Bill C-18 (Historical)
An Act to amend the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act, to validate certain calculations and to amend other Acts
This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in December 2009.
Peter Van Loan Conservative
This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.
June 18th, 2009 / 5 p.m.
The Speaker Peter Milliken
I have the honour to inform the House that when the House went up to the Senate chamber Her Excellency the Governor General was pleased to give, in Her Majesty's name, the royal assent to the following bills:
Bill C-24, An Act to implement the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the Republic of Peru, the Agreement on the Environment between Canada and the Republic of Peru and the Agreement on Labour Cooperation between Canada and the Republic of Peru—Chapter 16.
Bill C-39, An Act to amend the Judges Act—Chapter 19.
Bill C-33, An Act to amend the War Veterans Allowance Act—Chapter 20.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act
May 12th, 2009 / 1:20 p.m.
Paul Crête Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC
Madam Speaker, when I was asked to speak about this bill, my first reaction was to recall that the RCMP closed the Rivière-du-Loup detachment a few years ago. The people in my region were not very pleased with that, because it left a large territory open to organized crime. Today we are feeling the effects of this.
As I thought about this, however, I realized that there was a difference between the RCMP and the RCMP officers themselves. When the detachment in Rivière-du-Loup was closed, I talked to the police officers, and they made it very clear to me that this was not their decision and they thought that the detachment should remain open because they knew what was going on on the ground.
It was with this in mind that I agreed to take the floor today on Bill C-18, An Act to amend the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act, to validate certain calculations and to amend other Acts.
This bill would amend the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act to add the provisions necessary for the implementation of amendments made to that Act by the Public Sector Pension Investment Board Act that relate to elective service and pension transfer agreements. The creation of the Pension Investment Board has in fact introduced different procedures. The Board administers many different pension funds, and corrections had to be made to the RCMP officers’ fund.
In addition, the bill would bring into force certain provisions enacted by the Public Sector Pension Investment Board Act. Finally, it would validate certain calculations.
Let us look at this bill in greater detail. It was introduced on March 9, 2009 by the Minister of Public Safety, and was studied in the course of various proceedings: here at second reading, then in committee. The Bloc Québécois gave its support at second reading. Then it proposed some amendments which, for the most part, have unfortunately not been adopted. That does not mean that we have to vote against this bill, even if we do intend to point out that these improvements would have been desirable.
The principal amendments confer the authorities necessary to expand the prior service provisions and to establish pension transfer agreements.
Prior service means buying back years of service for entitlement to a full pension. Bill C-18 sets the cost of buying back prior service according to actuarial rules. If an officer has worked for other police forces and has pensionable periods where he has not contributed to the pension fund, can that service in fact be bought back, and how? This is what the bill attempts to define.
According to information provided by the Library of Parliament, the member assumes responsibility for buying back past service, and can do so through his former pension plan, a lump sum, or monthly deductions. When someone is a member of the RCMP, and at some point in their career, after 20, 25 or 30 years, reviews the situation and decides they are worn out and want to take well deserved retirement, but they have not contributed to a pension plan for a large part of that career, retirement is not possible unless they buy back service. That is what this bill is intended to make possible.
These new provisions do not concern members of the public service, the Canadian Forces, or the Senate who are already included in the RCMP Pension Act. The bill extends this past service buy back right to other Canadian pension plans, which are listed in the bill.
The expanded election provisions will allow eligible pension plan members to elect for prior service under other Canadian pension plans. As I said, this will also enable them to have access to a pension sooner.
The introduction of pension transfer agreements will allow the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to enter into formal arrangements with other Canadian pension plans to permit the transfer of pension credits into and out of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Pension Plan.
In other words, the RCMP which at present cannot sign transfer agreements with other pension funds will be able to do so under this bill. Thus a number of officers wishing to buy back service will be able to do so.
This bill amends a number of acts: the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act, the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act, the Pension Benefits Division Act, the Public Sector Pension Investment Board Act, and the Act to amend the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts
This is about trying to strike a balance between different pension plans and, for RCMP officers, updating their plan to make sure that they have a better chance of benefiting from these situations.
Since we began the debate on this bill, the Bloc Québécois has focused on how Royal Canadian Mounted Police members are treated upon reaching retirement age. There is one tangible way to recognize an individual's service to society as a member of a police force: its retirement plan. That is what the Bloc Québécois is concerned about.
A lot of people have had to make major sacrifices to defend the cause of freedom and justice in their work. We want that to be recognized. However, we are also aware of the RCMP's recruitment problems, and we think that recognizing years of service in a provincial or municipal police force should be part of the solution. We know that in today's world, we need a mobile workforce more than ever before. That applies to police forces as much as it does to other groups of workers. In this case, we want that to work for RCMP officers, and we hope that the same will apply to provincial and municipal police forces.
We support this bill because we want to ensure that all members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police receive fair and equal treatment. We studied it in committee and proposed amendments that were not accepted. I will get back to that. Overall, however, the bill has some good points and deserves our support.
The study in committee gave us a chance to call various witnesses from all sectors to discuss the bill. Committee members tried to take their testimony into account as much as possible. We are going through an economic crisis, and given the instability of public finances, the Bloc Québécois is concerned about sound management of public funds. That is why we took such a close look at the viability of the pension fund and the potential financial impact of Bill C-18 on the government.
A certain number of concerns were raised throughout consideration of the bill. For example, RCMP division representatives in Quebec acknowledge that this bill is a step in the right direction. However they have some concerns, particularly with regard to recognizing the prior service of their members, as cadets, as pensionable service. Until the legislative change in 1992, cadets, then called recruits, were given credit for training under the pension plan. According to RCMP division representatives in Quebec, those who were consulted and who appeared as witnesses, the definitions included in Bill C-18 still do not permit recognition of cadets' years of training in the RCMP. This is an anomaly because time spent in training by recruits is recognized as pensionable service by provincial and municipal police forces but not by the RCMP.
The Bloc Québécois examined the facts in committee. We wanted some amendments but they were not adopted. According to the RCMP, civilian members should be members of the same pension fund as other members because they must observe the same code of conduct. Therefore, we examined the working conditions of civilian members and compared them to other members of the RCMP and public service employees to determine whether at the Department of National Defence, for example, it is possible to find a pension fund for their situation.
The long-term viability of the pension fund and the allocation of the cost of pension fund contributions are also important issues. Bill C-18 allows the recognition and transfer of years of service and pension amounts accumulated in another federal or provincial police force. That is a good thing. This recognition and transfer do not seem to pose any problems for the majority of positions. In that sense, the bill is doing what it is supposed to.
Some divisional representatives had concerns about senior RCMP officers, though, because these officers, who number 160, can be appointed by the commissioner or the Governor in Council. This category is eligible for bonuses whose amounts add to pensionable earnings year after year. This puts pressure on the pension plan. The divisional representatives are afraid that the amount transferred from the former pension plan will not be enough to cover the benefits under the new plan. It is important that this be handled properly. Obviously, beyond the pension provisions, there is another reason why the government went ahead with this bill, and we have to recognize it.
The RCMP has recruitment problems. According to some members, the RCMP has a very hard time recruiting new members. For example, it has difficulty recruiting new cadets, because it faces real competition from municipal police forces and other security organizations. They are all part of the same market. The RCMP has difficulty attracting people, so it must find a way to retain its experienced members.
More and more, the pillars of the organization—members with many years' experience and wisdom—are retiring or taking on new challenges elsewhere, just when the RCMP most needs their talents and their perspective. In response to these very real problems, the Government of Canada promised to reform and strengthen the RCMP. In March 2008, it created the RCMP Reform Implementation Council, which is to provide advice to the minister on modernizing that institution. The current bill reflects the desire to reform the RCMP so that it can retain current personnel and attract new people from outside.
In permitting the recognition and transfer of years of experience, Bill C-18 brings a major change to the operation of the RCMP. The RCMP pension fund is recognized as being one of the best. This bill makes this fund accessible to police officers from outside the organization. So this measure is attractive as a remedy for the recruitment difficulties now being experienced by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. We hope that these efforts yield results and that the recruitment problem is not as serious in the years ahead.
