OTTAWA — Bill C-228, which aims to protect workers’ pension plans in the event of a company’s bankruptcy, passed unanimously on Wednesday during the vote on third reading in the House of Commons thanks to to an alliance between the opposition parties, to which was added in extremis the support of the liberals.
“It’s a great day for workers,” said Bloc MP Marilène Gill a few minutes after the vote. For her, it’s the culmination of work that began seven years ago. On no less than three occasions – in 2015, 2019 and 2021 – she introduced a bill aimed at defending pension funds.
Since the “lottery” of private members’ bills only smiled on her the first two times in this Parliament, Ms. Gill has worked in concert with other MPs, including Conservative Marilyn Gladu – who was lucky in the draw – to advance her ideas through this other similar bill, a choice also made by Daniel Blaikie of the New Democratic Party (NDP).
In an interview with The Canadian Press, Ms. Gladu explained the recipe that allowed the adoption of her bill with or without the support of the Liberals: go to the essentials. “I wanted to have only elements with which all the parties were already in agreement”, summarized the godmother of the bill.
For example, the legislative document proposes nothing in terms of group insurance protection, to the great displeasure of the NDP, who wanted it to be maintained, and the Bloc Québécois, who proposed compensation. The Conservatives opposed it, in part because it is difficult to calculate its value, said Ms. Gladu.
The exercise is comparable to a negotiation where everyone had to make compromises, illustrated Ms. Gill. “The best is the enemy of good. We prefer to have a gain than nothing at all. (…) Seeing a bill that has the chance to be adopted is huge.”
New Democrat Daniel Blaikie, however, criticized the Liberals for having blocked his amendment aimed at protecting severance pay or notice, despite the fact that these provisions would probably have won a parliamentary majority.
During the study of the bill, the chairman of the standing finance committee declared this amendment “inadmissible”, considering that it goes beyond the scope and the principle of the bill. The NDP challenged the decision saying it was “too narrowly interpreted” and forced a vote that overturned the decision and passed the provisions. Far from admitting defeat, the Liberals appealed last week to the Speaker of the House of Commons. Anthony Rota reversed the committee’s decision and reversed the amendment.
Mr. Blaikie also accused the Liberals of making attempts to “sabotage” the bill, referring to a series of amendments that were defeated in committee. In particular, they tried, in vain, to convince their colleagues to give retirees a lower creditor rank than that proposed in the bill.
Andy Fillmore, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Innovation, Science and Industry, said, among other things, that the bill puts employers in “a situation of intolerable risk of bankruptcy and therefore job loss” and that the best way to take care of retirees is with “preferential payment, not superpriority.”
In the end, the Liberal members of the committee nevertheless voted like their opposition colleagues to adopt the bill as amended.
How the Liberals would vote in Wednesday’s ultimate vote in the House of Commons was only revealed minutes before it was due when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau answered a question from the leader of the NDP, Jagmet Singh.
“We will support Bill C-228, but we will take no lessons from a Conservative Party that has waged war on working people for a decade and has nothing to offer Canadians except bitcoins and coins. buzzwords”, he sent.
Wednesday’s vote was rushed following a sleight of hand courtesy of the Bloc. They offered that the Conservatives take one of their turns so that the last hour of debate on Bill C-228 could be held more quickly and passed before the holidays.
“Very good news”, says the FADOQ
The adoption of this bill is “very good news for retirees,” said the FADOQ, an organization also known as the Fédération de l’âge d’or du Québec.
“Since 2005, there have been three private bills, two government bills on this subject, then none of them has been adopted,” said his spokesperson Philippe Poirier. -Monette.
Retirees are currently, roughly speaking, “the last to dip into the bowl” for payments that would make up for the deficits in their pension fund, he said. Once the bill is passed, they will no longer see just about everyone come before them since they will be among the priority creditors.
Mr. Poirier-Monette maintained that the retirees of Sears, Nortel Networks, the Cliffs mine on the North Shore and the MABE plant which was owned by General Electric would, for example, have been better protected if this law was in force during these major bankruptcies.
From now on, the courts will no longer be able to accept restructuring agreements if it does not include payments to pension funds that are in deficit, which recently forced the retirees of the Groupe Capitales Médias newspapers to initially suffer a loss of 30 % of their pension, he noted.
The bill is indeed a compromise. The FADOQ also believes that pension funds should be a guaranteed claim, like everything promised to retirees.
However, Mr. Poirier-Monette seemed to be walking on eggshells when commenting on the progress of the work. “We would have expected the Liberals to be more inclined to pass the bill quickly, not try to put exceptions, to somehow put a spoke in the wheels of workers and retirees,” he said. , noting in passing that they have “given a voice” to the financial sector.
Now that the motion for third reading has passed, the bill is sent to the Senate. The upper house can also propose amendments to it. If passed without amendments, then it receives Royal Assent and becomes law, but otherwise both Houses of Parliament will have to agree on the same version of the legislative document.
Unanimous support for the bill allows the sword of Damocles of amendments that would come from the Senate to be less threatening since the Liberals supported the bill and the majority of senators were appointed by this political party.