Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to be speaking to Bill C-228, which addresses pensions in the case of bankruptcy or insolvency. For the NDP, this addresses something that has been a long-term concern for us. We know pensioners are really made fragile when they lose a significant part of their pension. We know it is absolutely devastating when workers who worked so hard for a company, workers who spent their lives dedicated and loyal doing that work, lose their pension on the other side or know they are going to lose their pension.
Whenever I think of this issue, I always think of Pat Horgan, who was a former member of my constituency. He passed away several years ago. I remember him sharing his story of his many years of dedication to Safeway, where he travelled quite a distance to work and support his family. He spent many, many years of his life working really hard. His amazing pension provided a solid foundation for his family. He retired early to care for a young son. Pat was making $2,700 a month, and when everything fell apart, his pension went from $2,700 down to $72 a month.
This happens to Canadians in our country, and that is why this type of legislation is so important. This is why we are holding the government to support this. It needs to understand that, when it puts Canadians in that situation, when it tells companies everybody is above the workers, it really disenfranchises those folks. It means that, when they retire, they do not have that stability.
Pat, in his retirement, had to go back to work. He had to go back to work to support his family. I remember him saying to me he was grateful he had the health and well-being to work, even though as he got older and older it became harder and harder for him. This is why it is so important that we are here today.
Pensions are deferred wages. This is how we plan for our future and for our retirement. When someone gets older, one faces multiple challenges because of aging. If someone does not have the pension they worked so hard for, and everybody else walks away with the money they need while that person is left in a fragile and vulnerable position, it is simply not fair. It is an injustice. It is unfair, and it finally needs to be dealt with. Worker pensions should not be at the bottom of the list. I am so hopeful this bill will get to where it needs to get because it would take the steps that are much needed toward fixing this.
I need to be honest. I was a little worried in the very beginning if I would support this bill or not. My caucus and I had some very important concerns, which we brought forward to the member for Sarnia—Lambton. Happily, some commitments, discussions and agreed upon changes, and I thank the member for that important work, will allow this caucus to vote in favour of the bill.
Because of this work, yesterday, together with the NDP member for Elmwood—Transcona, the Bloc member for Manicouagan and, of course, the member for Sarnia—Lambton, all three opposition parties were able to announce their collaboration on this bill.
I need to take this opportunity of course to thank my dear friend Mr. Scott Duvall, who is the former member of Parliament for Hamilton Mountain. He worked diligently both in the 42nd Parliament and the 43rd Parliament to get this work done and introduced his own bill in the 42nd Parliament. I know he worked so hard with the Bloc to get the bill through, and we did not see it get where it needed to in the other place because of an election that was called for no reason.
I am so happy to be having this discussion because Scott Duvall committed his life to this work. He lived through this. He came from a union background and had seen this happen. He had worked to support workers and was absolutely dedicated. I really respect the work he continues to do, and I hope this gets over the finish line. I know he would be really happy to see that.
Currently, we know our laws leave workers behind. I believe it is extremely important not only to amend the bankruptcy laws to ensure not only that unfunded liabilities for pension funds are honoured over both secured and unsecured creditors but also that companies can no longer stop payment of retirement benefits during the bankruptcy proceedings. This is another factor that is really important to understand.
These long processes have such a profound impact in the short term and long term for workers. We know that when there is the significant loss within a community of a big organization or business, it really has a profound impact, especially on smaller rural and remote communities like those that I represent. This is important. I am seeing this right now in a bit of a different circumstance with the mill in Powell River where folks are waiting to move on, but they are not getting any termination or severance pay. They are waiting for that. That is what happens in bankruptcies. People are waiting because all of the secured creditors get to go first. There is a pattern for businesses in trouble to leave workers hanging, unable to bridge the gap and move forward in a meaningful way. Our federal laws need to be improved to support workers.
That is the foundation of this for me and I hope it is for all of us as we vote on this. We have to make sure that workers are recognized in our country. All too often we have systems in place where workers stay poor while the people at the very top walk away with a lot of resources. When people work hard for a company, when they wake up every day and show their dedication and loyalty by showing up for work and helping that business grow its own resources, its own wealth, we have to make sure that when it gets tough, those people are not left behind.
As the NDP's spokesperson for seniors, I have spoken to many seniors who have had this experience and have significant challenges financially when they retire. It can become very significant if they lose their pensions.
One of the concerns I have with this bill is it does not really include protection for health care benefits during the insolvency process. This is concerning to me. I have talked to a significant number of seniors in my riding who really struggle with health care costs.
I was talking to someone not too long ago who was talking about diabetes medication and how hard it is to make ends meet now because that person does not have any extra resources. We also know that as people age, dental care becomes increasingly more important and is a huge deterrent to health. I have talked to seniors who struggle to chew their food and are having to blend their food in a blender to make sure they get the healthy nutrients they need.
One senior told me that she lost her pension because of a bankruptcy and is now in a position where she has significant dental work that needs to be done. She is trying to save up for it. She keeps getting a recurring infection in her gums. Her dental professionals are trying to make that work without her losing any more of her teeth. I cannot imagine being in that circumstance.
This is an important part. We need to make sure that those things are put in place. I know this is exactly why the NDP is fighting so hard to get dental care in this country for low-income people, especially vulnerable people with health issues, persons living with disabilities, seniors and children. We need to make sure that people have that opportunity. Often when people lose their dental health, they lose so many other opportunities in their life.
In closing, I look forward to having this bill go to committee and for all of us to work together to amend it and make some changes so that we can serve the workers across this country who build our communities, who pay their taxes and do all they can. We want to make sure when they retire that they are protected. Hopefully, we will get there.
I want to again thank the member who brought this bill forward for her hard work, her diligence and her ability to work across party lines. I think that is a real testament to some of the work we do in this place.