House of Commons Hansard #129 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was workers.

Topics

POOLED REGISTERED PENSION PLANS ACT
Government Orders

Noon

NDP

Denis Blanchette Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to the speech given by my colleague from Burlington.

This bill is an admission of weakness in the sense that the premise is that since people cannot change their pension plans, the Conservatives are merely falling back on something else, something smaller, for a small group.

It seems to me that a government needs to show some leadership. If it is going to set out on a crusade, it must do so confidently and convincingly. I am sure that if the government had decided to try to convince the provinces that improving public pension plans was the way to go, it would have had the unanimous consent of the House.

So is this bill not an admission of weakness?

POOLED REGISTERED PENSION PLANS ACT
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Noon

Conservative

Mike Wallace Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, absolutely not. The bill is an opportunity for small and medium-sized businesses that do not have the capacity or the level of risk needed to have company pension plans. It is an opportunity for entrepreneurs and small and medium-sized businesses.

We operate under the rule of law in our country. For any changes to CPP, we need an agreement of two-thirds of the provinces with two-thirds of the population. We do not have that agreement. We are looking at other available opportunities and options. This is a good one. All provinces have agreed, initially, that this framework is the right approach to take. This is not an admission of weakness; it is an admission of doing something for Canadians, which the opposition does not seem to want to do.

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Noon

NDP

Irene Mathyssen London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is very important to continue in this debate because there is a real divergence of opinion, which has a great deal to do with the fact that the proposed pooled registered pension plan would do nothing to solve Canada's pension crisis.

The pension crisis has been the subject of debate for the past several years. The issue is that more than 11 million Canadian workers do not have a workplace pension plan and the public pension plans, old age security and the Canada pension plan that everyone has, do not provide enough for people to live on in retirement. Even worse, the plan by the current government is to increase the age of retirement for OAS and seriously undermine the ability of workers who live with disabilities, or workers who have very stressful jobs to retire at an age that would allow them to have some quality of life in their senior years.

To make matters worse, most Canadians are not making up for their lack of a pension plan by saving for retirement on their own. Less than one-third of the people entitled to contribute to RRSPs actually do so. There is now more than $600 billion in unused RRSP contribution room, all of that being carried forward. Only about one-third of Canadian households are currently saving at levels that would generate sufficient income to cover their non-discretionary expenses in their retirement.

It also needs to be noted that the market is not a reliable place in which to gamble retirement security. Turmoil in financial markets has had, and will continue to have, a devastating impact on workplace pension plans. People who have saved for retirement through RRSPs have found all too often that the value of their investments has dropped so much that they are now faced with having to postpone their retirement or to struggle to replace retirement savings by attempting to find some kind of work.

The reality is, however, that finding employment at ages 66, 67, 68 is profoundly difficult. The workplace has changed and the skills that retirees once brought to the job are no longer marketable.

There is indeed a pension crisis, but this bill seems to have been simply thrown together hastily, in response to pressure from labour, seniors groups, political parties, notably the NDP, as a result of a national campaign to increase the CPP-QPP. There was no thought, just a knee-jerk response.

According to the Conference Board of Canada, 1.6 million seniors live in poverty in Canada and 12 million Canadians lack a workplace pension plan. Statistics Canada tells us more than 14% of senior women on their own are living in poverty, according to standard LICO measurement.

The sensible NDP proposal to increase the GIS enough to eliminate poverty among seniors would take care of this issue. Unfortunately the government is not interested.

By OECD standards, Canada's CPP-QPP system is relatively miserly. We are not terribly generous at all. Other countries similar to Canada provide much more generous public and guaranteed pensions. For example, social security in the United States has a maximum benefit of about $30,000 a year. The maximum benefit in Canada is less $12,000 a year.

Even if we add old age security to that, and that would be a maximum of just under $7,000 a year, the total is still far below social security and places seniors in that poverty range of which I spoke.

As I indicated, most Canadian workers have no RRSP because they cannot afford it. Last year, only 31% of eligible Canadians contributed to their RRSPs and unused RRSP room is now about $600 billion, according to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Meanwhile, the latest numbers for the return on the CPP investment show that it barely lost ground, less than 1% during this current downturn in the economy, while the stock market, which is where the government wants Canadians to park most of their retirement savings in this pooled private plan, fell by 11%. That is significant.