However we have fewer compliments for the government on the way it has acted unilaterally on several occasions with RCMP employees. For example, the Conservative government decided to change the RCMP wage agreement signed last year, which was designed to give the members of the RCMP wage parity with the leading Canadian police forces for the next three years. The Bloc has vigorously denounced this attack by the Conservative government. It is bizarre that the government should go back on its word when police forces are working to enforce the law. It would have been much more sensible to honour the agreement.
The government also continues to deny RCMP officers the right to unionize. The government is regressive and has an archaic view of things. For better labour relations within the RCMP, it should have accepted this right to unionize long ago. That would lead to much healthier labour relations and get rid of the paternalism sometimes typical of some employers who do not allow their employees to unionize. The most obvious example of paternalistic behaviour is when the government goes back on its own signature.
Therefore the Bloc would like the Conservative government to revisit its decision and grant the entirety of the wage increase promised to the RCMP members, as agreed in the wage agreement. We are a little worried by the underhanded manoeuvring of the Conservative government, and will be keeping a close eye on this issue.
In conclusion, the Bloc Québécois is happy to support this bill. It allows for greater officer mobility and recognition of work done. When people want to leave at the end of their career, they will have the best possible chances, as they will have contributed for recognized time and will be able to use it to begin their retirement. This is one of the best ways to recognize the quality of work done in the service of society.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act
May 12th, 2009 / 1 p.m.
Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS
Madam Speaker, I want to provide a synopsis of what Bill C-18 proposes to do.
The bill proposes changes to the pension plan provided by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act. The key changes grant the necessary authorities the right to expand existing election for prior service provisions and introduce pension transfer agreements. The expanded election provisions will allow eligible pension plan members to elect for prior service under Canadian pension plans.
The introduction of pension transfer agreements will allow the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to enter into formal agreements with other Canadian pension plans to permit the transfer of pension credits into and out of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police pension plan. I am proud to say the NDP fully supports this initiative.
While I am on the subject of the RCMP, allow me to congratulate and thank every member of the RCMP and their families who have supported our country beyond Confederation.
We are talking about the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. It is one of the few federal services in the world to have a “royal” designation. The men and women of the RCMP serve our country with great pride and great distinction. As well, many of them have paid the ultimate sacrifice in providing services to us, which has allowed us to have a good night's sleep.
Without our police forces, who knows what kind of things would happen on our streets. Some of our cities are facing big challenges in dealing with organized crime, drugs, et cetera. Who do we always call when we are in trouble? We always call the police. It is for this reason that I thank all honourable members of the RCMP and their families for the great service they provide to our country.
If I asked if everybody in this chamber supported the men and women of the RCMP and their families, the answer would probably be a unanimous yes. Why are the Conservatives, who like to pass themselves off as a law and order party, viciously attacking RCMP members when it comes to the other things they do?
Last year the pay council of the RCMP, which is not a union or an association but a group that negotiates with Treasury Board on future pay scales, negotiated a 3.5% increase in pay over a six month period. A 3.5% increase in a constable's pay is not much.
Just before Christmas, RCMP officers were sent an email telling them that the pay increase of 3.5% had been rolled back to 1.5%. An email is the coldest form of communication, and they received it just before Christmas. No negotiations were held and no discussions took place. They were told to take it.
That is not the way to treat our RCMP officers. They deserve a lot more respect. If changes were to be made, they should have been invited back to the bargaining table where explanations could be given and then return to the negotiation process again.
The Ontario Superior Court ruled recently that the RCMP had the right to unionize if it so wished. A union was not being forced on it. It said that if RCMP officers wished to form an association or a union for collective bargaining purposes, which over four million Canadians have the privilege of doing, then they should have the right do so as well.
What did the Conservative government do? It appealed the decision. Why would the Conservatives, who say they support the police force, not allow the RCMP to organize like other police forces? Halifax police are unionized as are police in Moncton, Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto. Why not the RCMP? Maybe the government is afraid that the good old NDP members will have their fingers all over this kind of thing. The ruling stated that the RCMP should be allowed to unionize if members so chose to do so. There is nothing saying they have to do that. It would give officers that right and that option, and they deserve it.
There is another issue that the RCMP has been working on for quite some time. We all know that when RCMP officers are injured, retire or have difficulties, whatever benefits they ascertain afterward go through the Department of Veterans Affairs. It is the DVA that looks after all their pensionable concerns, medical or whatever.
Many members of the RCMP, including Mr. Pumphrey of Lower Sackville, Nova Scotia, in my riding, a retired RCMP officer, have been asking that RCMP officers be treated in the exact same way that our military veterans are treated and that is with regard to the veterans independence program. RCMP officers have been asking for quite some time that when they are at an age where they can no longer look after their housekeeping or groundskeeping services, that they be eligible for and be allowed to receive VIP benefits like our military men and women do now.
We know that a proposal was on the previous minister's desk. There is one on the current minister's desk. I asked the current minister if I could meet with him on this issue and he basically said, no. It was as simple as that.
So I will try it again. I am in the House right now, standing and asking the Conservative government to rethink this proposal and to treat our RCMP veterans the way that we treat our military veterans.
Now do not get me started on the military veterans because there are many faults of the government in the way it treats them. However, there are some who get treated very well, and DVA deserves credit for that. The VIP works very well for those who receive it. The problem is that many people do not get to receive it, and that is the flaw in the system. However, we believe that RCMP officers and their families should be treated the same when it comes to the VIP.
The RCMP looks after the internal laws of our country on a federal level, from coast to coast to coast. We all know the history of Sergeant Sam Steele, who brought law and order to the wild west and to Yukon at that time. These were people who did not get paid very much money for what they did.
A book written by an RCMP sergeant talked about the concerns that RCMP officers had when they went to rural postings, how they were not allowed to marry for the first five years, and how they were not allowed to enter the services if they were married at that time as well. This was back in the 1930s and the 1940s. When they could get married, then the spouse, although she never got paid in most cases, was expected to be the sort of second constable in those small towns. She was the one who would provide the jailing services. She would provide the food. She would provide the messages. She would do everything while her husband would leave to do his work. The problem is the spouse was left behind to do all the other duties and was never paid for them. Thus, when it came to pension time, an awful lot of the spouses were left out in what we call the “pension freezer” because they were not eligible for that. That is really something.
When we talk about RCMP officers, we do not just talk about the individual officer. There is an entire family unit around that officer. The husband or wife who is home along with the children are just as important to the security and the laws of this country as the officer who wears the red serge.
While I am on my feet, I cannot let it go without congratulating my good friend, Mr. Curt Wentzell. In October, Mr. Wentzell will be serving his 35th year as an RCMP officer in this country. What a great tribute to a wonderful man who will have provided services to his country uninterrupted, in October, for over 35 years. I personally want to congratulate Curt, his wife and his family for his tremendous service to our country. There is no man prouder in this country to wear the red serge than Curt Wentzell, and that is a fact. He is also from that great community of Lower Sackville, Nova Scotia.
There are other things that have happened to the RCMP over the years that are quite challenging as to why they were done.
The Liberals, in 1999, stole, actually took, over $20 billion of superannuation surplus money from all public servants in this country, including the RCMP and the military, in order to fight the deficit. They never once returned that money. There were court challenges for that. So why would the government take that money which was destined for pension benefits for RCMP officers, the military and the general public service? Why would it have done that?
Again, there was no consultation with the RCMP, no consultation with anyone else. It just arbitrarily did it and then used that money for other purposes.
It is ironic, when the government took this $20 billion they announced corporate tax cuts. In many ways the pensions of RCMP officers paid for corporate tax cuts.
That is just like the employment insurance premiums that RCMP officers have to pay, which they cannot collect by the way. That money, over $56 billion, accumulated by Liberals and Conservatives went toward the deficit. In many cases it also allowed the government to use that phoney surplus to give corporate tax cuts and other tax cuts to other concerns.
