Assistance for Former Nortel Workers

Hon. Jim Munson: Honourable senators, I have a question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate.

My question is about former Nortel workers. Both the Leader of the Government in the Senate and I recognize and understand some of the issues related to Nortel and the people who have been laid off. This area was once referred to as “Silicon Valley North,” where research and development were an essential driver of our economy.

The 5,000 employees who were laid off last November have not received their severance pay, and more than 500 pensioners have already lost their drug, dental, supplementary health care and life insurance coverage. We have already witnessed the creditors, the bond holders, the suppliers and even the United States’ Internal Revenue Service make their claims on what is left of Nortel assets. However, the real assets, as both the honourable senator and I know, are the people who made the company an international high-tech leader. They have been told they must wait in line for what I believe is rightfully theirs.

What is the government doing to help these people? I receive many representations each and every day from pensioners who gave so much to make Ottawa a leader and whose lives today are filled with uncertainty and financial hardship.

Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government and Minister of State (Seniors)): I thank Senator Munson for the question. The fact is that the high-tech industry is still a vibrant and growing part of the Ottawa community. Nortel has had a long and troubled history. There are very complicated issues with regard to the pensions. I have friends who are in that situation. As honourable senators know, the sale of a portion of Nortel assets to Ericsson has now been approved. The proposed sale of assets to Avaya is still under consideration.

The particular situation of Nortel pensioners, as Senator Munson knows and as I said a moment ago, is a very complicated issue. There was some encouragement for Nortel workers, as a result of the sale of assets to Ericsson, that jobs here were being sustained and maintained.

However, it is very difficult for me to be able to comment with any great detail on the individual pension issues with regard to Nortel because, as we know, pensions in this country fall under many categories. Some are under the direct responsibility of the federal government; some, the provincial government; and some, the private sector.

As honourable senators know, Ted Menzies, a member of Parliament from Alberta in the other place, was going around the country meeting with stakeholders of publicly-and privately-held pensions. Jack Mintz from the University of Calgary is part of a working group. There will be meetings with provincial finance ministers in Yellowknife in December where a report will be presented to them with regard to the state of all pension funds in the country.

Beyond that, I would be very happy to take Senator Munson’s question as notice to see if there is anything else the government can provide with regard to the individual pension holders at Nortel. For the moment, however, that is as complete an answer as I can provide.