The Australian experiment has been mentioned. Australia tried about 10 years ago to introduce a similar plan and had less than encouraging results. The Australian plan was mandatory with an opt-out provision. It was called the Australian superfund and it required employers to enrol their workers in one of many defined contribution plans offered by the private sector.

A recent review of the Australian superfund was commissioned by the Australian government after 12 years of experience. The review shows that, while people were saving as a result of the mandatory contributions, the investment returns were no better than inflation. The report attributed the poor results to high fees and costs despite the presumed role that competition was supposed to play in keeping these fees at a reasonable level. I will speak to that again in regard to the pooled registered plan.

There has been for several years a clear consensus among many experts that real pension reform was, and continues to be, critical. However, rather than intelligently and positively engaging in practical reform, the government has instead introduced its pooled registered pension plan, which, according to the federal Minister of Finance, is this incredible panacea. He said that it would make low cost, private sector pension plans accessible to millions of Canadians who have, up to now, not had access to such plans.

The legislation introduced in mid-November would allow employers to offer PRPPs to their employees. The scheme would be run by insurance companies and other financial institutions. According to the minister, they would pool the savings of workers whose employers sign up for the program. The financial institutions would run these programs on behalf of employers and, of course, will charge a fee for doing that. Employers would not need to contribute to the plan and workers' savings would be locked in, although if employees provide notice in writing they. apparently. would be allowed to opt-out.

No pension would be guaranteed by this program. In effect, it is yet another voluntary savings scheme that would do nothing to address the pension crisis since very few people take advantage of existing voluntary retirement savings schemes now. It is not clear why officials are claiming that the proposed PRPPs will prove more attractive than anything that currently exists.

So far, the only advantage being promoted for PRPPs is that management fees would apparently be lower than individual RRSPs because of the pooling. There would be no cap on the management fee and therefore no guarantee of lower fees, nor is there any certainty that this would be a big selling point for the plans.

It is also worth noting that there is no evidence that people are not saving through RRSPs because of high management fees. It is far more likely that they are not saving because individuals are busy raising families, paying bills, trying to manage the cost of housing and trying to educate their kids. There is no money left at the end of the month for an RRSP.

As I said, there are no guarantees for lower fees. The PRPP is not a defined benefit plan. It would not provide a secure retirement income with a set replacement rate of pre-retirement income and it would not be fully transferable. The plan would not be indexed to inflation and it would not increase with the increasing cost of living.

Employers, not employees, would decide the contribution levels. As I indicated, it would not be mandatory for employers to contribute or even match employees' contributions. Without employers' contributions, it is not really a pension plan. In fact, employers who do not help their employees save for retirement could end up with a competitive advantage over employers who do.

Canada does not need yet another voluntary tax-assisted retirement savings program. It needs public pensions that provide all Canadians with a basic guarantee of adequate income that will protect their standard of living in retirement.

Expanding the Canada pension plan would meet this objective. In fact, federal and provincial finance ministers seemed set to take this route when they assembled for their meeting in Alberta in December 2010. Only one province opted out. That gives us our 66%. Despite the fact that only one province opted out, the federal government decided to abandon talks and introduce this pooled registered pension plan scheme instead.

Improving the replacement rate of the CPP retirement benefit would provide much better retirement pensions to virtually all Canadians. A relatively modest increase in contribution rates would be required but that could be phased in over a period of time, as the Canadian Labour Congress and others have proposed. The CPP covers all workers, including those who are self-employed, and its benefits would be guaranteed in relation to earnings and years of service. They would be indexed for inflation and fully portable from one job to another.

This option would address the two key issues in the pension system that are currently causing concern: the lack of coverage of workplace pension plans and the fact that individuals are not saving for their retirement by themselves. As well, an expanded CPP, of course, could reduce federal expenditures on GIS because more people would have adequate retirement incomes. It would also benefit employers because it would be a clear pension plan and they need not be concerned about a private plan. It is a public plan and it has a lot of true and clear benefits.