Anyone can pay off their car loan if they are going to steal from their mortgage. The reality is this was not the government's money. The EU money belonged to employers and employees, not the government. It is not for the government to decide what to do with that money. It is up to the employees and the employers to decide, in my personal view.
Instead of stealing the money from the superannuation plan and putting it into general revenues and thus equating that to tax cuts for companies like Exxon, Mobil, Shell and so on, and that is what the oil and petroleum companies need is further tax cuts and subsidies, that money should have stayed there to enhance the benefits of those who have served us.
I am thankful the minister today has reintroduced Bill C-18 and we are glad to see it proceed forward. However, if we are truly interested in the welfare of our RCMP officers and their families, there are many other ways to go. Ironically, at 5:30 this afternoon we are going to have that opportunity once again to talk about my bill, Bill C-201, which would end the clawback of RCMP pensions at age 65.
Let me give an example of what happened to an RCMP officer in my riding, Mr. Jim Hill. He had a stroke at work. He left the airport and went to the hospital. He was told he had cancer. He was also told that he would never go to work again, so he might as well apply for Canada pension disability. He applied and received it. The money he received from Canada pension disability he thought, if he survived his health problems and received his superannuation and CPP disability, would allow him and his wife to be okay financially. However, he was told, “Jim, sorry. You served your country for 32 years, wearing the red serge, that's not how it works. The CPP disability money would be immediately clawed back from your superannuation”. His question was, “Why did I bother applying for CPP disability?” That question has yet to be answered.
At 5:30 p.m. today, the House can show in another debate for RCMP and military personnel how we feel about them and getting that clawback stopped.
We thank the hon. minister for bringing in Bill C-18. We want to let the government know that our party fully supports it.
However, if we are on our feet talking about RCMP officers, let us not forget there are many other deficiencies that they are suffering that we can correct. There is absolutely no reason why members of Parliament or senators would not want to stand in their place and do everything to ensure that if anything happens to RCMP officers or their families that we are there to help them, no questions asked.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act
May 12th, 2009 / 12:30 p.m.
Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC
Madam Speaker, it is an honour to speak to Bill C-18 which deals with a number of inequities that address, what most of us in the House would say is truly one of the finest police forces in the entire world, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police with its storied history.
All of us know that the men and women who serve in the RCMP do most of their heroic work in silence, far away from our eyes, but they do it with honour, with courage and with a degree of professionalism that other police forces could only hope to emulate.
I have had the honour and privilege of working with members of the RCMP in emergency departments as they have brought in people. I have seen their work in faraway places, such as in the wartorn country of Sierra Leone. People, not only in our country but in other countries, have stood in awe and have complimented the work done by the RCMP in faraway places and within our own country.
Members of the RCMP have a very difficult job to do. They deal with people in times that can be entirely unpredictable. At times, their work can be extraordinarily dangerous and they put their lives on the line to serve and protect us. I think all of us owe them and their families a debt of gratitude for the work they do day in and day out to protect us here at home.
This particular bill, as I said before, addresses a number of inequities dealing with the pension system that relates to our RCMP. It falls in line with a previous initiative we started with the superannuation pension plan for the Canadian Forces members back in 2003 or 2005, somewhere in there. This is a just thing to do for our RCMP and is long overdue.
The bill deals with three particular areas. First, the bill would support Parliament's 1999 intention to expand existing provisions for the election of prior service for RCMP officers. Currently, members of the RCMP pension plan can transfer credits for prior service with a police force that was absorbed by the RCMP, with the Canadian Forces, with the Public Service of Canada or with the House of Commons but, under the new provisions, eligible members could elect to purchase credits from other Canadian pension plans, such as a municipal or provincial police force.
The second area that is extremely important is the pension transfer arrangements in the amended RCMP Superannuation Act. It would allow members to increase their pensionable service by directly transferring the actuarial value of the benefits earned under a previous plan to a new plan.
Last, this bill contains other amendments that would clarify and improve the eligibility aspects of the service for the member.
This is a great opportunity to talk about crime and punishment and deal with criminal activity in Canada. The government frequently says things about crime and punishment, which, on the surface, may sound good, but in fact are actually ineffective. What the government needs to do is employ smart initiatives that will protect our civilian population from harm and from criminals. It also needs to employ things that actually work to prevent crime in our country. I will give some examples as we go along.
Before I go on, I want to know why the government, if it truly wants to support the RCMP, rolled back the wage agreement that the Prime Minister himself announced with great joy before the election. Why did he stand and say that he would give the RCMP a wage increase that would enable RCMP members to achieve parity with other police forces in Canada? It is a good thing to do and we would support that.
However, the RCMP received a cruel Christmas present in December when the government unilaterally decided to eliminate that wage increase, which was a devastating slap in the face for RCMP officers. It told them that the government did not respect them because it did not honour an agreement it had made with the RCMP in good faith.
The downstream implications of this are considerable, because it is going to affect the attrition rate of RCMP officers. The RCMP serve a good chunk of the territory of my riding of Esquimalt--Juan de Fuca. Because of this decision and the inflexibility within the human resources management of the RCMP, officers are leaving the RCMP for the provincial forces. There is an increasing demand being placed on the RCMP because of organized crime gangs and the Olympics. Things are affecting the ability of the RCMP to attract and retain new members. This is a very serious problem. It must be addressed quickly. This is affecting the ability of the RCMP to do one of the prime objectives of any government, which is to protect the population from harm.
That central responsibility of the government is being negatively affected by virtue of neglect on the part of the government and what happened in December with respect to the wage rollback. This is negatively affecting the ability of the RCMP officers to do their job. The reduction in members puts more pressure on existing members. This affects the officers' stress level and contributes to officers going on stress leave or leaving the force altogether. This is something that cannot be tolerated. This is something that Canadians cannot have.
If this situation is not rectified, then the core responsibility of the government to protect the citizens of Canada will be damaged. It is being damaged. I implore the government to work with members across party lines to deal with the central issue. The government must listen to what the RCMP is saying and what the RCMP officers on the ground are saying. They will give the government the straight goods. They will tell the government what is happening on the street. They will tell the government what is affecting them. They will tell the government how to improve the challenges they have and how to implement solutions that will be effective in dealing with those challenges, whether they be personal human resources issues or their ability to execute their duty to serve and protect us.
For heaven's sake, the government must listen to the RCMP officers, not only those who are tasked to represent them, but get into the trenches and listen to the officers. They will tell the government what they need and what can be done for them.
The government also needs to address the issue of IT tools. Criminals involved with organized crime and gangs use new IT tools such as the BlackBerries which many people have, not for good but for malice and crime. The government needs to listen to the RCMP and give the officers the legal tools to monitor, with warrants, the communication that is taking place among members of organized crime gangs which enables organized criminals to circumvent the existing laws for their own benefit, which clearly is not in the interest of Canadians.
This is a very serious issue. The laws of our country have not kept up with the current IT tools. They are mostly in the hands of law-abiding Canadians, but they are also in the hands of a small group of organized crime gangs that are profiteering at the expense of Canadians. I implore the government to work with the RCMP and other police forces in Canada to bring forward legal changes that will enable the force to monitor the communications tools that organized crime gangs are using with impunity.
The next issue regards looking at a public defender system. We have a public prosecution system. California uses a public defender system. It was shown that there were equivalent outcomes between a public defender system and the situation we have now. There was no change in the ability of the accused to have a fair trial. It saved money and resources and improved the efficiency in the execution of justice in Canada. The implementation of justice to make sure that the system was moving in a streamlined, effective way was improved so that the accused could have a fair trial in a reasonable amount of time.
Right now it takes a long time for the accused even to get to trial. Cases are being dropped. People who allegedly have committed crimes are not even getting their day in court. These cases are being dropped. That is not justice. We are seeing a very serious problem in our court systems now.
As I mentioned before, there is the issue of the prosecution of crime, dealing with those who are criminals, but there is a huge gap in what we need to do in terms of prevention. The government likes to talk about its tough on crime agenda, but it is missing the boat in truly serving Canadians and enabling us to have a safer country. It is not addressing crime prevention. In order to prevent crime we have to deal with the social determinants of health.
