Madam Speaker, the issue of pensions has always been of keen interest to me, going back to the days when I was a member of the Manitoba legislative assembly. As has been pointed out, not only the national government but also the provincial governments have to play a critical role in this.
I like the fact that the word “pension” means deferred income. When we go to work, work an eight-hour day or however many hours we put in, a great deal of consideration is given to the benefits that go beyond that hourly, weekly or monthly rate paid to us. A pension is a deferred income.
Therefore, it is important we not take the view that no sacrifice has been made. Whether they are private or public pensions, they are part of the incomes of people. Instead of receiving that income today, they want that additional income for retirement. Therefore, we can only imagine the impact it would have on people to have their pensions denied or threatened, especially when they have worked for many years and have put in their time to justify that income upon retirement.
Going back to the early nineties, I can recall walking along a picket line in which there were many of my constituents. I was quite surprised and shocked to hear the degree to which many private companies had marginal pensions at best. This was a relatively large company. I listened to what the workers had to say regarding the types of things for which they were fighting. One of those issues was pensions. They wanted to ensure they would have a reasonable pension when it came time for them to retire. Imagine putting in 30-plus years, especially in a labour situation, and getting only $400 a month out of that, after contributing to a pension plan all those years. It was that strike situation, and walking along that line and listening to the workers, that made me realize how much pensions really mattered.
Although that occurred back in the early nineties, my interest in pensions has never diminished. However, when we talk about pensions, I recognize that we need to factor in the fact that it is not just the responsibility of the federal. The provinces play a critical role as well. One of the things I can really appreciate is the fact that it crosses party lines. For progressive steps to be taken, it is often about leadership from within.
I would challenge members who sometimes believe one party is better than another. I am referring to my New Democratic friends. One of the policies that came out during the NDP government in Ontario related to pensions. My colleague across the way who just spoke might recall this. Those members might recall that in this policy was a clause called, “too big to fall”. It looked at using pension funds as a tool to support a company's expansion and survival. NDP cabinet members sat around that table and allowed it to take place.
That greatly diminished the security of pensions. As much as we like to point fingers at the private sector or other parties, I think it is important to recognize that one of the greatest failures, from a government policy perspective, was when the NDP was in power in the province of Ontario. There was a significant change, which had a profoundly negative impact on the idea of pensions. I believe that what we need to see are proactive approaches from governments at all levels to strengthen the security of pensions.
Let us look at the last budget we introduced. We put in a policy that would restrain unreasonable executive payments by requiring publicly traded companies to hold non-binding say-on-pay shareholder votes and to allow courts to scrutinize them, and, if appropriate, hold directors liable for unreasonable executive payments made in the lead-up to insolvency.
There is nothing that annoys workers more than seeing a company having financial difficulty go for bankruptcy and then hearing of these multi-million dollar payouts to directors or management. I see that as taking away from pension funds.
Yesterday we were talking about the budget implementation bill. This budget would take tangible action that would provide additional security for pension funds. I think it strikes a positive chord to many workers who at times feel threatened because of what is taking place in companies. Through this budget, we would now have a court process to indirectly monitor these executive and directors payouts. Many go into millions of dollars at the cost of the person working on the factory floor, in a retail outlet, or wherever else it may be.
When I think of pensions and the issue of insolvency and bankruptcy, there are things the government can do at both the federal and provincial level. I am glad that we have been able to address it, at least in part. There are always opportunities to look at ways to enhance it. I look forward, over the next number of years, to hopefully be able to dig in deeper on the issue.
This government has been working with stakeholders to ensure that it takes action that will benefit workers and our economy. Pensions matter. That is why we put so much emphasis on achieving the CPP agreement with the different provinces. For the first time in 15 or so years, we actually got the provinces and the federal government coming to an agreement on CPP contributions so that working people will get more money when it comes time to retire. That is why we invested more money in the guaranteed income supplement.
This government appreciates the value of pensions for seniors and workers. That is why we have taken this action today, and there is going to be so much more we can and will be doing in the future.