Port Moody—Coquitlam, BC
Mr. Speaker, it is my delight to rise to speak to Bill C-85. I speak in opposition to this bill, an act to amend the Members of Parliament Retiring Allowances Act.
I found it very interesting today to listen to the debate and to some of the rhetoric that has surrounded it. As we address the debate from this side of the House, we certainly are representing the mood and the voice of Canadians in opposing a pension plan which is far above and beyond anything any other Canadian outside of this place could enjoy or ever think about.
The Reform Party bases its decision on the principles put down within the party from its inception. My opposition to this bill is based on certain of these principles that the Reform Party holds. Let me remind members of two of those.
Principle 17 of the party states: "We believe in public service, that governments, civil servants, politicians and political parties exist to serve the people and that they should demonstrate this service and commitment at all times".
Principle 18 states: "We believe that public money should be regarded by government as `funds held in trust' and that government should practise fiscal responsibility to balance expenditures and revenues".
Both of these principles deal directly with the issue at hand today. It is from these principles that this party, since its inception, developed a policy on MP pensions.
The Reform Party policy on MP pensions states that it opposes the current pension schemes for members of Parliament. We would end full indexation of these pensions. We would postpone eligibility for benefits until at least age 60 with eligibility further postponed by the amount of time in which the person has already been paid prior to age 60. We would subject the MP pension to a tax back according to a formula identical to that of the old age security.
Compare our policy with the vague and general policy I have heard quoted here today of which the Liberals seem proud which is outlined in their red book: "The pension regime of members of Parliament has been the focus of considerable controversy. It is now the subject of an independent review which Liberals support. We believe that reform is necessary".
It is of some small comfort to know the Liberals have finally and only seemingly recently realized the MP pension scheme is an affront to Canadians. I have heard it and I am sure they have heard it. It has taken a while to sink in though. It is also interesting to note the Liberal policy uses the word reform. I will quote again: "We believe reform is necessary".
From the vague Liberal policy, which often happens with vague policies, Bill C-85 has flowed, a bill that I believe is totally unacceptable.
I am sure everyone has heard that 52 Reform MPs will be opting out. My Reform colleagues have come here from ordinary communities, homes with families. We have mortgages too. Like our colleagues on the other side, we want security for our homes. We want security for our families, for ourselves and our loved ones, just like every other Canadian. However, we have come to this place to show leadership in difficult times. We were sent here to show leadership in difficult times. We as a party cannot in good conscience claim to lead by example by participating in a plan such as has been shown here.
Let me explain a few points on how this diverts directly from what ordinary Canadians might experience. First, this bill raises the age of eligibility to age 55. It raises it to age 55. But what about the age of 55? This is totally unacceptable. Ordinary Canadians only receive their full pension benefits, their CPP and old age security at age 65. Notice there is a difference of 10 years. What is 10 years? Ten years is a long time.
Why does the government still persist in maintaining this discrepancy? Fairness calls for members of Parliament to be eligible at the same age as the people they purport to represent. After all, the entire concept behind our parliamentary system is that all of us in this House represent the common people. That is why it is called the House of Commons. Have they forgotten this on that side of this House?
A second concern is that under Bill C-85 full indexation of the MP pension to the level of inflation remains from the date that an MP retires. This again is an affront to the average Canadian whose pension income is not indexed to inflation. It is another example of how privileged members of Parliament have been and will continue to be under this government's proposed "reform" of the pension scheme.
I also find it interesting that once again this bill shows a duplicity in high sounding statistics. We are told benefits will now accumulate at a rate that will drop by 1 per cent. An accrual rate of 4 per cent instead of 5 per cent is still above the legal limit of what any other Canadian enjoys. It has been accommodated by book work, or by putting it into two pots or whatever.
The fact remains it is something Canadians legally cannot enjoy otherwise.
At the same time as this goes down by 1 per cent, the amount the MPs pay into the plan decreases by 2 per cent. Perhaps I could throw in the concept of one for you and two for me and if we do it quickly enough maybe no one will notice. It is a sort of shell game. It is no wonder the Canadians I hear have given up faith in this place. They have a right to be cynical if government plays games with the numbers and with the things they represent.
The government also claims that significant savings will result from these measures. It is true that now the taxpayers' contribution will be at a ratio of approximately 3.5 to 1 compared to the members' contribution, down from what we considered to be seven to one before. That was obscene.
It is also true that most of this change resulted from the actuarial realities of a lower rate simply because of the large number of new members in this place. That is, this ratio even with the old plan would have been approximately four to one had no changes at all been made to this pension plan because of the difference in the membership in this place.
Therefore little has changed in spite of the government's rhetoric and platitudes on this issue. The bill it put forward is smoke and mirrors. In fact little has changed in this place in spite of the government's rhetoric and platitudes on many things.
In my riding in the greater Vancouver region there is a significant and expanding portion of the population that is retired and receiving pension income. How can the government and the President of the Treasury Board who proposes this bill justify keeping the full indexation of MP pensions that those people, those families, those individuals in my area do not enjoy? How can the government and the President of the Treasury Board justify not making the age of pension eligibility consistent with what average Canadians can expect and what they experience?