In my community of Victoria, a good chunk of the people who are being prosecuted have drug problems, psychiatric problems, or what is called dual diagnosis which means they have a drug problem as well as a psychiatric problem. If we do not treat their underlying problems there will be a revolving door of recidivism. To simply throw the book at these people without dealing with their underlying problems is a serious issue.
On the prevention side I have mentioned the head start early learning program which started in Ypsilanti, Michigan more than 30 years ago. This program has been adopted by a former colleague of ours in New Brunswick and in a smattering of places across the country. This program has proven to reduce youth crime by 60%. If I said there was a program that saves $7 for every $1 invested, that produced a 60% reduction in youth crime, that enabled children to have better outcomes in school, that enabled less dependence on welfare and social programs, would that not be a wise investment? I think so, and most Canadians would think so too. Why on earth does the government stick its head in the sand? Why does it not work with the provinces to adopt an early learning head start program for children? It is not difficult or complex.
We are trying to do this in my riding. We are working together with a great social worker, Mia Grenier, and a municipal police officer to try to implement this program in a school that has poor outcomes. Only a handful of children graduate from high school. At any one time one-third of the kids are not even in school.
We have to bring the parents into the school for a couple of hours every week and get them and the kids to work on issues such as proper nutrition. A can of Coke and a bag of potato chips is not a good breakfast. I will discuss getting kids active later. We want children to know the importance of literacy. Taking kids to the library does not cost anything. We have to let them run wild in the library so that they can explore the wealth of information and knowledge, the world that is available through books. We must encourage kids to do that, encourage them to take out books to read. Literacy is a cornerstone in improving outcomes for children later on.
On the issue of physical activity there is some very interesting new research. Some of the journals on neuroscience reported that if kids participate in hard aerobic physical activity for 30 to 40 minutes a day, they were able to focus better. They were able to study and do their homework better. The performance of those children in school improved not just a little, but it improved dramatically. This was a school that had poor outcomes. The theory is that 30 to 45 minutes of good aerobic physical activity a day stimulates the front part and other parts of the brain that are responsible for focus and learning. Physical activity can dramatically improve the ability of children to focus.
Another issue is that the time children spend in front of a television or playing Xbox or other computer games has a negative impact on their ability to focus and to learn. It also has a negative impact on their health. For the first time in history, the current generation of children will have a shorter lifespan than their parents. Childhood obesity is epidemic. One of the easiest ways to address that is to get the kids physically active every single day for 30 to 45 minutes. They should exercise at their own pace, but it is extremely important that they get their heart rates above 130 beats per minute. That will help to deal with the issue of childhood obesity. This will have a positive outcome in terms of future demands on our health care system. Our health care system is already overburdened and the demands will increase.
I say that because in the future, the burden of chronic disease is going to have such a significant impact. It is going to break the camel's back in terms of the ability of any government in our country to provide the resources necessary to enable Canadians to get timely access to quality health care wherever they live.
There has to be a long-term solution. One of the easiest ways is to encourage kids to be physically active early on. The lessons learned will last them throughout their lifetimes as adults and will give them a much better chance to lead healthy lives. If we do that, the impact of cardiovascular diseases and cancers in our society will be reduced as people get older.
Regarding the other issue of drug policy, the government's tough on drugs approach is one which we have seen south of the border and we know it simply does not work. It does not serve anybody, least of all our society, to have a system where the government wants to put low-level drug pushers in jail. These people are pushing drugs, which is not a good thing; it is a bad thing, but they push drugs to try to make money to finance their own drug problems. They have substance abuse issues themselves. The problem is not drug pushing. That is a symptom of the underlying problem that the individuals actually have a substance abuse problem.
People would be shocked to know that the government is actually taking legal action to reverse a decision in my province of British Columbia, which said that the government has no right whatsoever to deprive individuals from access to programs such as the Insite supervised injection program in Vancouver. This is a harm reduction strategy that works to save lives. The courts in Vancouver stepped in and said that the government could not close down Insite because people would die. It would cause harm and kill people, not to put too fine a point on it.
Instead of saying, “We have examined the facts and the science by Dr. Julio Montaner and the great team at St. Paul's Hospital. We found that the science supports programs like Insite and we are going to enable communities across our country to have supervised injection sites”, the government took the route of trying to block this decision.
Better than Insite though is the NAOMI project, the North American opiate medication initiative, where an addict will receive a narcotic under medical supervision. What that does is fascinating. There are addicts who go out on the street and basically steal more than a quarter of a million dollars a year in goods, which they sell for about $50,000. They cause all kinds of harm in the lives of law-abiding citizens in order to get the money to pay for their drug addiction. If the medical system were allowed to have programs like NAOMI more widely available, the addict would go to a physician to receive a narcotic. That would sever the tie between the individual addict and the criminal activity he or she is engaging in. It would also sever the tie between the addict and the real beneficiaries of the status quo, organized crime gangs.
Organized crime gangs love the status quo. They are profiting from the current situation in Canada. The war on drugs, to be blunt, benefits organized crime. It also, by extension, benefits those who are trying to kill our troops in Afghanistan, because the Taliban and other groups are generating funds from the sale of illegal drugs.
I see my time is up, Madam Speaker. I wanted to get into victims issues and other issues in terms of cigarette smuggling, but I hope I will have a chance to do that in the questions and answers segment.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act
May 12th, 2009 / 11:40 a.m.
Mark Holland Ajax—Pickering, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill C-18. It is incredibly timely, given the fact that we are currently in the middle of National Police Week. We are always having to seek ways to ensure that we strengthen our national police force. Certainly one of the ways we can do that is ensuring that they are properly compensated, and after a lifetime of service and dedication, that they receive the pension they so rightly deserve.
In general, certainly I support the bill. There are a number of important measures that ensure the flexibility needed for RCMP officers to achieve the pension they should have. There have been some technical problems in the past that have prohibited that from happening, which the bill largely addresses. However, there are a number of concerns that I still have that will not stop me from supporting the bill but need to be highlighted nonetheless.
The first issue of concern, which came out in committee, was the fact that the first six months that RCMP officers spend training at Depot is not counted towards their pensionable service time. This is a concern, because clearly it is a period of time when they are engaged with the force and are working full time in its employ. If there is a technical difference in the fact that they are in training as opposed to actually being an officer, we need to recognize that time, particularly when we talk about the importance of recruitment and how difficult it is, with the number of retirements that are happening, to make sure that we have the number of recruits and the quality of recruits flowing into the system to keep the force strong.
I had the opportunity to visit the depot in Winnipeg and talk with a lot of the cadets there, and the calibre is incredible. We are very fortunate to have some amazing men and women who are stepping forward to serve in the RCMP. However, it really does occur to a person that if they are spending an enormous amount of time there, that is time that should be counted towards their pensions.
There are a number of other aggravating factors, though, that are important to bring up in this discussion. When we are talking about trying to fix some of the issues that create problems for recruiting for the RCMP, it is important to mention some of the things that are happening currently.
The first one that caused me grave concern was the issue of pay parity with other police forces. I recall very clearly the Prime Minister being in Vancouver and making a promise to RCMP officers that he would ensure they would receive the same wages as other police forces and the issue of pay parity was one of fundamental equality.
We expected the Prime Minister to live up to his word. The government went so far as to even sign a contract with RCMP officers to fulfill that commitment of pay parity, before it was promptly ripped up and thrown out. The promise was broken and his back was turned on those RCMP officers.
That had, obviously, a devastating impact on morale, but it also has a huge impact upon retention and on hiring new officers. It is very difficult to get somebody to come to the RCMP as a recruit if we are not even willing to pay them the same amount as other police are being paid.
If the issue of breaking the promise on pay parity was not enough, the government went further. Just in the last number of days, the government made the decision to appeal a landmark decision of the Ontario Superior Court to allow the RCMP the right to choose whether or not they want to pursue collective bargaining.
This is a democratic choice enjoyed by every other police force in the country. In a western democracy such as ours, it is a right that we would expect all police forces to be able to enjoy. A number of people expressed surprise that it was not something the RCMP already had as a right to be able to explore.
