• James Armstrong

Pensioners protest at Schiefke’s office in Vaudreuil-Dorion

PHOTO BY JAMES ARMSTRONG

Protesting senior citizens brought their battle for pension security to the doorstep of Vaudreuil-Soulanges MP Peter Schiefke on February 21.

A group of about 12 pensioners from the Vaudreuil-Soulanges area voiced their dissatisfaction with the federal government’s lack of immediate action in protecting privately funded pension funds. The protest took place at the riding office of federal Member of Parliament Peter Schiefke on Wednesday, February 21 at 3 p.m. in Vaudreuil-Dorion. It was part of the National Day of Action to Protect Pensioners organized by the Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP) in conjunction with the Canadian Federation of Pensioners (CFP).

Making pensioners a priority

“We will be requesting our MP Peter Schiefke support changing the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act with legislation to provide ‘super priority’ creditor status to pension funds that are underfunded when a company goes bankrupt. Currently, as in the Sears case, if a pension fund is underfunded the pensioners get a smaller pension than is due to them and have little access to funds available to creditors of the company as they have no priority as a creditor,” said organizer Bruce MacCoubrey. He described super priority as meaning that pensioners would have priority before the banks or any other creditors in a bankruptcy situation.

“It’s unlikely that will happen, but the reason we went to the extreme is that we want the government to designate pensioners as creditors,” said MacCoubrey. “At least that would give us a claim on the remaining assets.”

“I was an Air Canada/Aveos employee for 25 years,” said Phil Hatchell as he and the other protesters signed a letter for presentation to Schiefke. He recounted how his benefits and pension were threatened when the Air Canada/Aveos restructuring took place several years ago.

“It took a couple of years for the union to go to court and get what we lost back again. I’m here to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” he said.

PHOTO BY JAMES ARMSTRONG

MP Peter Schiefke (right) listened to the protesters' concerns in his Vaudreuil-Dorion riding office.

Political response

Schiefke met for about an hour with organizer MacCoubrey and four of the protesters. At the end of the meeting, Schiefke assured the protesters that their voices were being heard.

“The Minister of Finance Bill Morneau has made sure we are embarking on more stakeholder consultations,” said Schiefke. “Whatever we do on a federal level, we are going to get it right.”

“Yes, we are happy with the meeting. He has committed to taking up our cause in Ottawa,” said MacCoubrey afterwards.

“We don’t know how soon changes to the bankruptcy act will happen,” said Schiefke noting that provincial governments, workers and corporations are all part of the consultation process.

National support

According to a press release issued by CARP, gatherings and meetings were to take place at almost 100 Liberal MP offices across the country to present a petition to support super priority for pensioners, signed by more than 28,000 concerned citizens.

For the pensioners, the issue is protection of defined benefit pension funds run by corporations such as Sears or Nortel. An employee and employer contribute to a Defined Benefit Pension fund (DBP) that is administered by the employer. On retirement, the pensioner is guaranteed a set amount, usually a percentage of wages earned while working. In the case of an employee contributing to a DBP, government regulations limit the amount of money that an employee can contribute to a Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP). Thus, a pensioner is highly reliant on their DBP plan.

Under existing federal bankruptcy laws, beneficiaries of DBP funds are last in line to make a claim on the remaining assets of a bankrupt company.

Letter issued to MP Peter Schiefke's office by CARP representatives

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