OTTAWA – As 2010 draws to a close so does the Industry Committee’s examination of Bill C-501. It’s been quite the year for this bill and my staff and I are now shifting gears and developing a game plan to push it forward in 2011. As such, I want to use this week’s column to update you as to where the bill is in the legislative process, some of the challenges it is facing as it moves forward, and what work lies ahead for my staff and I in the New Year.
This week saw the final Industry Committee meeting of 2010 for C-501. In the end, the committee held a total of six meetings over three weeks in November and December to hear testimony from individuals and organizations on C-501. We heard from pensioners who have lost some or all of their pension plans, the finance industry, unions, and business groups who all made detailed and well thought out presentations on the effects of the bill. These meetings were very enlightening and I believe that committee members from all parties came away better informed.
As the committee hearings began to wind down though it become clear that the Harper Conservatives were digging their heels in and strengthening their opposition to this bill. For those who have not heard of C-501, it is a Private Members’ Bill I have tabled which will elevate the creditor status of underfunded pension plans during corporate bankruptcy proceedings to ensure that the workers receive as much of their pension money as possible when they retire. C-501 could secure more than 6 million pensions in Canada without costing the federal government a single dollar, but it seems that the Conservatives have decided to come out hard against the bill in committee to protect their corporate ties.
While opposition from the Conservatives could threaten the passage of the bill it is the waffling by the Liberal Party members that could prove fatal to C-501. Like the Conservatives, the Liberals have come under intense pressure from industry lobbyists and junk-bond investors who believe that companies should not be required to pay what they owe to pension plans, and that pension plans and workers should remain at the back of the line of creditors during bankruptcy proceedings. In short, the lobbyists are making significant headway in convincing the Conservatives and some Liberals to vote against C-501. Without the support of all of the Liberals or some of the Conservatives in the House I fear the bill could be headed towards defeat.
Throughout the legislative process I have been in contact with MPs from the other parties, but we are now entering a crucial phase over the winter months. There is one more committee meeting set aside in February to examine C-501 and to allow Members to put forward any amendments or changes they wish. While the Conservatives have long opposed the bill because it would put pensions ahead of banks in the creditor rankings, the Liberals too have begun to express their concern that granting pensions ‘secured’ status during bankruptcy proceedings is too high for their liking. Unfortunately, the clock is ticking and neither party has moved any motions to change the bill or even suggested any changes to me, or my legislative staff.
Given the growing opposition to C-501 among Conservatives and Liberals alike I have made the decision to amend the bill myself. With the input and support of pension groups that testified before the Industry Committee I will attempt to amend C-501 and move underfunded pension plans from the position of ‘secured’ creditor status (ahead of banks in bankruptcy proceedings) to ‘preferred’ creditor status (just behind banks in the same proceedings). I hope this proposed amendment, which would protect the secured debt of banks while elevating pension plans from their current position at the bottom of the creditor list, will satisfy the concerns of both the Liberal and the Conservative MPs and give the bill a better chance to pass.
So as 2010 nears its end, we have made some progress with C-501 and have a game plan in place for the bill heading into 2011. I want you to know that my staff and I will continue to work with our counterparts from all parties in the House of Commons to get the job done for you and other Canadians who have worked hard your entire lives and earned a decent living when you retire.
John Rafferty MP
Thunder Bay Rainy River