The government appealed this decision, essentially sending the message that the democratic right of RCMP officers to have collective bargaining was something it did not support.
After the broken promise on pay parity, they were further kicked and morale further beaten down by having a government that said not only should they not be paid the same as other police officers, but they should not have the same democratic rights either.
To me, that is deeply concerning. It sends the wrong message to our men and women in the RCMP who do such an incredible job keeping our communities safe, and it is an abysmal failure of the government to live up to its rhetoric.
The government talks about being tough on crime, but being tough on crime means that it has to be supportive of the people who stop crime from happening, who work our streets and keep our communities safe. We have to be honest with them.
Trust is everything for police officers. They have to trust one another. When they go into dangerous situations, they have to know that a fellow officer has their back. Their word is their bond. So when trust is violated, it has an even greater consequence than it would perhaps have in other places. Therefore, that breach of trust is exceptionally serious.
I want to congratulate the member for Etobicoke Centre on a private member's bill that he brought up in the House today that addresses another matter of fundamental inequity. That is, when an RCMP officer is killed in the line of duty, essentially only two months' pay is made available.
That is in stark contrast to what is offered in most other police forces, where it is recognized that if an officer is killed in the line of duty, in service to his or her community, money should be given to the officer's family to allow it the opportunity to maintain living expenses, to pay bills, to keep its house, and to pay for groceries. Two months, frankly speaking, is wrong and needs to be corrected. I wholeheartedly support the efforts by the member for Etobicoke Centre to bring forward legislation to change that, because it is important.
With that as context and saying there are a number of other factors that we also need to be looking at, I can say that I support this bill, because it does achieve important ends. However, what I do not want to see happen is for us to pass this bill and think we have done our job.
There are a lot of other ways we have to support RCMP officers, such as paying them the same as other officers, giving them the same democratic rights as other police forces, ensuring that when they are killed in the line of duty the government supports their families, and making sure that we keep our word, that when a promise is made, such as the promise the Prime Minister made in Vancouver, that commitment is maintained.
With that, I look forward to the passage of this bill, as well as these other matters being addressed, and I will certainly support the private member's bill put forward by the member for Etobicoke Centre.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act
May 12th, 2009 / 11:35 a.m.
Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Thunder Bay—Rainy River for reminding me of one of the important background points in this whole debate.
First of all, Bill C-18 has been criticized because it is not often that a bill amending the pension act for the RCMP is going to come up before Parliament. It may not happen again for another decade. So there is a missed opportunity not to address some of the other glaring oversights and shortcomings to the bill. We were not successful in getting amendments through committee stage.
Secondly, the morale of our national police force, the RCMP, is so struck down at this point in time because of the rollback. The government will say it did not roll back the wages, but in actual fact, there were increases of 3.5% scheduled to take effect for this year and next. The government cancelled the projected wage increase and dictated that it should be 1.5%. This perhaps is the best and most compelling argument for the right to free collective bargaining and negotiations, as opposed to the interference of the employer, in this case, with the absolute power beyond reason, beyond logic, beyond the employer's ability to pay. None of these matters entered into the equation at all. They simply received a letter in the mail saying their increase was going to be 1.5% instead of 3.5%.
For a party that claims to be tough on crime and sympathetic to the police, it is a hell of a way to treat their employees.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act
May 12th, 2009 / 11:10 a.m.
Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join the debate on Bill C-18 regarding RCMP pensions.
I want to compliment my colleague from St. John's East for his work on this issue on behalf of the NDP caucus. I think the speech he made in the House recently capably outlines the NDP's position on Bill C-18.
To put my remarks about RCMP pensions and the public service pensions generally in context, I would like to recognize a former NDP member from my riding of Winnipeg Centre. The hon. Reverend Stanley Knowles represented the riding I now represent from 1942 until he was felled by a stroke in 1984. He dedicated much of his political career to fighting for pensions and old age security. He is recognized by many as the father of the old age security system in this country because of his doggedness in sticking to this one issue over a 42-year career.
The notion of ending poverty among the aged and income security had its origins in this country in 1925-26, when my predecessor for the riding of Winnipeg Centre, J. S. Woodsworth, with the Independent Labour Party, was elected to the House of Commons.
In 1925-26, William Lyon Mackenzie King found himself in a minority situation. Many students of parliamentary history will know the King-Byng affair. King was in a minority situation, and he needed the support of J. S. Woodsworth and the small Independent Labour Party. A. A. Heaps, another member of Parliament from Manitoba, was a labour leader, one of the leaders of the Winnipeg general strike, as was J. S. Woodsworth.
It is interesting, in fact the Government of Canada wanted to send J. S. Woodsworth to prison for his role as a leader of the Winnipeg general strike but the people of Winnipeg Centre sent him to Ottawa to be their member of Parliament instead. He stayed there for 22 years.
It is interesting as well that the charges of treason against J. S. Woodsworth were laid against him because he was quoting the Bible, the Book of Isaiah. He was speaking to a large gathering of strikers during the 1919 Winnipeg general strike. He pointed out that we are our brother's keeper on this earth, et cetera, and for these words he was charged with inciting a riot and was thrown in prison.
Like many leaders of the 1919 general strike, and it is the 90th anniversary of that strike this year, they were elected to the provincial legislatures, to the municipal chambers of Winnipeg and to the federal House of Commons from their prison cells.
It was J. S. Woodsworth who cut a deal with King in a letter, a promissory note. J. S. Woodsworth said, “I will support your government”--the King government of the day--“in exchange for old age security. If this Parliament will introduce old age security, old age pensions, I will support your government”.
King agreed to that in a famous letter, which is in the archives of the New Democratic Party. It was the member for Winnipeg Centre, J. S. Woodsworth, who used his political leverage to introduce pensions in this country.
Fittingly, after 20-some years as the member of Parliament for Winnipeg Centre, when Woodsworth was succeeded, Stanley Knowles took up that crusade. He dedicated a long and illustrious parliamentary career to establishing old age security. He was not only satisfied when he achieved the old age security of $50 a month, he started another fight that very day. The very day that it passed in the House of Commons another battle began, to have it indexed to inflation so that old age security would be meaningful.
I think we all know that while the incidence of poverty among seniors, especially elderly women, is still problematic, it is nothing like it used to be. We have a fairly robust retirement income system for our seniors.
Having said that, Bill C-18 deals with the RCMP pension, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act. It makes a modest reform to the administration of that act.
It is impossible to talk about the RCMP pension without talking about public sector pensions more generally, because the two are directly connected.
The RCMP pension became an issue of great controversy at the public accounts committee in the last Parliament. The head of the RCMP was hauled before that committee, and she was grilled about her involvement in the administration of that pension plan. She was found to be in contempt of Parliament, an extraordinarily unusual circumstance. She was hauled before the bar of Parliament and found to be in contempt of this place. The administration of the RCMP pension has not been without controversy, and it should not be tread upon lightly.
As a former trade union leader and trustee of an employee benefit plan, I can say that all public and private sector pensions should have joint trustees. There should be representation on the board of trustees of the beneficiaries of the plan, the retirees who are getting benefits from the plan as well as the people making contributions to the plan. Either they or their representatives should be adequately represented. I would argue they should be represented fifty-fifty so their voices can be heard on the administration of these pension plans. They are huge. Most of the trading on the New York Stock Exchange and the Toronto Stock Exchange is in fact from employee benefit plans that are moving money around.
This is the new face of capitalism. Union pension plans are driving the venture capital markets, and the markets generally. It takes a fair amount of expertise to watch over that amount of trading, to make sure that it is done in the best interests of the beneficiary. We certainly have all learned a lot of lessons because of the complex financial engineering that goes on in the financial markets of today. It takes a great deal of expertise to make sure our pensions are being cared for, and the RCMP plan is no different.
I would say that white collar crime is very much a blue collar issue. We need to be able to trust the financial statements of the companies in which our pensions are invested. If we cannot trust those financial statements, our financial security is in deep, deep trouble, no matter what we do with the RCMP Superannuation Act or any of the pension legislation.
