OTTAWA – With the new session of parliament in full swing I’d like to give an update on Bill C-501 which is still making its way through the legislative cycle. There have been some recent developments in regard to the bill and the way forward has become clearer in recent days.
Despite some erroneous media reports Bill C-501 is in fact alive and well and is continuing its journey through parliament. On occasion, the parliamentary process can be quite complex and it would seem that a few media outlets have misunderstood the impact of some recent developments. I just wanted to clarify first, and above all else, that C-501 will in fact be heading back to the House of Commons for a final vote sometime this spring.
Some of the confusion about the status of C-501 came with the defeat of a motion in the House of Commons that related to the bill. I realized that there was still some opposition among primarily Conservative, but also Liberal, MPs to the idea of putting pension plans ahead of banks and large financial institutions so I put forward a motion that could have enabled a compromise amendment to be negotiated between our parties. In short, I asked the House of Commons for permission to amend C-501 at the Industry Committee so that pensions and severance pay would be placed in the middle of the list of creditors during restructuring and bankruptcy proceedings instead of at the very front which the bill sought to do in its original form. Unfortunately, this motion was defeated but the bill itself remains alive and has not been impacted.
The type of motion that I tabled is known as a “Motion of Instruction” and it required the unanimous consent of the House of Commons in order to pass. The motion itself would have only allowed the negotiation process on C-501 to begin and empowered the Industry Committee to make a compromise amendment if it so desired. Putting pensions behind banks but ahead of all other creditors seemed like a common sense compromise and could have made it easier for many Conservative MPs to support the bill since it would have shielded the big banks from any and all fallout that could occur as a result of them being bumped down a notch in the list of creditors and being placed behind pension plans. However, instead of allowing a compromise to be negotiated in the Industry Committee, the Conservatives refused to grant their approval to the negotiation process and rejected the very idea of working together on the issue. This regrettable decision by the Conservatives was not shocking, but it was disappointing.
While my efforts to work with the other parties to reach a compromise on C-501 were essentially killed by the Conservatives the bill itself is still very much alive and kicking. As I write this column, C-501 is presently scheduled to be examined for a final time at the Industry, Science, and Technology Committee on Tuesday February 15th. There will be some minor amendments made to the bill to clear up some language issues, but I am not expecting any significant changes to be made to its content.
Once this last committee meeting is over with and the final version of C-501 is returned to the House there must two further hours of debate and then a final vote at what is called ‘Third Reading.’ The two hours of debate are likely to occur in March or early April and the final vote is expected in early-to-mid April. In this final vote the support of the Liberals will be crucial to getting C-501 passed and moved into the Senate. If the Liberals show up and support this bill and agree to put the interests of pension plans and retirees ahead of banks and primary lenders, then the bill will move into the Senate where a new battle begins against those unelected and unaccountable Conservative senators; but we’ll cross that bridge when it comes.
So that is where C-501 is at presently – alive and well and moving forward. We now know that the bill will emerge from the Industry Committee sometime in the next week, and be back into the House in its final form for debate and a vote in the next 60 days. Had the Conservatives simply shown a willingness to cooperate on the bill and create a more moderate and workable version then its speedy passage could likely have been guaranteed. With that being said, there is still a lot of support among MPs for putting pensions and retirees ahead of banks, so my staff and I will be working hard in Ottawa to get the Liberals and Bloc on board and to ensure the bill makes it into the Senate. After that anything is possible.