House of Commons Hansard #17 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was ethical.

Topics

Points of Order
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

The Speaker

Since the matter has already been tabled we have that assurance.

Points of Order
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

Some hon. members

We do not know that.

Points of Order
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

The Speaker

The minister said it. The member can go and look at it. If he has a dispute about it we will hear it later. We accept a member's word for these things in the House. That is the standard practice. The minister said that it has been tabled and that is that.

Business of the House
Oral Question Period

February 24th, 2004 / 3 p.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I wish to seek unanimous consent for the following motion. I move:

That Motion No. 542, standing in my name be removed from the Order Paper and replaced with the text of a new motion, seconded by the member for Edmonton—Strathcona, the member for Trois-Rivières and the member for Burnaby—Douglas, which reads:

That this House declare April 7 as a Day of Remembrance of the victims of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, and encourage all Canadians, including the government, to take appropriate steps on that day to commemorate the genocide and to reflect upon its lessons.

I ask that the motion be carried forthwith without debate.

Business of the House
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

The Speaker

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is there unanimous consent of the House to adopt the motion?

Business of the House
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

Point of Order
Oral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

The Speaker

I am now ready to rule on the point of order raised on Thursday, February 19, by the honourable member for Roberval and House Leader for the Bloc Quebecois. The event at issue occurred during question period.

In his argument, the honourable member stated that he had been prevented from asking, and I quote, “a question on what is […] a government operation.”

When the point of order was raised, I indicated that I clearly considered the member’s first question out of order, but that I would look again at his second question. I did so very carefully, and I am convinced that the nature of the two questions was the same, in that they both concerned the funding of political parties. Such questions are contrary to our practices as described in House of Commons Procedure and Practice and in Beauchesne’s 6th edition, page 124, citation 410, which reads as follows:

The subject matter of questions must be within the collective responsibility of the Government or the individual responsibilities of Ministers.

(…) Ministers may not be questioned with respect to party responsibilities

I therefore remain convinced that the questions asked by the honourable member were out of order.

I would point out, however, that the arguments made by the honourable member in raising the point of order were extremely eloquent. Their context was much clearer than during question period, because he established the link between the funding of political parties and the administrative responsibilities of the government. If his initial questions had been worded in this manner, they would certainly have been ruled in order.

Members must remember that during such periods of heated debate the tone and wording of questions is of capital importance.

I thank the honourable member for Roberval for raising this matter.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

The Speaker

I am also prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on February 18, 2004 by the hon. President of the Treasury Board and Minister Responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board alleging that a document tabled earlier that day by the hon. member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough was incomplete.

I would like to thank the hon. President of the Treasury Board for having raised this question, as well as the hon. members for St. John's West, Scarborough—Rouge River, Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, and Provencher for their contributions to the discussion.

In drawing the attention of the Chair to this matter, the President of the Treasury Board stated that the document tabled by the hon. member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, a 1994 internal memo from the office of the then minister of finance, originally contained five pages and that the tabled document contained only two of those pages. He argued that since the document was incomplete, the House had been misled and that this constituted a contempt.

The hon. member for Pictou-Antigonish-Guysborough asserted that he had sought unanimous consent to table the material in his possession and that, on receiving consent, he had tabled that material, namely the two-page document in dispute.

The Chair heard these arguments and can only conclude that what we have before us is a dispute as to facts. The hon. member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough tabled a two page document, that being all that he had in his possession. Unanimous consent of the House was required before the hon. member could table that document. Consent was duly requested and received and the document was tabled.

Now the hon. President of the Treasury Board has tabled a five page document. The matter would seem to be closed. Readers of the parliamentary debates and the sessional papers can draw their own conclusions. It is not for the Chair to adjudicate in such matters.