The first thing we have to do is clean up the corporate governance on the financial markets where our pensions are invested. That is for another day, I suppose. One thing that has always bugged me, and I will raise it here to put it on the record, is that in the corporate world, at least in Canada, we can hire the same company to be our tax adviser as our auditor.
Surely to God we have learned the lesson from Enron that we want our auditors to be independent. We do not want the same company, Arthur Andersen, to give us advice on how to structure our books and play games to avoid taxes, how to juggle money, hide things and play the shell game, and then be the same company that audits those books and puts a seal of approval on them.
What is a blue collar trustee of a union pension plan supposed to do? Who are they supposed to believe? All they can do is read the financial statements that are put in front of them to try to figure out if they are accurate. We have to be able to trust the financial statements of those companies or we are in deeper trouble than the administration of this RCMP plan.
Let me also raise the issue that surpluses in public sector pension plans should be considered the property, the deferred wages, of the beneficiaries of the plan.
As his last action as Treasury Board president, Marcel Massé changed all that in 2000. There was a $30 billion actuarial surplus in the public service pension plan. He knew this action was political suicide, so, as he was going out the door, he passed a bill that said employees had no proprietary claim on surpluses in pension plans.
That was news to us. We always thought our pension plans were our earnings held in trust for us and invested wisely so we could retire with some dignity. In fact, we negotiated that at the bargaining table. Instead of taking a $1 raise, we would take a 50¢ raise and the other 50¢ would be put in the pension plan to grow and we would take it when we needed it. Marcel Massé changed all that.
It has had a ripple effect in the private sector as well, which claims that any surplus in a pension plan is the property of the employer not the employees. That should be condemned. In fact, it should be fixed.
There is an assault on pensions generally. It is absolutely mind-boggling that analysts of the day, after reviewing the global economic crisis in North America at least, are not finding fault with bad management or bloated CEO benefits. They are not finding fault with car companies that manufacture products nobody wants.
These analysts have arrived at the source of the problem of our economic crisis. It turns out that greedy union pension plans are dragging us all down the road of perdition. We did not realize this as trade unionists when we were negotiating fair retirement benefits for our members. We did not realize we were dragging down capitalism as we knew it.
Apparently those corporate interests that have always had pensions in their crosshairs, the guys who have always wanted to get out from under these legacy costs, in the spirit of never let a good crisis go to waste, are blaming their economic stupidity, their incompetence, on employee benefit plans, the pensions of members, my pension, and the pensions of auto workers, forestry workers and steelworkers. Somehow we are dragging down capitalists with our greed.
All the empirical evidence and all the numbers indicate that if Canadian auto workers worked for nothing, it would only bring down the cost of a car by 5% to 7%, and those pieces of junk could still not be sold because the car companies design cars that nobody wants to buy. They found some way to blame employee benefit plans.
Corporate Canada has wanted to get rid of this for 20 or 30 years. Never let a good crisis go to waste. Here they have an excuse to put the pension plans of workers in their crosshairs and set their sights on them.
The public sector perhaps is the last bastion where reason and logic prevails in terms of employee benefit plans. We are not going to be deterred by this sort of PR campaign by the corporate sector in trying to assign blame to workers for its own failures.
I personally feel if we had more real engineers coming out of our universities instead of financial engineers, we would be in a lot less trouble. They have made the financial market so complex and so incomprehensible that even investors do not really understand derivatives markets and hedge fund markets, et cetera.
A trustee on a public sector pension plan, or a private sector pension plan for that matter, has to keep up to speed with all of the financial engineering grads being pumped out of MBA programs. There is a fiduciary responsibility on the part of trustees of these benefit plans to act always in the best interests of the beneficiaries. Shop floor trustees have that idea in mind. I am not sure the management side trustees have the same goal in mind. They worry more about what they call the legacy costs, the burden on their operation, than about the well-being and the income security of retirees.
In the context of the RCMP Superannuation Act, a lot of these things can and will be addressed when free collective bargaining is introduced into the relationship between the RCMP and the Government of Canada.
I would like to know why the government is appealing the Supreme Court ruling stating that the RCMP should have the right to free collective bargaining. This has been a long time coming. Those who are opposed to the idea would say that we cannot have the RCMP go on strike because of national security. That is a complete red herring. There are many essential services where people do not have the right to strike, but they do have the right to free collective bargaining. It is the only way to achieve a compensation package that is free of interference and that is argued on its merits, not on the imbalance of the power structure between the employer and the employee. We get away from the imbalance in the power structure and we arrive at a fair compensation package.
In the context of that package, I assure the House that the representatives of the employees would want adequate representation, if not equal representation, on their superannuation plan, their pension plan, especially with the shenanigans and the hanky-panky that went on in recent years. There is a bit of a paucity of trust, faith and confidence in their own package.
As I have said, two representatives from Winnipeg Centre paved the way to income security for retirees. Every day I take my seat in the House of Commons, I am very aware of the honour to follow in the footsteps of these two great men, J. S. Woodsworth and Stanley Knowles, both ministers, both men of the cloth. Both believed fully in using their position in Parliament to benefit not only the constituents they represented, but the people of Canada generally. I commend them for choosing income security for seniors as a main priority.
That struggle is not over; it continues. The very modest points in Bill C-18 we agree add some modicum of fairness to the RCMP Superannuation Act. The notion that one could purchase a period of past service for pension service is fair. That is why we can support the idea.
However, as a member of the Standing Committee on Government Operations, where the bill found itself for the committee stage, we heard representation from representatives of the RCMP. I am not making reference to the SSR, which is the official representatives for the purposes of bargaining for the RCMP. I am speaking of an informal group that may wind up being the advocates for RCMP, and that is the Mounted Police Professional Association of Canada. It would certainly seek to be the legally recognized bargaining agent for RCMP.
The courts have given the Government of Canada 18 months to remedy this situation and to allow for free negotiations through collective bargaining. It will have to recognize a bargaining agent. I urge the government to drop its appeal and allow that 18 month period to begin immediately so RCMP officers can have the right to representation of their own choice.
There is no compelling reason whatsoever why RCMP officers should not have the right to free collective bargaining just like the rest of the public service. If their services are deemed essential, then their right to withhold their services can be limited and truncated, but there is no excuse for them not to have free collective bargaining.
I hope the matters we have dealt with today will be dealt with properly at the bargaining table.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act
May 12th, 2009 / 10:50 a.m.
Diane Bourgeois Terrebonne—Blainville, QC
Mr. Speaker, this morning we have before us a bill that is very important for superannuates, but also for RCMP personnel.
This bill amends the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act, validates certain calculations and amends other acts. It was introduced by the Minister of Public Safety on March 9, and modifies the administration of the Canada Pension Plan. The changes also provide the necessary powers to broaden prior service provisions and to implement pension transfer agreements.
Anyone who works or has worked for the federal public service or a Canadian police force which has an agreement with other police forces is familiar with prior service provisions. It is standard practice when people transfer from one police force to another for them to transfer their pension fund or to buy back service.
Prior service means buying back years of service for entitlement to a full pension. Bill C-18, which we are examining today, sets the cost of buying back service according to actuarial rules.
Members are responsible for taking steps to buy back prior service and can do so through their regular pension plan, a lump sum or monthly deductions.
Moreover, the bill extends the right to buy back prior service to other Canadian pension plans. This enables eligible pension plan participants to exercise an option regarding prior service under other Canadian pension plans.
We are used to that, but in organizations such as the RCMP, it was not possible. With the introduction of transfer agreements, the RCMP will be able to enter into official agreements with other Canadian pension plans in order to authorize pension transfers to the RCMP superannuation plan.
This has been done because the RCMP wants to modernize, of course, but also because it has a very tough time recruiting and retaining personnel. It is a question of being fair to the people who work for the RCMP.
This bill amends six other acts, which I will not name, as a result of the amendments to the superannuation act.
However, while we agree with this bill, concerns have been raised. RCMP divisional representatives in Quebec recognize, as we do, that Bill C-18 is a good bill and a step in the right direction, but they are concerned, in particular with regard to cadets. Cadets are new recruits hired by the RCMP.