While the government says that CPP contribution rates cannot be increased when there is a fragile economy, it is worth noting that when the financing of CPP was changed at the end of the 1990s, combined employer-employee CPP contribution rates nearly doubled, from 5.6% of covered earnings to 9.9% over that five year period, but unemployment fell from 9.6% to 7.6%. So there are other side benefits.

It should also be noted that PRPPs will do nothing to help the baby boom generation now coming up to retirement. It seems that this lost generation will remain lost as far as pension reform is concerned. As I said previously, it has been estimated that roughly one-third of Canadians now in the age group of 45 to 64 are likely to end up with incomes that fall far short of adequate minimum incomes and the kind of income that would allow them to maintain their standard of living in retirement. The adequacy of CPP benefits has been an issue for more than 30 years. It is time now for federal and provincial governments to set aside ideology and work together to solve the problem.

The study by the pension expert for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Monica Townson, provides a thorough analysis of the PRPP and argues that expanding the Canada pension plan would provide better retirement pensions for virtually all Canadians. Ms. Townsend found that the expansion of the CPP would provide a mandatory defined benefit pension to virtually all Canadians, giving them a basic retirement income that, for modest and middle-income earners, would preserve their standard of living in retirement.

The government's PRPP proposal does not do this, not at all. It does not guarantee a pension, the benefits would depend on selection of investment and stock market performance and participation would depend on the employer deciding to take part. As I indicated before, the stock market took an 11% hit in the most recent economic downturn. People cannot afford an 11% economic hit.

The pooled registered pension plan is basically a defined contribution pension plan. In defined contribution plans, there are no guarantees as to how much money will be left when people retire. The risks are borne entirely by the individual employees. In these types of plans, the amount of money available at retirement depends on the outcome of investment in the stock market and people cannot rely on it. I have indicated that very clearly. Defined contribution plans lack the security of defined benefit pension plans, like CPP and QPP, which pay guaranteed set amounts on retirement. This is important to remember.

Bill C-25 places no caps on administration fees. It merely assumes lower costs will emerge through competition. Financial institutions, like banks, insurance companies and trust companies, stand to profit substantially from these fees. If we look at all those recommending this pooled registered pension plan, it is those with a vested interest, like financial institutions.

However, expanding the CPP-QPP would not cost the government any more than its proposed PRPP. Most important, expanding CPP-QPP would not entail transferring huge management fees to private financial institutions.

How can I get through to the government that seniors need to be protected? The PRPP would not help families drowning in debt. It fails because it is a voluntary defined contribution plan run by wealthy institutions. With a tenuous economy and high rates of unemployment, families do not need more risk. They need the stability of the CPP and QPP. Economists and provincial leaders have said so for years, but the out of touch government has turned its back on families. We need effective and fair pension reform.

We have validators for this. An editorial in the Calgary Herald of November 2010 stated:

The CPP already covers almost all Canadian workers and thus spreads the risk and management fees. It is fully portable, offers guaranteed income to all retirees, and is the only risk-free investment broadly available to workers. Private RRSPs and employer pension plans have proven much riskier than initially billed. Those who are in company pension plans are likely in a defined contribution scheme, where the amount that goes in is predetermined, but the payout is based on how well the fund is invested and ultimately performs. Nortel workers know only too well how that worked.

We know that Nortel employees in Canada have taken a beating because of the bankruptcy of Nortel. Many of those retirees are receiving a pension that is 40% less than they planned on and believed would be available. Anyone who was a disabled Nortel worker has lost all benefits. It is interesting to note, and the House should note it, that in the United States and Great Britain, when Nortel sold off its assets, there were billions of dollars in liquid assets. The Americans and the British protected their Nortel workers but in Canada there was nothing. Our government did not see fit to protect those pensioners. That is why it is so very important that we come up with a remedy that works.

Seniors have worked hard all their lives and have played by the rules. Now they simply want access to programs and services that their hard-earned tax dollars helped to make. Every senior in Canada has the absolute right to pension and income security. This bill would not provide the pension security that seniors today want and need, nor would it help them in preparing for their retirement.