This is a matter of debate and members will, I am sure, avail themselves of the usual means at their disposal to resolve this matter. It is certainly not something on which the Chair can be asked to rule and it does not constitute a prima facie breach of the privileges of the House in my finding.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Supply
Government Orders

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Alex Shepherd Durham, ON

Mr. Speaker, before question period I was talking about the importance of the so-called cohorts of the Canadian economy and the existence of a significant population in Canada called baby boomers. Canada's baby boom population is the largest in the western world based on demographics. This means that in the Canadian context a huge portion of our labour force will be retiring within the next 20 years.

This will be the greatest change economically to our system in the lifetime of our country. Normally there is a level playing field between new workers coming into the workforce and other workers exiting the workforce. We are going to see a tremendous exodus of workers. This has been predicated by a number of things.

Some people have been saving for their retirement and have been looking forward to it. Other people have been forced to retire because of the mandatory retirement age in Canada which is an issue that is currently under debate. Needless to say, a lot of people between the ages of 55 and 60 see retirement on the horizon.

When people would come to my office wanting to discuss retirement, the first question I would ask them would be when they were going to die. The bottom line is that most people do not want to think about their mortality. Most people want to think they are going to live forever. This makes insurance companies rich because they know that is just not the case.

The simple reality is that people are living longer now compared to 20 to 50 years ago. Those years create quite a challenge for income planners and for people who are trying to make ends meet. For one thing we do not know what the inflationary factor will be. Currently, inflation numbers have been relatively low, but historically that has not always been the case. Those living on fixed incomes are always concerned about what is going to happen to their retirement income.

Today's debate is apropos. As I mentioned earlier, the Canada pension plan is one of the three pillars of our pension system.

The first pillar is the old age pension for which everyone is eligible regardless of whether they worked or not. Unfortunately it is income tested. Those individuals who are wealthy get a certain portion of that clawed back through the income tax system.

The bottom line is that everyone is eligible for the old age pension, the first pillar but there is also the guaranteed income supplement goes along with that. It basically ensures that most people will get at least something in the neighbourhood of $12,000 a year. Most of us recognize that $12,000 is significantly below the poverty line set for various provinces; I believe generally speaking it is about $20,000. Anyone living strictly on old age pension and the guaranteed income supplement will be under significant pressure economically.

The second pillar of the retirement plan is the Canada pension plan which we are talking about today. For many Canadians this along with the old age pension will be the only income that they will receive in their retirement.

I used to practise as an accountant. I can remember that a number of clients would come to me to file their income tax returns because it was the only way they could get what in those days was called the Ontario tax credit. I was quite surprised at the number of people who fell into this group and were trying to make ends meet on this very limited amount of income.

When we talk about poverty, many of us think about single moms and so forth who obviously do live in poverty, but there are many single women, many seniors generally who live in poverty in this country. It is really quite a shock and quite a shame. I always call them the silent poor. They do not stand outside Parliament waving signs and so forth and complaining. They hardly ever write to their members of Parliament. They seem to bear this as a charitable plight on our society, but these people are not receiving enough income to live in dignity.

We should always be concerned that the income level be reinforced. In fact, I have always been one who has supported increasing the guaranteed income supplement to ensure that some of those people have at least a little more money than they currently have.

Today we are talking about the second pillar which is the Canada pension plan. In order to get the Canada pension plan the individual must have worked, must have had contributory earnings. Many people have chosen to stay at home and are unable to access the Canada pension plan in the first place.

Be that as it may, the government realized that the Canada pension plan needed to be reformed a number of years ago. It took some very significant measures to ensure that the Canada pension plan would be sustainable, that is to say, there would be an income flow from that plan to people who were eligible to receive it.

One of the second parts of reforming the plan was to allow the Canada pension plan to go into market driven investments. Prior to that the Canada pension plan was lent back to the provinces. The federal government basically lent the money back to the provinces. The provinces then issued provincial government bonds and basically built most of the schools. As I understand it, most of the schools in this country came from Canada pension plan money.