This bill represents the gulf between what Canadians expect and what the government delivers. Should the rules be different for those that lead than for those whom they serve?
Our party brought this issue to the fore. As a result the government has given the House and the Canadian people a mere token. The government has failed once again to bridge that gulf, and the gulf between it and the people of Canada remains even after the rhetoric of this bill.
On page 11 of the red book it states that Canadians have to see themselves as belonging to a society of reciprocal obligations in which each of us is responsible for the well-being of the other. Canadians know this intuitively. That is mighty sounding but I would like to take that quote within the context of this MP pension plan and compare it to the 45,000 civil servants that now are facing being laid off from their place of work.
I take that quote within the context, and take the obscene pension plan that we still see in place and compare it with government cutbacks in the funding of medicare to the provinces. I take that quote within the context of the MP pension plans and compare it with struggling Canadian families faced with outrageous tax burdens, many of whom therefore are not even able themselves to put money toward an RRSP at the end of the year.
Another concern I have with the bill is that it has been thoroughly politicized. Initially the President of the Treasury Board was to have introduced the bill in February before the government tabled its budget. It is now May 4. Four months have gone by. What delayed its introduction? The President of the Treasury Board had to ensure that all the various interests within the cabinet and caucus were represented and that those interests were placated.
I ask the President of the Treasury Board, whose interests is he representing? Is he representing the interests of his cabinet and caucus colleagues or is he, as he should, representing the interests of the Canadian people who have been loudly demanding genuine reform to the MP pension scheme for a long time?
Politics and rhetoric are an integral part of the government's approach. Good schemes and fair proposals have been put forward by outside sources and even by some government members. These have been rejected and replaced by rhetoric which is answered at every turn by comments about pay scales and double dipping.
When challenged on the continuing arrogance of the new pension plan, why does the government insist on talking about pay scales? If MPs' salaries are not acceptable, then change them. Do not use them as an excuse for the pension plan. Do not divert the issue from the scandalous pension scheme that continues to exist.
What of the issue of double dipping? What is the real issue here? Once again the government tries to divert attention in other directions. The issue that concerns Canadians is patronage. The issue is choosing political friends to fill positions, letting them feed from the public trough and the attitude of gross arrogance toward the taxpayer in doing so.
I will only take the time to briefly recall for Canadians some of the very recent and ongoing issues that relate to this, like the Pearson airport review, the Lobbyists Registration Act, the expensive and self-serving byelections made necessary by Senate and other appointments, the Power Corporation contro-
versy that exists today and even our elusive and unaccountable ethics counsellor. The list goes on and on.
The real issue here is special favours, concessions and decisions made by the government that fly in the face of the trust of Canadians and the trust that they expect in their parliamentary system. What do we get in terms of pension reform? What is significant in their version of the end of double dipping?
It only means that the obscene amounts of publicly funded pension dollars grow behind the scenes for those lucky recipients of government appointments. I would like to say that an abuse of the public trust is an abuse no matter which way you cut it.
With the help of some professionals within the insurance industry, actually the Mutual Life branch in Surrey, I have received some numbers for normal pension expectations. I related it to our longest standing Reform MP, the member for Beaver River, who would in the old plan receive $1.8 million in pension at age 75.
With this bill and the changes that have been introduced, the government comes to the Canadian people and boldly says that this is a fair plan. The numbers indicate that our qualifying member would have received, had she chosen not to opt out, mostly at the expense of the Canadian taxpayer, a whopping $1.2 million still. The pension is reduced from $1.8 to $1.2 million.
That member plus the rest of the Reformers have chosen to opt out. I would like briefly to put forward the cost she will pay to do this very thing.
It is of note that Canadians should be aware of that difference. They should know what the difference is between what normal Canadians might have to do in putting aside their own pension and what it is that this place considers fair, equitable and can receive without blushing at the fact that they will take this without an apology to the Canadian people.
It is a statement of the integrity of our member that she is prepared to opt out. If that member contributes her portion of the pension allotment into her own RRSP plan instead of this gold plated pension plan of the government, she would receive a pension at age 60. I put it at age 60. It is not like age 55. It is not the freedom 55 that is proposed by the government. At age 60, like some other Canadians, or perhaps 65, that pension would be less than $15,000 a year. Therefore her total payment if taken to age 75 would be approximately one-quarter of a million dollars. It is something like $228,000.
In trying to put aside her own pension scheme, she will come out with a one-quarter million dollar payment as opposed to the revised government plan which would give her one and a quarter million dollars. Making this decision will cost our member approximately $1 million. Do members think she is doing that easily? Do members think she is doing that on a whim? The very fact that we would take this position shows how strongly we feel. We in turn mirror how Canadians feel on this issue.
Leadership must start in this place or else the future of the country is in very great danger. Our party wants a fair plan. Our party wants a plan that is comparable to the private sector. Our party also wants to provide security for our families and for Canadian families. The plan must start here.
Some of the details of the plan are these. All members who have less than six years of experience as of October 25, 1993 have the right to opt out of the plan. As we have said, it will not be and it is not an easy decision for the class of '88 in this place. However, on the basis of principle, we challenge the class of '88 or later members on the Liberal side to do what is right and just for the Canadian people. If you go to your constituents and ask them, I know the answer-