Liberals vow to change bankruptcy laws
The Liberal Party says it is committed to changing Canadian bankruptcy laws so former employees of failed companies like Nortel don't lose their pensions and disability benefits when their employer goes bust.
"You gotta know that I'm hearing you loud and clear — the Bankruptcy Act must be changed," Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff told Nortel pensioners at a rally on Parliament Hill Wednesday.
Ignatieff said his party will be meeting Monday to discuss new proposals for the pension system. Liberals are committed to changing bankruptcy laws "so that you are not left at the back of queue in insolvency and bankruptcy," Ignatieff said. "It's not right; we agree with you."
Leaders and MPs from all three federal opposition parties joined about 2,000 former Nortel employees and Canadian Auto Workers union members at the noon-hour rally. The demonstrators were calling on the federal government to change bankruptcy laws so that employees would be given higher priority on Nortel's list of unsecured creditors.
Disability benefits to be cut off
The company filed for bankruptcy protection in January and has been selling off its units piece by piece ever since. Once those sales are complete and the company stops operating, former employees such as Josée Marin will lose the disability benefits they thought were protected. In addition, retirees stand to lose a large portion of their underfunded pensions.
Marin, who can't work because of health issues that include Crohn's disease and asthma, said she learned in June that she would lose both her disability and her insurance benefits. She said she will have to turn to Canadian Pension Plan benefits to support her son and herself, reducing her income to around $800 a month.
"I stand to live in my car if nothing's done," Marin said, tears welling up in her eyes as other former employees shouted and cheered behind her, waving placards with slogans such as "Hands off our pensions" and "MPs fiddle while pensioners get burned."
"I'm sick; I'm tired; I'm exhausted," she said. "I can't take care of myself, because I'm trying to save my life."
Unlike bondholders and other creditors who chose to make investments and who might have had their investments insured, she and other former employees have no recourse.
"And I don't see anything being done there," Marin said. "I don't see my prime minister here. Where the hell is he?"
Many of those at the rally blamed the government for their situation.
Phyllis Kendall, who was waving a placard that read, "Why don't governments care?" said she's been emailing her MP and MPP for months.
"Nobody's prepared to do anything. They all say it's the other guy's problem," she said. "I feel sick to my stomach to think that Nortel has come to this, and it's partially the government's responsibility … they should have intervened long before they did."
Laws should be changed: Layton
Prime Minister Stephen Harper did not make an appearance, but Ignatieff, Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe and NDP Leader Jack Layton all gave speeches.
Layton said the laws that have left Nortel pensioners in this position "were written to be unfair to the working people , and it's time those laws were changed to put workers first."
He also slammed the federal government for saying that pensions are a provincial responsibility.
"They try to pretend that it's only the provinces that can help you out. Well, they're flat wrong about that," Layton said. "And it's time Stephen Harper took some responsibility and showed some guts."