The unfortunate aspect is that while some people would say that the provincial government debt was pretty secure, at the same time it also had a very low yield. With regard to this yield, some people ask what is the difference between 4% and 5%? Quite frankly, 1% of deviation on investment capital extrapolated over 20 or 30 years is quite significant.

It was realized that if the Canada pension plan was going to be sustainable, it had to be invested in other areas of the economy that would at least give us a fairly good rate of return. When I say a good rate of return, most investment managers try to balance their portfolios and put so much of their money maybe in fixed income government securities, investment grade rated corporate bonds, and then look at the securities markets. They look at the debt ratings. Moody's, Standard & Poor's, Dominion Bond Rating Services are some of the agencies that they use to ensure that these investments are secure.

The motion before us today talks about changing that criteria. It talks about adding another criteria and basically talks about generalities, something called Canadian values. I dare say that to think of the broad range in Canadian values, it would be very difficult to do that in a guidance system for an investment portfolio. Obviously some person's values whether it was to do with the steel industry or something else could be quite different from another person's. It is a very subjective argument about how we want the Canada pension plan to operate in the first place.

I go back to the history of the Canada pension plan and why it is set up the way it is. People generally thought there would not be enough money to sustain the plan and to ensure that people would get an adequate income from it.

It seems to me that the motion attacks the very assumptions that were made that established the board in the first place. It asks them to consider some other kinds of criteria which are not primarily related to return on investment.

Some people will suggest that using the return on investment as the sole criterion gets some strange results in the sense that presumably we may invest in industries that pollute or whatever the case may be. I suggest it is not the import of those people who are doing the investing; it is the import of government.

If the government sees illegal activity occurring within the economy generally, it is within the power of the government, whether it be federal, provincial or municipal, to regulate and to enforce pollution control and pollution abatement. There are various ways of doing that. There is no history, as I understand it, that the Canada pension plan has ever invested in illegal activities.

I believe that we have to reject this motion because it is certainly not predicated on the best interests of Canadians generally.

I go back to saying that with the money that is actually in the Canada pension plan, there is a trust established between the people of Canada and their government. The trust is that we will put the money in this plan, that it will be managed safely and appropriately but that at the same time there will also be a proper return on investment.

I go back to the pressure that is being created by the demographics of our nation. I just want to turn to the original motion of the NDP which talks about Canadian values. There is no more important value, I do not think, than people retiring and living in dignity. People worry that the money coming from the Canada pension plan may not be adequate enough, and most people would suggest it is not in any case. Even if the money were less adequate than it is today because of investment management decisions that we as a legislature superimposed on the Canada pension plan, it seems ludicrous that we would want to threaten those people who live on fixed incomes or who depend on money coming from the Canada pension plan, that we would be prepared to take more risk, or if not more risk, to take less return on investment.

An interesting study has been done on so-called ethical mutual funds. I am not complaining about these funds; I am just looking at the sole aspect of return on investment. There are a number of them and I have never heard of them because I am not interested. There is Acuity Clean Environment Balanced fund, Acuity Clean Environment Equity fund, Desjardins Environment fund, Ethical Special Equity fund, Ethical Balanced fund, Ethical Growth fund, and Ethical North American fund. The one thing all these funds have in common is that they are underperforming their own indexes within the mutual fund business; that is to say they are all underperformers.

The point I am trying to make is that twisting the arms of people who are managing the Canada pension plan, making them make decisions which are not in the best interests of the beneficiaries of those plans, who are Canadian citizens, is not in the best interests for the long term social values that I believe this country was founded on. I suggest that the whole motion by the New Democratic Party is a fallacy and it should be rejected by the House.

Business of the House
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Brossard—La Prairie
Québec

Liberal

Jacques Saada Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister responsible for Democratic Reform

Madam Speaker, I would just like to bring to your attention that Bill C-21 will be referred to committee before second reading.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Supply
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Bev Desjarlais Churchill, MB

Madam Speaker, there is no intention on my behalf or on the behalf of the New Democratic Party to mislead Canadians or to misrepresent. There is documented evidence that ethical funds do provide profit.