Until 1992, the time spent in training by cadets, as recruits are known, was included in their pensionable service. This is no longer the case, though. Although cadets are paid a lump sum for their training, the six-month training period is no longer included in their pensionable service.
RCMP divisional representatives in Quebec also say that the definitions in Bill C-18 do not recognize these young recruits. Something was added to the bill, but it does not go far enough. The RCMP also agrees with that and considers this an anomaly. In provincial and municipal police forces, recruits' six-month training period is recognized and included in pensionable service.
Take, for example, provincial police officers—I talked about this problem earlier—who want to join the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Their six months of training are counted toward retirement. If they join the RCMP, their six months of training are recognized. However, those six months are not recognized for Royal Canadian Mounted Police cadets recruited since 1992. That is clearly unjust. The Bloc Québécois wants to reopen the discussion about this inconsistency in committee to make sure that young police officers get fair treatment and perhaps to amend other laws as well.
Another inconsistency that RCMP divisional representatives in Quebec are really worried about is the exclusion of civilian members from the RCMP pension plan. Why? Because these civilian members, who contribute to the pension plan under the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act, are at a disadvantage compared to the plan regular members belong to even though conditions of employment are similar. They have responsibilities and they deserve recognition too. They are subject to rules of transfer, just like regular members. They are subject to the same administrative rules about hours of work, as well as to the code of ethics. Most of them have responsibilities equivalent to 80% or more of the duties carried out by regular members. We should also bear in mind the fact that some civilian members are required to supervise regular members and to assign duties to them.
The Bloc believes that excluding them from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police pension plan is unfair. We want to take a closer look at conditions of work for civilian members of the RCMP and compare them to those of other RCMP members and other public service employees to find a suitable pension plan for them.
Another factor that causes a problem for the divisional members, and this is very important, is the long-term viability of the pension fund, as well as allocation of the cost of pension fund contributions among former members and new employees.
Bill C-18 of course allows for recognition and transfer of years of service and pension funds acquired in another federal or provincial police force, as I talked about earlier.
That recognition does not create any problems. However, when it also means recognition for senior officers in the RCMP, there is another problem. At present, about 160 senior officers in the RCMP are appointed by the commissioner or the governor in council. Employees in that category, those senior officers, are eligible for bonuses, the amount of which has been rising year after year. Those bonuses are also eligible for the pension purposes.
According to RCMP divisional representatives in Québec, the bonus may be as high as 20% of salary. They are therefore afraid that transferring the amount from the former pension fund will be insufficient to cover benefits paid out of the new one. They believe that the viability of the pension fund will be jeopardized and the balance would have to be restored, probably by increasing all employees’ contributions. In committee, people could make sure there was no problem in this regard.
When I began speaking, I said we were should help the RCMP, which is having trouble recruiting new cadets and retaining its experienced members. We know that the government committed itself a few years ago to reforming and strengthening the RCMP. In my opinion, Bill C-18 will help the RCMP to be regarded and perceived as a police force that, while elitist, still offers the same benefits as any police force, whether in Quebec or in the rest of Canada, and that is one of the best.
This is not the first time salary issues have been discussed. We are talking about the pension fund, but in the past we have discussed Royal Canadian Mounted Police wages. It will be recalled that the Conservative government recently decided to change the wage agreement it had signed with the RCMP. It made that decision completely unilaterally and the Bloc Québécois spoke out forcefully against the government’s attack on the rights of RCMP members. We believe that, by unilaterally imposing new wage conditions, the Conservatives have reneged on the commitment they made in a wage agreement signed in good faith by both parties.
The Bloc Québécois, therefore, has condemned this attack. It demands that the Conservatives reverse their decision and, in accordance with the agreement between the two parties, provide the full wage increase promised to RCMP members. The Bloc Québécois is very disturbed by these devious manoeuvres. It will always pay careful attention when the government makes changes affecting the RCMP.
Bill C-18 has already been examined in the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, on which I sit. Some shortcomings were pointed out, and we hope very much that progress can be made when it is studied in another committee.
The Bloc Québécois has also noted that RCMP officers want to form a union. Why not?
Why should they be the only police force in Canada that is not allowed to unionize? I believe they should have the same freedom of association as all the other police forces in Quebec and Canada.
The Bloc Québécois once tabled a bill to amend the Canada Labour Code and allow RCMP members to form a union.
The Bloc has always been concerned about the life that awaits members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, especially when they retire, and that is why we are studying this bill today. I think that after all their years of loyal service, they deserve a decent, fair and equitable retirement.
Many of these people have made sacrifices. They worked hard defending freedom and justice. We should also consider the fact that the RCMP is currently experiencing recruitment and retention problems. We want to help the people responsible for human resources at the RCMP as well. The people who work for the RCMP must be treated equitably and fairly.
We should also not forget that public money is at stake here. That is why I suggest sending this bill back to committee, not only so that its impact on legislation can be studied but also to attenuate or eliminate the irritants that are currently preventing 10,000 former RCMP employees from receiving the treatment they deserve.
We should try as well to remove the famous orphan clauses, as we call them in Quebec. I do not know whether people in the rest of Canada know about it. This would help young people by allowing them to accumulate six months in the pension plan so that they would be on the same footing as everyone else.
We are therefore in favour of the principle of Bill C-18 but think a lot of changes need to be made in a spirit of justice and fairness.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act
May 12th, 2009 / 10:25 a.m.
Dan McTeague Pickering—Scarborough East, ON
Mr. Speaker, thank you for this opportunity to speak on Bill An Act to amend the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act, to validate certain calculations and to amend other Acts
It is understood that our party will be in favour of this bill, although it is now at the third reading stage. The parliamentary secretary who spoke on it a few minutes ago will recognize that what we are looking at affords us a real opportunity to address a major issue, the whole matter of the treatment of the hard-working men and women in the ranks of the RCMP who represent one aspect of our country. We have great recognition on the international level in this respect.
The bill before us today provides us with an opportunity to move ahead with respect to transformation of pensions to ensure there is portability for members of the RCMP, something which has been quite rightly pointed out as long overdue. It also gives us an opportunity to expand on the real concerns that underlie the current status of the men and women in the RCMP who continue to do us proud each and every day.
It is not lost on us on the opposition side that when a government comes to power claiming that it is going to hire 2,500 new police officers across the country and fails to deliver means that we cannot pick and choose or that we are going to support this or ignore that, or that we are going to get around to it some point down the road.
We can have all the good legislation we want crafted by this great Parliament, but if it is not properly enforced, or if we are underresourcing our ability to meet the objectives of Canadians for safe streets and safe homes, something that our party campaigned on and certainly has a good track record on, then it seems to me these kinds of bills would simply be moot.
I am obviously concerned about the legislation itself. While an important first step, thankfully, a number of other glaring problems were raised in committee. This is why we have committees. They allow us the opportunity to sit back and to look at some of the other objections that are brought forward.
We heard very able testimony from witnesses at committee. We heard from Mr. Gaétan Delisle, a man who has fought very hard to ensure that morale is restored within the RCMP, but he is by no means the only one. There are others, like the British Columbia Mounted Police Professional Association, and people like Pete Merrifield, a great constable and an individual who ran for the Conservative Party many years ago. All underscored through their own efforts and trials, and regrettably their own pain, some of the problems the RCMP is facing.
I do not want to be Pollyannaish about this. This is an important piece of legislation, but it is only one step in terms of fixing morale within the RCMP.
Two years ago a study was conducted in which it was determined that fully 80% of the rank and file members of the RCMP felt that their jobs were undervalued and underappreciated. How can they be blamed when the Conservative government responded by cutting back their wages even though they made a promise in June of last year?
These are very difficult times to have a wage rollback. Rank and file members of the RCMP are not protected, but senior officials within the RCMP are able to continue to get merit pay and bonus pay. This is, to my understanding and to any objective analyst's understanding, an example of some of the glaring problems that exist within the RCMP.
