Sunday, April 4, 2010

John Rafferty thinks Bill C-501 may pass

Pension bill likely to pass MP John Rafferty (NDP), Thunder Bay - Rainy River
2010-April-01 at 15:36

This past week I was happy to table a new Private Members’ Bill that will help secure the pensions of workers at companies that enter bankruptcy proceedings or undertake supervised restructuring.

Bill C-501, An Act to amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act and other Acts, has the potential to secure tens of thousands of pensions across Canada and I am optimistic that it will pass.

When AbitibiBowater filed for bankruptcy protection last year, many hard working employees were left to wonder what would come of their jobs and their pensions. In townhall meetings that I hosted throughout the riding last year I began to hear from workers about a rumour that there was financial shortfall in their pension plan. Sure enough, when the books were finally opened in the fall it was found that the pension plan was significantly underfunded and that the workers stood to lose up to 40 percent of their pension and retirement income.

At about the same time of the discovery of the pension plan shortfall at AbitibiBowater, my New Democrat caucus colleague Wayne Marston (Hamilton East – Stoney Creek) was in the process of tabling a pension protection bill (C-476) to assist the former employees of Nortel. I approached Wayne to see if his bill could also help secure the pensions of workers at AbitibiBowater, and he indicated that this was in fact the case. However, C-476 would not be eligible for debate until late 2011.

It was agreed that I would table a shorter version of his bill so it could be debated and voted on sooner. The early consideration of one of my bills is a result of sheer luck, as I drew a lower number than Wayne (66 to 195) in the lottery that determined the order of consideration for Private Members’ bills. I have been notified that my turn will come up in mid-April.

As it stands now, pension plans are pretty much at the back of the line when it comes to settling debts and dividing assets among the various creditors of insolvent companies. Pension plans are behind the government, unpaid suppliers, banks, and other lenders in the pecking order.

To correct this problem, C-501 would move pension plans from the back of the line of creditors to the middle; somewhere ahead of the banks and just behind government and the suppliers of goods of services who have not yet been paid.

In nearly every bankruptcy case in recent memory, C-501 would have eliminated pension plan shortfalls when the assets of insolvent companies were sold off and divvied up among creditors.

While C-501 will be voted upon before the end of the year, I am optimistic that this timeline could be shortened with the support of the other parties.

The Liberals and Bloc have already indicated in the Finance Committee that they are likely to support it, and more than one Conservative has said in private that they don’t see anything that would stop them from doing the same.

If all parties agree to support the bill early on, then it could be ‘fast-tracked’ through the House debates and right into the Industry Committee, or right into the Senate if things go well.

Since I first heard from those AbitibiBowater workers at the townhall meetings last year, a tentative settlement has been reached between the creditors of that company that would eliminate the $1.3 billion pension plan shortfall.

This is of course great news, but I want to assure those workers that I heard their concerns and am doing everything in my power as their Member of Parliament to secure their pensions in case this deal falls through or their company faces similar difficulties in the future.

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