Madam Speaker, Bill C-574, An Act to promote and strengthen the Canadian retirement income system, “creates a bill of rights for a retirement income system that promotes the goals of adequacy, transparency, affordability, equity, flexibility, security and accessibility for all Canadians”.
The bill introduced by the Liberal member for the Ontario riding of York West establishes a bill of rights that aims primarily to protect individuals who participate in pension plans, whether they are retired or still active in the workforce.
Bill C-574 protects various rights related to pension income, particularly the right to accumulate sufficient pension income and the right to receive complete and accurate information, in a timely fashion, when serious risks become known, specifically, a risk of non-payment or reduction in benefits.
The Bloc Québécois will be proposing an amendment to ensure respect for Quebec's jurisdiction. Private pension plans come under Quebec and provincial jurisdiction, with the exception of federally regulated industries like banking, communications and so on. The same is true of the Quebec pension plan.
The Bloc Québécois wants to avoid any confusion. We believe we must make the necessary amendments to make certain that this bill will not interfere with Quebec's areas of jurisdiction. The Bloc Québécois will propose an amendment to Bill C-574 to ensure that this bill targets only public or private pension plans under federal jurisdiction.
Furthermore, the introduction of this bill is a perfect opportunity to look at the issue of environmental, social and governance risk factors and respect for international treaties.
The Bloc Québécois believes that anyone who contributes to a pension plan cannot conduct a fair analysis of the risks involved unless they are informed of the company's environmental and social responsibility practices in the event that these have an impact on risk and performance.
This is supported by the Canada pension plan and the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, which recognize how important it is for investors to have the information they need regarding the company's environmental, social and governance risk management.
“Corporate behaviour with respect to environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors can generally have a positive influence on long-term financial performance, recognizing that the importance of ESG factors varies across industries, geography and time.
Disclosure is the key that allows investors to better understand, evaluate and assess potential risk and return, including the potential impact of ESG factors on a company's performance.”
And so the Bloc Québécois is proposing the addition of one right, the right to receive information on the retirement fund manager's assessment of social, ethical and environmental criteria during the initial risk analysis for each investment.
Clause 9 states:
Every individual who participates in, contributes to or receives benefits from a retirement income plan shall be entitled to receive, in clear and concise language, all the information the individual requires to understand his or her rights, obligations and choices under the retirement income plan, including...
And this could be amended to include the following:
“Regular disclosure of the list of stocks the retirement fund manager has acquired for the retirement plan. This information may be included in the retirement fund manager's annual report.”
The elected members of the Bloc Québécois, who have always supported demands made by retirees and seniors in Quebec, will continue to support measures that help them.
In addition to numerous other actions we have taken, we introduced Bill C-290, which would offer compensation to shortchanged retirees who are seeing cuts to their pension funds because a former employer has gone bankrupt and is not fulfilling its responsibility to contribute to the pension fund.
The Bloc Québécois is confounded by the rejection by both the Liberals and the Conservatives of its Bill C-290 to protect the retirement income of employees of a bankrupt business.
Once again, the Liberals and the Conservatives are showing their profound indifference towards workers, especially pensioners.
The Bloc Québécois will ensure that pensioners are not ignored by the Conservative government. We have continued to offer the government a series of solutions to protect pensioners. In fact, we have put forward a solid plan with a number of measures to protect their income, one of which would have the federal government follow Quebec's lead and put bankrupt companies' pension plans into trusteeship, when they are under federal jurisdiction. This is done in Quebec, under the Supplemental Pension Plans Act, to prevent these pension funds being liquidated while the markets are at their lowest.
The Quebec pension plan is thus able to take over management of the assets of bankrupt companies' pension plans. The government guarantees the payment of benefits owing to affected employees. However, this amount is adjusted to the solvency level of the pension plans, or their ability to pay all benefits to which contributing employees are entitled.
We have also proposed that preferred creditor status be given to disabled employees who lose their benefits due to a bankruptcy. In times of economic crisis, the declining value of securities diminishes the value of pension funds. If a company goes bankrupt during a downturn, the pension fund will be unable to meet its obligations towards its pensioners. This is not the result of the company defaulting on its normal payments to the pension fund.
Beneficiaries of this type of pension plan provided by companies in financial difficulty have often called for the laws governing bankruptcy to be revised so that pension funds would become preferred creditors in the event of bankruptcy.
The amendment to the investment act in order to maintain the threshold for automatic review of foreign acquisitions at $300 million would ensure that major corporations, like Nortel for instance, are not sold off at the expense of its retired workers. Nortel was sold off piece by piece. The foreign investment act does not force the government to review those transactions. In the case of Nortel, it was a very costly decision, and Nortel's Canadian assets could wind up in the United States and the United Kingdom.
Lastly, I would like to talk about improving the guaranteed income supplement. We are extremely concerned about the fact that over 80,000 Quebec seniors are living below the low-income line. The maximum GIS allowance is not even enough to get seniors out of poverty.
The Bloc Québécois has been working very hard to improve the GIS in order to: increase the guaranteed income supplement by $110 per month; continue paying both pension and survivor benefits, for a period of six months, to a surviving spouse; automatically enrol people over 65 who are eligible for the GIS; ensure full retroactive payment of the GIS for all those who were shortchanged; and increase the surviving spouse's allowance to the same amount as the GIS.
As for the thousands of people who rely on old age security, the federal government has unfairly deprived, and is still depriving, these people of the money owing to them. In order to access the guaranteed income supplement, one must apply. Tens of thousands of seniors in Quebec have been cheated because they did not apply for the GIS as soon as they were eligible.
In closing, the Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-574 in principle , but believes it is important to propose various amendments in order to ensure, above all, that it applies only to federally regulated pensions plans.