Pension bill won’t make the sky fall

This past week in Ottawa was another busy one as committee hearings for C-501 continued and more witnesses were heard from.
As I write this, I’m taking a break from my preparations for one of those meetings. But it may be a good time to reflect on some of the testimony that was heard earlier, as well as some shocking new facts about how much each of us are paying in subsidies to the (not-so) struggling oil and gas sector.
The first week saw most of the witnesses that were put forward by New Democrat, Liberal, and Bloc members on the committee, so last week it was the Conservative witnesses’ turn to be heard from.
On the first panel of Tuesday’s meeting we heard from Scotia Capital, the Canadian Bankers Association, the Insolvency Institute of Canada, and the Canadian Association of Insolvency and Restructuring Professionals.
The first thing these witnesses said in their testimony was that the situation faced by working Canadians losing all or part of their pensions during bankruptcy proceedings was morally unjustifiable.
Unfortunately, the second thing they said was that nothing should be done to help those workers recover that money.
The Conservative witnesses painted a picture of doom-and-gloom and sounded a bit like “Chicken Little” when it came to the bill. “C-501 would make our sky fall” essentially was what they witnesses told the committee.
Their preferred scenario was the status quo, where pensioners and workers bear most of the risk and not the banks, large corporations, or junk bond holders as this was supposed to be better for the economy (i.e., them).
I must offer those witnesses my compliments, though. The question-and-answer session they had with the Conservative MPs on the committee was very well-scripted.
I hope those witnesses who were heard from last Tuesday will forgive me for not agreeing with their view or approach on the pension issue, but I must.
Research shows 30 industrialized countries already have pension protection regulations that are similar to those contained in C-501, and the financial sky has not exactly fallen in those places.
In fact, some of the countries with better pension protection measures than Canada currently has (Australia, for example) are viewed as better places to invest and are ranked as being more economically competitive than Canada by many right-wing think tanks.
The simple fact is that when these large investors put their money into the market, they have fall-back plans and insurance in case things go wrong.
Employees and pensioners have no such insurance.
As the C-501 meeting was ending on Tuesday, my staff and I were made aware of a report that was circulating in the media about the amount of tax money the Canadian government–you and I more specifically–are paying in subsidies to the oil and gas sector.
The report found that the Harper Conservatives have given more than $2.5 billion in handouts to Canada’s highly-profitable oil and gas companies this year alone.
The key number, though, is that each and every Canadian is paying $75 per year to pad the profits of the oilpatch, whose members already are reaping record profits hand over fist.
It was bad enough that the Harper government made oil and gas eight percent more expensive for us to consume with Bill C-62 (the HST bill), but asking each of us to pay oil and gas companies an extra $75 per year on top of the tax hike really is beyond the pale.
So another interesting week is in the books. C-501 is now heading into the final stretch of committee hearings, where I will continue my efforts to reach a deal with the other parties on some amendments that will help the bill pass a final vote in the House of Commons, and we are getting ripped even more by the Conservatives and the oil and gas companies than we thought.
I’ll keep working on both issues as we move forward, but I will try to see if some good news gets back to the riding next week on the pension front, in particular.

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