A tour by NDP MP Scott Duvall to drum up support for his bill on pension protection landed in Parksville on Wednesday, Feb. 21, where Duvall outlined the issues he sees with the current system, and how his bill seeks to fix some of them.
Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns (the NDP’s new veteran’s affairs critic) hosted the town hall alongside Duvall, the NDP’s pensions critic, at the Parksville Community and Conference Centre.
Duvall, the MP for Hamilton Mountain in Ontario, outlined the current legal pitfalls for pensioners when it comes to companies that declare bankruptcy (using recent examples of the Stelco steel company in Hamilton and Sears), and pointed out instances where, he said, the Liberal government weakened pension rules for workers before the NDP successfully pressured for fixes to legislation.
While the Trudeau government campaigned on improving retirement security, Duvall said, “It seems to be the opposite of what they are doing,” despite what he called some “good moves” by the Liberals.
Duvall said he hopes to deal with a problem that plagues groups such as Sears pensioners who, for example, are facing reduced pension incomes. This, despite hundreds of millions in dividends paid to shareholders and millions in bonuses to executives while the company wasn’t making money and pension payments were in deficit, according to news reports on the downfall of the North American department store giant in Canada.
“It happens because it can happen,” Duvall said of the millions paid to shareholders while pensions went underfunded. “The law allows it to happen.”
Those laws are the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act and the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act, which allow for companies to restructure and withhold or reduce payments into pension plans, and which prioritize creditors and shareholders over pensioners.
Duvall’s private member’s bill, C-384, introduced on Nov. 6, 2017, “amends the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act and the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act to ensure that claims in respect of unfunded liabilities or solvency deficiencies of a pension plan are accorded priority in the event of bankruptcy proceedings,” according to the bill summary.
In other words, pension payments would be moved to the front of the line.
“I need your help,” Duvall told the crowd of approximately 40 people at the PCCC.
He asked that people consider adding their name in support of the NDP’s plan (www.ndp.ca/pensions), that they write letters to newspapers, and that they send letters and emails to their MP, Trudeau and the finance minister, and include Duvall in the email.
The effort to move pensioners closer to the front of the line in bankruptcy cases is not new. A bill from NDP MP Wayne Marston, introduced in 2011, sought to put unfunded pension liabilities on the same tier as other secure debt bondholders, investors and others.
One concern voiced about these proposals is whether banks and investors would feel secure in investing in Canadian companies if they are not at the front of the line for being reimbursed should the company go into bankruptcy proceedings.
Johns called that “propaganda coming out of Bay Street.”
“A company shouldn’t be using workers’ pensions to negotiate more capital to finance a business,” said Johns, adding that, if having to fully fund pensions would deter investors, why does paying CEOs and executives bonuses not do the same?
“It’s talking points from CEOs and executives that constantly are putting workers last and themselves first.”