MONTREAL -- The Quebec finance minister on Tuesday declined to create a new insurance program for pensioners whose former companies go bankrupt.

The minister, Eric Girard, said he sympathized with employees whose pensions have taken a hit, like those of former retail superstore Sears Canada. But the government can't afford to provide additional support for such employees, he added. To do so would require more taxes that would ultimately hurt businesses in Quebec.

"What the situation is in Quebec is that payroll taxes, when you sum them with corporate taxes, are already significantly higher than in Ontario so if we're increasing taxes in order to raise premiums for an insurance fund, we're going to put the Quebec corporation at a disadvantage, and we're going to accelerate ... the disappearance of these regimes," the minister explained.

Sears Canada was once the largest retailer in the world, but its bankruptcy left 15,000 people in Canada without jobs and their $260 million pension plan in shortfall.

At the National Assembly on Tuesday, Sears retirees pleaded with the government. They wanted support for a fund that would guarantee defined pension plans even if the employer goes out of business. Ontario has instituted a similar plan, retiree Claude Senechal said, arguing that Quebec could do the same.

"We had a [Sears] store in Gatineau and three in Ottawa, so the retirees working in Gatineau they lost 30 per cent, and while their counterparts across the river they got their full pensions," the retiree declared to reporters. "This is not acceptable. It has to stop."