Mr. Speaker, to begin with, if you would permit me, I would like to warmly thank my colleague from Shefford. I thank him for his concern in permitting me to express myself today on this bill. I also thank him for being so flexible, for at first I was supposed to speak ahead of him, but gradually we reorganized things. So very great thanks to my colleague from Shefford.
It is with some emotion that I take the floor today on Bill C-55, an Act to establish the Wage Earner Protection Program Act, to amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act and the Companies' Creditors Arrangements Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts. Not only is this bill important to me, but this is probably one of the last speeches I will give in this House. I therefore ask the indulgence of the Speaker and my colleagues should I ever digress.
We must be very aware of the fact that when there are brutal closures or bankruptcies of companies, the fate of the workers is often tragic. Their families have to suffer the consequences of this as well.
Thus far, these employees do not rank very high in priority among the creditors when the time comes to wind up a company's remaining assets. So, as was mentioned earlier, we find wages and severance allowances unpaid, and, sometimes, pensions lost or heavily mortgaged. After working all their lives for one firm, often these people find themselves without resources, without a pension fund, and often with a reduced likelihood of returning to the labour market.
It is imperative that this Parliament consider the tragic situation of these employees who are the victims of brutal corporate closures or bankruptcies. It is high time that we did so.
A number of my constituents experienced such a situation when the Aciers Atlas plant closed in Sorel-Tracy. In fact, the Aciers Atlas retired steelworkers' association contacted me to ask Parliament to pass legislation to deal with this problem. That people should be lobbying for this is nothing new. The Steelworkers have been pressuring parliamentarians for months to look into this glaring problem. This was due in large part to the worrying situation of a number of steel plants, particularly in the Hamilton region.
After that, our colleague from Winnipeg Centre introduced Bill C-281, a bill we supported 100%. We must admit we even helped our colleague prepare the bill.
Obviously, we are extremely pleased to see the government step in with Bill C-55. In this way, we are assured that the existing legal framework will be improved in order to protect workers and ensure that they are among the preferred creditors when a company is dissolved.
As was said earlier, we support the principle of Bill C-55, but it still contains a number of irritants and gaps, particularly with regard to the concept of secured creditor. The Government of Quebec should be consulted as to how this new legislation may work with the provisions of the Civil Code.
A few moments ago, my colleague from Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert spoke quite pertinently about the waiting period that students face before being allowed to discharge their student loans through bankruptcy. This is another area of concern with regard to Bill C-55, as is the issue of penalizing individuals receiving EI benefits, who may be taxed on the benefits they receive when a company is dissolved.
We will have to ensure that a number of amendments and improvements are made to the bill in later stages, so that it is able to truly respond to the very legitimate expectations of workers and pensioners of companies that may one day close.
As I said earlier, I am very happy to speak on this issue. It is clear just how important it is to me.
As I said, I will be leaving this place soon for another arena where I hope I will be able to continue to serve and to meet new challenges.
I would like to take the few minutes I have left to thank all my present and former colleagues in this House. It has been a great privilege and honour for me to be able to sit in this House and be surrounded by extraordinary people here to represent their constituents in Canada and in Quebec.
I would like also to say goodbye to everyone here, House staff, clerks, security personnel and so on. I have particularly fond memories of the late Major General Cloutier, with whom I worked closely during my time as chief whip for the Bloc Québécois.
I also want to acknowledge and thank the legal advisors, and in particular Diane Davidson, an extraordinary woman now working with Elections Canada. These legal experts provide such devoted services to parliamentarians. Then there are the maintenance staff, the support staff, the food services people, the mail room employees, the pages, the researchers and Library staff, in short, all personnel of the House, past and present, who make it possible for us to do as worthy and efficient a job as possible of serving our fellow citizens.
I wish to mention the efficient, competent and devoted staff of the Bloc Québécois in general, and in particular the ones who have worked with me since 1993, who have made it possible for me to do this exciting job of representing the people of Verchères and Verchères—Les-Patriotes in the House of Commons. Words are not enough to express my great appreciation for their devotion, which has made it possible for me, I hope, to do my job as effectively and appropriately as possible.
And then there are the countless volunteers who have worked in the federal riding of Verchères and later Verchères—Les-Patriotes, the ones who have made it possible for me to be here for four terms, a total of some 12 years.
I wish to pay particular tribute to my family, my wife Johanne and my daughter Audrée-Anne. Without them, I could never have fulfilled this mission for the past 12 years.
Lastly, Mr. Speaker, I would be remiss if I did not express my equally warm and heartfelt thanks to the people of the federal riding of Verchères and Verchères—Les-Patriotes, who have showed their faith in me in four elections, who invested in me and reiterated their confidence in me. There is no way I can fully express my gratitude for the touching support they have manifested in me on four occasions, starting in 1993.
I thank them for allowing me to go through the exciting adventure of representing them in the House of Commons. I hope I always lived up to their expectations.