, as the member for Winnipeg North, that he had said no to this request from the NDP for unanimous consent to respect the will of the majority of committee members. However, he never explained why he, as the member for Winnipeg North, or why the Liberal Party members were against protecting severance pay in the event of bankruptcy.
For a party that claims to be a friend of unions and a friend of workers, that is rather odd and contradictory. I look forward to hearing the member for Winnipeg North explain to us why he opposed this measure when he is a democrat and respects the will of the committee. While the three opposition parties agreed on this amendment, he said no in the House and opposed workers' rights. I look forward to hearing the member for Winnipeg North explain why.