It is time for real pension reform, not this sham perpetrated by the government. Bill C-25 would not accomplish any kind of security. Canadians do not need any more private voluntary savings schemes. They want real action to ensure they can retire in dignity.

I will say this one last time. Expanding the CPP and QPP would not cost the government any more than its proposed pooled registered pension plan. It would simply mean that there would be real retirement security. People deserve that. They have earned it.

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12:20 p.m.

Nepean—Carleton
Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, the hon. members says that stock markets are too risky for the retirement savings of Canadian people. She proposes as an alternative the Canada pension plan. How does she square those two statements when the Canada pension plan is overwhelmingly invested in the stock market?

POOLED REGISTERED PENSION PLANS ACT
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12:20 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, as everyone in this House knows, the board of CPP is very responsive and responsible. The costs of investing amount to about 4% of fees, whereas the RRSP system is about 40% management fees on money saved over a 40 year period.

As I indicated very clearly in my remarks, the CPP in this very difficult economic time experienced a 1% reduction in monetary assets. The stock market had an 11% decline. When we start to compare, people in this country cannot afford to take a hit of 11% on their savings. It is as simple as that.

The pooled registered pension plan guarantees nothing.

POOLED REGISTERED PENSION PLANS ACT
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12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have been working for some time with my hon. colleague on issues of pensions and seniors. I applaud her comments and her interest in these issues.

In her experience in dealing with the need for pension reform in Canada, what percentage of people across this country does the member think would benefit from this proposed answer from the government as to what pension reform is? We did not hear how it was a failure in Australia. How many people does the member think would take advantage of this plan?

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12:20 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is hard to say. Only about 30% of Canadians are able to set aside any money in personal private plans. Only about 30% of Canadians have any kind of workplace pension. My guess is that will not improve. What the government is offering is another private vehicle. It would be optional for employers to make contributions. The employer would have to set it up. If the employer were not interested, nothing would happen.

It makes far more sense to look at the CPP, because it is absolutely solid and it guarantees the workers of this country a substantive and reasonable retirement. We need to improve it, most certainly. I have been very clear about that. We cannot continue to let 70% of Canadians fall by the wayside.

POOLED REGISTERED PENSION PLANS ACT
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12:25 p.m.

NDP

Anne-Marie Day Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I believe that we are at a historic crossroads, particularly with Canadian Pacific, whose retirement funds are back up for negotiation.

These people have worked for a certain number of years for the company and they have many years of experience. Despite that, they are losing their pension fund and have to renegotiate it.

I would like to congratulate the member on her excellent speech and ask her to explain what she would do to ensure a secure retirement fund for these people so that they can retire comfortably after working for a company for 35 years.

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12:25 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague has provided me with an opportunity to talk about legislation that has been proposed by New Democrats over a number of years. Basically it would be pension protection legislation. It would also protect workers in the case of bankruptcy or a company moving. We have seen a lot of companies, particularly in my riding, moving away and causing real disruption to families. This NDP bill would provide three levels of protection. It would provide vacation pay, it would provide pension protection, and it would ensure that if a company moved, there would be something there. We need to have that in place.

In addition, it would be possible to set up an insurance plan where various pension contributors would make a small contribution and provide insurance so that when a plan went bust there would be this savings for Canadians.

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12:25 p.m.

NDP

Jean Rousseau Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague on her excellent speech.

She began by talking briefly about poverty among seniors. I would like her to expand on the fact that, for the past 35 years, workers throughout the industrialized world have been fighting for adequate pension plans, not just private pension plans but, most importantly, public ones. The government is dealing with an imaginary problem not with the real ones: poverty and job creation. What the government should be doing is creating a strong social fabric to enable communities to reach their full potential. This is about older people who want to continue contributing to society, but do not have an opportunity to do so. Can my colleague comment on that?

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12:25 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, there is a great deal in that question. It reminds me that an estimated 1.3 million seniors in this country live below the poverty line. They do not have an adequate amount to sustain themselves, whether it be for prescriptions, housing or food on the table. That is not acceptable. This is an incredibly wealthy country. We have resources that are the envy of the world. We should most definitely be looking after our seniors.