The importance of this legislation is found in the fact that a member of a police service that is absorbed who has had the time and the pension given to or earned by the member would be able to have that transferred and recognized under the RCMP superannuation fund. That is a very laudable goal, but it creates obvious and very distinct problems. It has been raised in committee. I certainly raised it and it was raised by witnesses. It is conceivable that a new member of the RCMP coming from another service would have a greater pension than an RCMP officer with a tenure of many years, certainly since the changes in 1994 because the six months in which the member is in training is not calculated as part of the member's pension.
There is unfinished business here. I tried to encourage the parliamentary secretary to take the message to his government that for our party it remains unfinished business and that he should undertake at least to do what he could to ensure that the gap is amended. We were told that the gap is there because when the legislation was drafted, it was thought that the income tax regulations could not be amended, and that in fact is correct. However, Parliament speaks and regulations follow. Regulations could easily have been changed or anticipated given the magnitude of the problem, which all members of Parliament understand.
I know that our colleagues in the NDP and the Bloc Québécois are well aware of that gap.
Unfortunately, this bill does not allow enough changes. What really needs to be addressed is the bigger question of equality among the services as far as pensions are concerned.
Over a number of years I have been concerned about the discrepancy that may exist between civilian members of the RCMP and members on the front line. Both jobs are valued. Both jobs are interdependent. Both jobs are necessary. Yet, it is conceivable here as well that there is a system for one and a system for the other. I am concerned that while with Bill C-18 we perhaps do not have the opportunity to fix these problems, it is important to illustrate the problems to ensure that we do not wait another eight or nine years to address what is for many in the RCMP a problem that sticks out like a sore thumb.
We all recognize that this bill is an important first step in strengthening the RCMP. However, I have some serious concerns about the government's commitment to seeing the legislation through. I mentioned several points that I think have to be considered. I have talked about the new crime legislation in the past. It can only be of worth if it is backed up with the appropriate enforcement. It is important for us to ensure that we do not fall into the trap of rhetoric as opposed to action.
I am hearing from the government that we should move ahead with this and everything will simply take care of itself. Frankly, this was just the tip of the iceberg in terms of addressing wider problems with Canada's national police force. It is important for all Canadians to recognize that much more work needs to be done. This party is very serious about doing that.
Over the past several years I have worked with members in the other place to ensure that the issue of collective bargaining is front and centre. In the next few days I am hoping to be able to present a proposal that I hope the government will consider, certainly in light of what we have seen in terms of RCMP recruitment, but also in light of the decision that was made just over a month ago, which unfortunately, the government appealed. It basically said that from a constitutional perspective, the right of collective bargaining and association must be extended to members of the RCMP.
I was at Highland Creek Public School in my riding last week. On one side of the grade eight classroom was the history of the North West Mounted Police from 1873 on. I raised the concern that many of the RCMP members are not treated in quite the same way as other police forces, certainly in our jurisdiction of Durham region and in Toronto. The two teachers who were there were shocked. They had no idea that police officers have no right of collective bargaining because they are members of the RCMP.
This is not to disparage the existing staff relations representatives who have done a very good job in the past of trying to represent members of the RCMP. However, it is to recognize that individuals who represent the RCMP and who have a grievance against the RCMP may find themselves in a bit of a conflict of interest. If an officer has a grievance against management or a superior officer, for instance, how does the officer launch a formal grievance when it requires the approval of that very senior officer or senior management within the RCMP? There is the contradiction.
To my knowledge we do not have corporate unions in this country. We have not seen those since the 1920s. Yet, it exists within the RCMP. It is time not only to talk about modernization of the RCMP, but also to modernize our view of the RCMP as a modern, functional, adaptable police service that is capable of meeting the world's best challenges and protecting Canadians. However, they too must have confidence in the system that protects and provides them assurances that they will be treated no differently than any other police service in Canada.
This bill, while an important step, was a missed opportunity for the Conservative government to demonstrate that it is serious about standing up for rank and file RCMP officers. The government knows the issue. This is not new. We know that the Canadian Police Association is also looking to ensure that there are opportunities for recruitment. The police officers recruitment fund provides funding to recruit new officers. We have heard of this from the government, but the Canadian Police Association has indicated that this funding does not in any way, shape or form help retain officers.
The more fundamental question comes when someone decides to undertake recruitment. Young people may decide to become involved in policing, which is a very noble career, one which many individuals aspire to at some point in their lives. At one stage in my life I was thinking very much about it. On doing a comparison of police services in order to decide which police service to join, it is fair to say the prestige and honour of the RCMP is not necessarily met by an equality in benefits. It is not necessarily something that people would want to look to. There is no doubt that in difficult economic times we may see a larger number of potential recruits, but in ordinary times, it is very clear to me and to many others that those who chose the services in the past may have opted to go for local police services or other regional police services, given that the benefits and protection and certain rights and privileges would not be found in the RCMP, but would be found in other services.
The bill before us, which is at third reading and I have no doubt in my mind it will pass, should be seen as a great opportunity for the government and for parliamentarians to once and for all take very seriously the needs of the men and women who do us very proud.
I have no difficulty in saying there is an individual who has done very much for the cause of the RCMP, and I will not mention him by name, but an individual whom I know is devoted to his job does not necessarily take into consideration all of these challenges which members of the RCMP face. They may even set aside the fact that there is inequality in the RCMP.
We know there have been a lot of problems with respect to concerns about how the pension was managed within the RCMP, and what the legal fund is used for in terms of advocacy, which itself is a conflict of interest. All these aside, I know full well that members of the RCMP devote themselves to the job of protecting others. There is perhaps no greater job that I can think of where one is prepared to give his or her life in the service of others.
There is a police memorial not far from here, attended every year by parliamentarians. We all have names of people whom we know who have passed before us. They are individuals who, in the cause of giving their lives, have given so much for the freedom, democracy and liberties we enjoy.
I call upon the government to look at the bill not in isolation of the bigger problem, but to see it as a necessary first step to ensuring that RCMP members are treated equally, are treated with respect and are treated in a way in which we can modernize our thinking and our approach to a modern, effective police service.
I had the privilege of serving this Parliament and the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the ministry in many missions abroad. It always struck me that the first thing the public around the world recognizes for Canada is the red serge and our officers. In most embassies around the world there is a desk officer from the RCMP.
We have to ensure that the symbol of our RCMP is also a symbol of fairness and equity. We have a higher degree of responsibility, aside from politics, to ensure that the grievances and the concerns that are being expressed day in and day out, that are being articulated now by our courts, are properly respected in the House.
I call on the justice minister and the public safety minister to pull back their willingness to consistently and continuously appeal the evolution of labour relations within the RCMP that have done the tremendous disservice of seeing our RCMP officers, men and women, left in a situation in which they are treated as second-class officers relative to other services across this country. I call upon the government to ensure that we never see a shameful act of repealing the wages or, because there is no protection for RCMP rank and file members, rolling back the wages to which they are entitled.
I appeal to the government again to ensure that it does not allow a situation where rank and file members see their wages rolled back while management and senior officers receive bonus pay and merit pay. I asked this question some time ago to the President of the Treasury Board. He sloughed it off. The reality is that not only does it create disparities between rank and file members and management, but it also creates disparities among services across this country. That cannot bode well for the higher objective of ensuring that we have an accountable public safety approach that includes, first and foremost, our RCMP.
I will be supporting the bill, but I caution, alert and continue to demand of the government that it stand up not just for the rights of Canadians to ensure fairness, but for what the RCMP so clearly deserves, which is a fair, modern labour relations agreement.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act
May 12th, 2009 / 10:25 a.m.
Dave MacKenzie Oxford, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am sure the hon. member, if he were to read through Bill C-18, would see that it does just that. It does bring fairness to a number of areas within the RCMP.
I recognize his comments and I am well aware of those comments. I have lived that, as members of my family are living it today, but this is about Bill C-18, a bill that would bring fairness to members of the RCMP and perhaps members of the RCMP who wish to transfer to other forces at the same time. It does give that portability. I think that if members in the House were to read Bill C-18, they would see that it is about creating a fairer, more level playing field for all police in Canada.