Delivered in the House of Commons on Tuesday June 4, 2019
Speaker, it is an honour to rise in this place to speak to Bill C-97, the Budget Implementation Act.
Speaker I am profoundly concerned!
The federal budget is a government’s opportunity to present their plan for the country and its economy. It is their opportunity to demonstrate to Canadians that true political leadership is the art of the possible.
It’s concerning that rather than accomplish the “possible” things that would help Canadians prosper, this Liberal party refuses to recognize that more and more Canadians are just getting by and not getting ahead!
Canadians need budget measures that at least acknowledge their struggles and help provide them some relief from the escalating costs of day-to-day life, not ones that simply continue the Liberals’ long history of tax-and-spend policies that instead hurt families, businesses, and the sustainability of government programs that people rely on.
Again, in this budget, there is no plan. Instead, Canadians are getting tax increases that only make their situation worse.
There’s no question that over the past four years Canadians have suffered under a Liberal government that miss opportunities, mortgages our childrens’ futures, lacks a plan and neglects the needs of workers and their families.
So let’s talk about what concerns my constituents in Flamborough—Glanbrook and where they have been feeling that Liberal neglect.
In the Greater City of Hamilton thousands of Stelco workers and pensioners have been forced to deal with great uncertainty and have really struggled after their company moved into creditor protection on two different occasions—in 2004 and 2014.
These are Canadians who have or are at risk of losing their dream of a dignified retirement after decades of hard work.
What I have heard from every pensioner who has reached out to me on this issue is that they have serious concerns that the bankruptcy process puts investors ahead of pensioners.
Speaker, bankruptcies at Sears and Nortel over the years have resulted in similar dire circumstances for their pensioners.
Thousands of Sears employees were out of work when the store closed in December 2017 and yet there was no real pension protection for employees who had been there for 10, 20, 30 years or more.
Speaker, a pension is deferred wages. That it is even possible to lose deferred wages is totally unacceptable.
The Liberals promised action years ago. More empty promises in this budget do not a plan make!
Speaker, our previous Conservative government took an important first step when we brought in changes that require companies to fulfill their pension obligations when they seek creditor protection. I’m happy that change was made because it was a crucial first step towards protecting pensioners.
However, there are more steps to take. That was just the first step. More needs to be done.
It is possible to make changes to our laws and regulations to improve protections for pensioners. The question becomes “what changes should be made and how do we make those changes”? This is not a question that any one party has all the answers to.
Speaker it is not my intention to over simplify the challenge before us. I remind my colleagues that political leadership is the art of the possible. Millions of Canadians rely on their pensions. This issue is too important to avoid action because the problem is too complex nor should members be divided down partisan lines. We have to make change possible!
That’s why in 2017, I called upon the government to charge one of our Parliamentary Committees to review the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act, the Companies’ Creditor Arrangement Act and the Investment Canada Act. Speaker, that was 18 months ago.
I strongly believe that a Parliamentary Committee is the ideal place to begin. A parliamentary study allows Members of all parties to examine important statutes and regulations and provide their input on the matter. In hearing from stakeholders, public servants, legal and industry experts, a committee study allows Members to determine where exactly the issues are and what exactly is possible. All of the testimony would be a matter of public record – meaning that those arguing for and against changes would be subject to scrutiny and rightfully so.
The committee members then have the opportunity to make recommendations to the Government as to what problems need to be addressed and how they could be addressed.
Having previously chaired the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology and understanding the issues that come before it, that would make a lot of sense.
Unfortunately, when Conservatives brought forward a motion to begin such a study at committee, the Liberals voted it down! The Liberals blocked that study and made it clear that looking at new ways to protect pensioners was not a priority for this government.
And in the 18 months since, we have essentially heard nothing from the Liberals regarding pension protections.
A lot could have been done by now if the Liberals had the will.
Ironically, in their latest Budget, the Liberals committed to giving pensioners “greater peace of mind” in retirement by “enhancing retirement security”.
Is this vague commitment what pensioners have been waiting for all these years?!?
The Liberals aren’t prepared to take the very possible and meaningful steps to follow through on those words.
While moves towards greater transparency in the process are all well and good, the budget falls far short of actually providing concrete protections for pensioners when their company files for creditor protection!
Speaker it isn’t just the official opposition that sees this legislation as woefully lacking. The Canadian Association of Retired Persons and the Canadian Federation of Pensioners agree that Bill C-97 falls well short.
When I met with the United Steelworkers a few weeks ago, they made it abundantly clear to me that this was their number one priority because there are still workers and pensioners who are struggling and concerned for their future.
Speaker, this issue should transcend partisan boundaries. My Conservative colleague, the Honourable Member for Durham, when he introduced Bill C-405 to begin making changes to better protect pensioners, said that “securing the retirement and pension security of Canadians is another time that we should work together on all sides of this House to bring certainty to hundreds of thousands of Canadians in their retirement.”
The Honourable NDP Member for Hamilton Mountain, who has offered his own private members bill on pensions as well, has referred to the issue as a “legislative crisis”.
Even the Liberal Minister for Seniors, who is also the Member for my neighbour riding of Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas, told the CBC that more study was needed on pensions.
That begs the question Speaker, if the position of the Liberal government is that more study is needed, why did they vote down a Conservative motion to study pension protections at committee? I think Canadians deserve an answer to that question, Speaker, and the Government better have a reason that is better that petty partisanship. The financial security and safety of our retirees is far too important for that.
Speaker, I reiterate my belief that a complete review of the legislation governing pensions and insolvency is needed, one that considers the perspectives of all stakeholders: workers, business leaders, industry experts, civil servants, bond holders, banks, suppliers and so many more. This is not, and never will be, an issue that only one party can solve on their own.
The Liberals didn’t want dialogue and it is reflected in this bill because their proposals are not only inadequate, but fail to even broach the crux of the issue. This is not an issue that can be meaningfully addressed in a massive omnibus budget bill.
Speaker I implore the Liberal Executive to allow Standing Committees to do what they do best.
This issue requires an approach that allows members of all parties to take the time to have an in-depth debate on this specific issue without the looming threat of time allocation to get the budget through.
Pensioners work hard for decades to earn a dignified retirement and I can tell you Speaker that I am certain that my colleagues, who are vested with a pension, would scream quite loudly if it was suddenly taken away. The least we we can do as elected representatives of Canadian workers and pensioners is to take this issue seriously and provide meaningful changes to protect them.
While we may not be able to make all stakeholders completely happy, it is possible to do much better for workers! Let’s get this on the front burner now before another 18 months go by!
Thank you, Speaker.