Bill opposing mandatory retirement goes to third reading in the Commons

Originally published by the Ottawa Citizen on March 8th, 2011. To go to the Ottawa Citizen website please click here

OTTAWA — Despite opposition from the Conservative government, a private member’s bill that would eliminate the last outpost of legislated mandatory retirement in Canada was approved by a Commons committee Tuesday.

But even the bill’s sponsor, Liberal MP Raymonde Folco, admits it won’t become law if, as seems increasingly likely, there’s a federal election this spring.

“If we go into an election, the bill dies,” Folco said after the committee voted to send her bill back to the House of Commons for third reading. “It has to start out from scratch.”

The bill would repeal a section of the Canadian Human Rights Act that allows 12,000 federally regulated employers — ranging from Crown corporations to transportation companies — to terminate workers who have reached “the normal age of retirement” for employees in similar jobs.

The provision potentially affects about 840,000 employees, though most of their employers no longer have mandatory retirement policies.

Folco doesn’t expect her bill to be reported back to the Commons until early May, when federal politicians may be in the home stretch of an election campaign. “I knew that, but I figured I had to go on to the very end with it, ” she said. “And you never know, there may not be an election.”

The fact the bill passed committee stage is “an important symbol for the people who were pushing for the bill,” Folco said. “I have a whole support system of people who believe in what the bill says.”

The Canadian Association of Retired Persons, which has been lobbying heavily for Folco’s bill, says the federal government is the last jurisdiction in Canada to hold onto “legislated age discrimination.”

Susan Eng, CARP’s vice-president of advocacy, hailed the approval as a “banner day. It is something that really is long overdue.”

Ed Komarnicki, parliamentary secretary to Labour Minister Lisa Raitt, tried unsuccessfully to table the bill, saying the committee needed more time to do “due diligence” on its impact.

He argued that the committee had not considered changes to the bill proposed by business organizations and the Air Canada Pilots Association. “We’re not doing our job if we simply proceed with what we have before us,” he said.

Folco admitted she had “almost abandoned hope” that her bill would make it out of committee, in part because the NDP position on it had been shifting. “But they finally stood up for what they really believed in.”

However, New Democrat MP Tony Martin said his caucus is split on Folco’s bill. He said he voted to report it back to the Commons only to allow a broader cross-section of MPs to debate the “important shift” it contemplates.

If the bill dies, Folco expects any attempt to revive it in a future Parliament to be more difficult. “The Conservatives have got their guns out now.”

© The Ottawa Citizen

Keywords: mandatory retirement, seniors