OTTAWA – This week in Ottawa was another busy one as committee hearings for C-501 continued and more witnesses were heard from. As I write this, I am taking a break from my preparations for one of those meetings, but it may be a good time to reflect on some of the testimony that was heard earlier as well as some shocking new facts about how much each of us are paying in subsidies to the (not-so) struggling oil and gas sector.
Week one saw most of the witnesses that were put forward by New Democrat, Liberal, and Bloc members on the committee so this week it was the Conservative witnesses turn to be heard from. On the first panel of Tuesday’s meeting we heard from Scotia Capital, the Canadian Bankers Association, the Insolvency Institute of Canada and the Canadian Association of Insolvency and Restructuring Professionals. The first thing that these witnesses said in their testimony was that the situation faced by working Canadians losing all or part of their pensions during bankruptcy proceedings was morally unjustifiable. Unfortunately, the second thing these witnesses said was that nothing should be done to help those workers recover that money.
The Conservative witnesses painted a picture of doom and gloom and sounded a bit like Chicken Little when it came to the bill. “C-501 would make our sky fall,” was essentially what the Conservative witnesses told the committee. Their preferred scenario was the status-quo where pensioners and workers bear most of the risk and not the banks, large corporations, or junk bond holders as this was supposed to be better for the economy (ie: them). I must offer those witnesses my compliments though; the question and answer session they had with the Conservative MPs was very well scripted.
I hope that those witnesses who were heard from last Tuesday will forgive me for not agreeing with their view or approach on the pension issue, but I must. Research shows that 30 industrialized countries already have pension protection regulations that are similar to those contained in C-501 and the financial sky has not exactly fallen in those places. In fact, some of the countries with better pension protection measures than Canada currently has, Australia for example, are viewed as better places to invest and are ranked as being more economically competitive than Canada by many right-wing think tanks. The simple fact is that when these large investors put their money into the market they have fall back plans and insurance in case things go wrong. Employees and pensioners have no such insurance.
As the C-501 meeting was ending on Tuesday my staff and I were made aware of a report that was circulating in the media about the amount of tax money that the Canadian government – you and I more specifically – are paying in subsidies to the oil and gas sector. The report found that the Harper Conservatives have given more than $2.5 billion in handouts to Canada’s highly profitable oil and gas companies this year alone. The key number though is that each and every Canadian is paying $75 per year to pad the profits of the oil patch whose members are already reaping record profits hand over fist. It was bad enough that the Harper government made oil and gas 8% more expensive for us to consume with bill C-62, the HST bill, but asking each of us to pay oil and gas companies an extra $75 per year on top of the tax hike is really beyond the pale.
So another interesting week is in the books. C-501 is now heading into the final stretch of committee hearings where I will continue my efforts to reach a deal with the other parties on some amendments that will help the bill pass the final vote in the House of Commons, and we are getting ripped even more by the Conservatives and the oil and gas companies than we thought. I’ll keep working on both issues as we move forward, but I will try to see if some good news back to the riding next week on the pension front in particular.
John Rafferty MP
Thunder Bay Rainy River