Madam Speaker, I am honoured to rise today to speak to Bill C‑228, which was introduced by the member for Sarnia—Lambton. This is a very important bill. I sincerely commend my colleague and congratulate her on the work she does in the House.
In theory, every elected member is allowed to introduce their own bill in the House of Commons during every Parliament. Not everyone has the opportunity to do so, since there is very little time. Each one of us would have all kinds of bills to introduce. When a member like the member for Sarnia—Lambton has the opportunity to introduce a bill, that is a very fortunate event, and I sincerely thank her for choosing this topic. This bill, if passed, will correct what I consider to be a serious injustice. Based on what we have been hearing in the House, I have a lot of faith that this bill will move forward. It may even be passed. I tip my hat to my colleague, sincerely.
In my riding of Joliette, my colleague Véronique Hivon represents us in the National Assembly. She has announced that she will not be seeking re‑election after 14 years of dedicated service. The lesson I take from her is that we need to work across party lines, make connections that go beyond party boundaries and political games, and work together for the common good to make a difference. I truly believe that each and every one of us is here in the House because we want to make things better for people, and the member for Sarnia—Lambton's Bill C‑228 is proof of that.
As my colleagues know, Bill C‑228 amends the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act and the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act to better protect workers' pension plans. When a business goes bankrupt, it is always a great tragedy. If it is a family business, then it is a tragedy for the family. It is also a tragedy for the community where the company does business. However, it is even more tragic for the workers who depend on the jobs that business provides to earn their living. Any bankruptcy is a tragedy, of course, but it particularly affects pensioners. That is what the bill before us would correct. It seeks to better protect pension plans in the event of bankruptcy.
Everyone remembers the case of White Birch, which went bankrupt in 2010, I believe. The workers lost about half of their pensions because the pension plan was not adequately funded. It was such a tragedy. Those people had worked hard all their lives—those were not easy jobs—to make enough money to be considered middle class and, for all those years, they had been contributing to a pension fund so they could retire. They believed they would work hard, get up early every morning to earn their keep, and then, at 65 or so, they would be able to go at a slower pace for the rest of their lives and enjoy what they had put aside through the pension plan. However, overnight, these people, who had budgeted very carefully, knowing that people have less income in retirement than when they are working, saw half their income disappear because the company went bankrupt.
Finally, we learned that pension funds, pension plans are unsecured creditors, so once the taxes owing to the government are paid, and all the other higher ranking creditors are paid, there is practically nothing left for underfunded pension liabilities like that. These are terrible situations that ruin lives.
The bill introduced by my esteemed colleague from Sarnia—Lambton includes several aspects, but basically it seeks to ensure that pension plans are given a higher priority when creditors are being paid off. This would help to better shelter pension funds to ensure that the pensions are paid.
Earlier, I spoke about working together across party lines, and so I thank the member for choosing to present her bill to the media together with my Bloc Québécois colleague, the member for Manicouagan.
During the 42nd Parliament, from 2015 to 2019, Cliffs, a company in my colleague from Manicouagan's riding, went bankrupt, leaving many workers in a difficult situation. The United Steelworkers stepped in and miraculously managed to reduce pension losses, but the harm had already been done. As a result, my colleague then introduced a bill similar to this one.
What is different today is that we have a minority government. The people voted this government in, but they did not give it free rein, which means that it must answer to all parliamentarians, a majority of whom are not from the same political party. That gives the House, this Parliament, some leverage and makes it possible for bills like my colleague's to be passed.
In this case, the Liberals might be changing their stance, since they want to study this bill in committee, so at least the bill will make it that far. Let us hope that we will be able to improve it and get it through the other stages. Obviously, there will be work to do in committee. Questions will need to be answered. We will have to make sure that we understand every part of the bill so that everything is done properly, according to the rules. That is what committee work is for. I am sure we can make that happen.
This issue is obviously very important to us. We see that federally regulated businesses would also be protected by the change to the Pension Benefits Standards Act, 1985. This affects 3% of the labour force in Quebec. In her bill, my colleague from Manicouagan also proposed raising group insurance to the rank of preferred creditor. This is not the case here and that is something that could be discussed by the committee.
As I was saying, the principle of the bill is honourable. The member did not have to introduce this bill, and I commend her for deciding to do so.
I will certainly ask a question in committee about the possibility of transferring rather than liquidating the pension fund. I will also have questions about the possibility of an employee taking out insurance to cover all or part of a potential deficit in the pension fund. When Groupe Capitales Médias declared bankruptcy, the workers of the various daily and weekly papers in Quebec belonging to the group lost part of their pensions. In contrast, workers at the newspaper Le Droit, based in Ottawa, will receive almost their entire pension thanks to insurance. This measure is already in place in Ontario, but not in Quebec, and I think that Quebec would do well to consider this model.
After the White Birch bankruptcy, the first case that really struck me, there was the Cliffs case on the north shore. I was elected at the same time as my colleague from Manicouagan, and this second case really shook us up. It was at that point that my colleagues and I got a better grasp of the issue. However, since then, there have been more cases. I just spoke about Groupe Capitales Médias, but there are others. I remember in particular the Sears bankruptcy, which the member for Sarnia—Lambton and I went through.
How many dozens or hundreds of families of retired workers run the risk of losing half or even more of their retirement pensions because a company did not adequately fund their pension plan before declaring bankruptcy? In my opinion, it is our role in the House as legislators to correct this shortcoming by raising the creditor ranking of pensioners so they are better protected.
In closing, I would like to again thank the member for Sarnia—Lambton.