Madam Speaker, I am very happy to rise today to speak to this very important piece of legislation tabled by my colleague from Sarnia—Lambton.
Pension protection has been at the forefront of our legislature for what seems like years. Every Parliament has had various attempts to protect worker pensions from insolvency. They are tabled and it seems that every Parliament has this issue which we all agree is important, but it dies on the Order Paper.
Hopefully, Bill C-228, an act to amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act, the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act and the Pension Benefits Standards Act, 1985, will finally see our legislature take concrete action to protect Canadian workers and their hard-earned pensions.
Bill C-228 amends the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act and the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act to ensure that claims in respect of unfunded liabilities or its solvency deficiencies of a pension plan are accorded priority in the event of bankruptcy proceedings. It also provides that an employer has to maintain group insurance plans and provide benefits to, or in respect of, its employees or former employees.
This area has particular importance to me given my previous career as a financial adviser and current career as the official opposition's shadow minister for seniors. Workers spend their entire lives building something for them to enjoy during their golden years. Bill C-228 is a big step forward in securing those years for future generations.
Bill C-405, which was tabled by my hon. colleague from Durham, was unfortunately defeated at second reading. The logic from the government according to the now Minister of Justice, was that the “proposed changes reduce the flexibility of courts based on particular situations and facts. These current flexibilities help to achieve the best outcome for the company and the pensioners and they might conflict with important policy objectives.” The NDP felt that the legislation did not accurately protect pensions.
The following Parliament saw a little more progress on the file. The member for Manicouagan managed to garner enough support to send her attempt to committee despite opposition from the Liberals, who claimed:
[T]he employee group benefit claims would be weakened and that could ultimately weaken companies in their ability to restructure and affect that sense of competitiveness of firms with respect to defined benefit pension plans as well as group insurance benefit plans, which would not necessarily help pensioners and workers in all cases. It has the potential to threaten the existence of defined pension plans.
While the bill may not have been perfect, we on this side of the House were willing to put the financial security of Canadians ahead of any partisan differences and we pledged to send the bill to committee so that it could be improved. Over seven meetings and after consultations with dozens of witnesses and expert testimony, the bill was returned to Parliament amended and improved.
I bring up Bill C-253 because this legislation that we are speaking about here today is very much a spiritual successor to that earlier piece of legislation. The two pieces of legislation share a very large amount of the same text. What Bill C-228 does is build on the very good work that was done on the file in the last parliamentary sitting by amending the Pension Benefits Standards Act, 1985, to empower the Superintendent of Financial Institutions to determine that the funding of a pension plan is impaired or that the pension plan administrator is at risk and to set out measures to be taken by the employer in respect of the funding of the plan in such cases.
Michael Powell, president of the Canadian Federation of Pensioners, said:
We support Bill C-253 and the extension of superpriority to pension deficits. This is the simplest solution to meaningfully improve pension protection for Canadian seniors.
In our Canadian regulatory environment, the only single place to protect pensions is within insolvency regulations. This committee and Parliament face a decision between the status quo—which leaves seniors' future financial well-being at risk and perpetuates an unfair system designed to exclude seniors from protecting their own financial interests, an unfair system that has been proven to significantly harm older Canadians—and a new future that offers protection to vulnerable seniors.
Mr. Hassan Yussuff, former president of the Canadian Labour Congress, was also supportive, saying, “The CLC, of course, supports Bill C-253, and I want to thank the members who voted to advance this bill.”
Unfortunately, an election call meant the death knell for Bill C-253. While the bill itself is dead, the spirit of co-operation among all parties that followed Bill C-253 need not be.
During debate on Bill C-253, the legislation's previous iteration of Bill C-228, the former member for Hamilton Mountain called for support of the legislation, even though he had a similar piece of legislation tabled before the House, Bill C-259. Unless I missed my mark, that legislation has been reintroduced in this Parliament by the member for Elmwood—Transcona as Bill C-225. The former member for Hamilton Mountain said, “I feel strongly about the necessity of these protections put forward, so much that my bill, Bill C-259, contains equivalent measures to every article contained in this bill. I would like to let her and the House know that I am calling on all my NDP colleagues to support the bill at second reading and I hope to see it get to committee.”
I hope my honourable friend and his party will continue down the path of co-operation and multipartisanship that his predecessor did.
I mentioned earlier how I had a previous life as a financial adviser. I saw first-hand the complete destruction of livelihoods that tore through Hastings—Lennox and Addington when Nortel and Sears went belly up. The financial security of nearly 37,000 Canadians went up in smoke overnight.
These were terrible lessons that affected every single one of our ridings and lessons that we cannot continue to ignore. We, as a legislature, need to work toward protecting Canadian pensioners. We have before us a piece of legislation that has previously received support from the majority of parties in this House. It is a piece of legislation that, in fact, has been tabled by two separate parties. How often can we say that? It is a piece of legislation that has already gone through the scrutiny of a parliamentary committee and debate.
I would suggest to my colleagues in the House that we do the right thing, pass Bill C-228 into law and avoid the fate of so many other attempts to protect Canadian pensioners.