Ex-Nortel workers look to make pensions an election issue

A group of former Nortel workers say they are fighting to make bankruptcy reform an election issue and are targeting Conservative incumbents in over 20 ridings, including three in the Ottawa area.

'Silver Fox Alliance' targeting ridings held by Conservative MPs

A group of former Nortel workers are fighting to make bankruptcy reform an election issue, and are targeting Conservative incumbents in over 20 ridings, including three in the Ottawa area.

The group, calling itself the Silver Fox Alliance, says it is looking to unseat Conservative MPs in response to what they say was a lack of support when Nortel filed for bankruptcy protection.

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Nortel pensioners had sought the government's assistance to give their pensions greater priority amongst creditors. In particular, the group was upset the Conservatives did not support an NDP private member's bill seeking to add that protection to pensions.

"For two years we have watched the ambivalence and apathy of the Conservative government and now we are just fed up," said John Tyson, a spokesman for the group who worked at Nortel for 35 years.

"We're going out to appeal to those millions of private-sector employees and pensioners and as this election unfolds, voter turnout is going to be the single-largest deciding factor", said Tyson.

In the Ottawa area, the group is focusing its energy on rallying support against sitting MPs John Baird, Gordon O'Connor and Pierre Polievre.

The Conservative party platform, released Friday, offers to extend wages and severance protections for workers whose employer's restructuring attempts take longer than six months and then fail.

The party also promised to work with the provinces and territories to establish a pooled retirement pension plan. But the platform is silent on changes to bankruptcy laws as it pertains to pensions or disability payments.

Tyson said the group hasn't aligned itself with one opposition party but is instead endorsing strategic voting and parties that support their cause.

"As the election campaign unfolds, we will in fact endorse opposition candidates that support the need for changes in the bankruptcy act," said Tyson.

Opposition parties offer different plans

The federal Liberals said in their party platform they would provide greater priority for long-term disability benefits owed to workers during bankruptcy proceedings. 

Their platform outlines a plan to create a pension agency to ensure Canadian workers could transfer their pensions into the Canadian Pension Plan rather than placed in a low-return annuity.

The Green Party platform, released Thursday, calls for corporate pension plans to be audited to ensure they are fully funded and for party members to review federal and provincial laws with the view to enact legislation to protect pension benefits.

The NDP and Bloc Quebecois will not release their party platforms until this weekend, but both parties have argued for reform to bankruptcy laws. 

Ottawa Centre MP Paul Dewar said Friday the party would push for legislation to allow pensioners to be put to the front of the line when it comes to recouping funds from companies that face bankruptcy or insolvency.

With files from the CBC's Julie Ireton