This morning my colleague from Winnipeg Centre mentioned a number. The investment sector does not recommend that investments be based on a one year or two year period. Even those who are not all out investors get that much of a message from the investment companies. Investments should be based over a longer period of time. There are companies that over the course of 10 years do not show a 10% profit but do show a 1% profit. I think the member needs to be clear for Canadians that in the last number of years a lot of funds have lost money. I think it would be misleading to suggest that only ethical funds may have lost money over a couple of years, because that has happened overall.

Quite frankly, the investments of the CPP pension plan board lost $2 billion for the CPP fund. I cannot imagine that the ethical funds would have done any worse.

What we believe should be happening and what we suggest as part of the CPP fund is investment in Canada. We are not suggesting a loss or that we not try to support the program. Obviously we care very dearly about the Canada pension plan. We fought for the Canada pension plan. We know it is probably the best plan in the world and will make a contribution to the most people throughout the country.

We are not going to want to see it devastated, but we know that an investment in Canada using CPP funds will mean dollars coming back in. That is an investment in Canada. Quite frankly, as someone who pays into CPP, it does mean more to me that it goes to something ethical. I do not want my funds going into tobacco companies and landmines. I do not want them going into environmental degradation. The cost of repairing those things is far greater and it is far more important that it not happen.

I think Canadian values are along the lines that I believe, not what I am hearing here today, which is that money should be the only option, that we are just going to look at how much money that one little sector makes and not look at the consequences. That is not acceptable in this day and age.

It is not acceptable.

Supply
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Alex Shepherd Durham, ON

First, Madam Speaker, I can understand that the individual member may be concerned about how her money is invested in this plan, but I can tell the House as a general comment that the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board is a fiduciary agent for all the people in Canada, not just the individual member of Parliament. It has to take some kind of criteria that all the people of Canada are going to agree to. One of those things is that it has a fair and reasonable rate of return.

Some of the investment funds that I quoted were in fact over a five year period. Statistically speaking, those funds were significantly underperforming their indices within the market.

Finally, it is very important to realize what we are talking about here: ethical behaviour. How do we measure this? It is very subjective. If it is a legal activity in Canada, then that can be the only criteria that an investment board can use. If it is not illegal, then it must be a legal thing that we can invest in. We are trying to make a judgment call on people that goes beyond some kind of basic rule of law, some kind of feeling of judgment or something which is just not part of investment criteria.

The member talked about some of the companies. The tobacco industry, unfortunately, is not an illegal activity in Canada. There are many others: the medical science industry, Nortel Networks, all the technology companies, and some of the great and wonderful things we do as a nation. We as Canadians can take some great pride that we are investing in our country. The vast majority of funds in the Canada pension plan is invested in this country to keep Canadians working and to give opportunities to Canadians. I think that is just what the board was originally set up to do.

Supply
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Bev Desjarlais Churchill, MB

My colleague may not like the response, but there is a reality. He said that what we should judge it on is whether it is illegal or legal in Canada. I can tell the House that we have a treaty. Canada has signed a landmine treaty to abolish landmines and not to support the building of landmines. The CPP pension fund is invested in companies that make landmines. That is not acceptable. What if the CPP board decides to invest in a company that produces pornography which uses children and which is okay in some other country but not in Canada?

There are standards set out by the ILO on labour conditions throughout the world. There are human rights issues. What if the CPP pension plan is invested in those companies when worldwide it is not seen as acceptable?

We know that human rights conditions in Indonesia and China and situations in Africa and numerous other countries are not acceptable. Is it okay that the pension funds are invested in those companies? Does the member think it is okay for Canada to be investing in countries that wipe out citizens so that they can get to the diamond mines? Does the member think it is okay to invest in companies that go into and literally rape a country's environment? Is it okay for the member that Canada pension funds should be invested in those activities?