I think a very valid point was made. Seniors tend to spend all of their earnings in their community and local neighbourhood. They are looking after themselves and occasionally perhaps doing a little shopping for their grandchildren. If they had adequate incomes, and they deserve adequate incomes, they would be generating jobs and stimulating their local economy.

It is interesting and tragic that government members have spoken about seniors as being a drag on the economy. They keep talking about the deficit in terms of the seniors of the future. Seniors are contributors. They are not a drag on our economy or on our community. They are important members and they deserve to be treated in that respectful way.

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12:30 p.m.

NDP

Denis Blanchette Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her speech.

In an earlier question for a government member, I said that this bill is the government's admission of weakness with respect to the pension plan problem. I would like her to comment on that.

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12:30 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am reminded of the hysteria that loomed about 30 or 35 years ago. I was just a child, but I do recall the hysteria that the CPP would not be there for my generation and that it was going to evaporate. We all had to run out to buy RRSPs if we did not want to live in penury.

Well, the reality is that the CPP is absolutely solid and it will remain solid for the foreseeable future. Estimates have it remaining solid for the next 75 years at least. We need to make sure that it has the proper investment so that it can continue well beyond that time.

The same is true regarding old age security. We have heard from the former actuary of OAS who has said that OAS is absolutely rock solid for the next 30 to 35 years. We do not have to worry about future generations. We have heard from the Parliamentary Budget Officer who has said that the cost of OAS is about 2.3% of GDP now, it would climb to about 3.3% in the next 20 years and then decline rapidly, but we can still afford it. We have also heard from the OECD. It said that Canada is blessed in terms of retirement security. We simply have to make sure that we do what is necessary now to secure it. This pooled registered pension plan scheme is not that.

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May 29th, 2012 / 12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have a chance to speak to Bill C-25, its inadequacies and the concerns that many of us continue to have here on this side of the House.

I have often referred to Bill C-25 as being nothing more than bread crumbs to a starving person because in reality that is all it is. I doubt very much that it would help very many Canadians. From everything I am hearing from the provinces and from other people who have looked into the issue, there would be big management fees and little help for people when it comes to serious pension reform. It would simply be a mechanism for those who have money to save for their own retirement. The government tries to call that its answer to pension reform. I am sure we will hear its solution to pension reform was PRPPs for the next five years or so, until it realizes that as Australia's plan failed, so would this one. While I have no difficulties with creating savings vehicles for Canadians, we must also work to help those without the means to save. That is what pension reform is really all about. Bill C-25 is not pension reform. Anyone who makes that claim is misleading the public.

Two years ago, I asked the government what it planned to do to protect and preserve pensions for all Canadians. The minister responded in this House by saying that pensions were provincial and should be left to provincial legislatures to deal with. He said pensions were not a federal problem. However, Canadians rightly found that notion to be wrong, short-sighted and clearly unacceptable. The Conservatives produced Bill C-25 which is a copy of an Australian proposal that, after 12 years, has been declared a failure. The government was sent into a scramble. It had to find something to satisfy the accusations that it was not doing anything so it came up with this idea.

I will cast my vote, as will my party, with very deep concern and caution because it is nothing more than bread crumbs to a starving person. However, it is that small tool in a toolbox. It is not the answer but we will support it because it is one small step in the advancement of talking and recognizing the need for pension reform in Canada.

In 1998, when the current Prime Minister was campaigning, he announced that he wanted to privatize the Canada pension plan. That is right, the Conservatives proposed the elimination of the public Canada pension plan. Just imagine where we would be today. Not only is the government talking about moving from age 65 to 67 in this current budget bill, and is clearly moving in that direction, imagine where Canadians would find themselves if we did not have the Canada pension plan or it had been privatized. All of a sudden their retirement plans would severely change.

Who knows if that is not the next shoe to drop in the big plans that the government has? Will the Conservatives decide they are going to privatize the CPP? I am not fear mongering, but who knows what is going to be next on the agenda of the government?

At the time, the government suggested that the CPP should be replaced with a super savings account that would allow Canadians to put all of their extra money into investments for their retirement. The government did not talk about the fact that most Canadians are not up to speed on how to invest in the stock market, that they can make poor choices and that their alternative would be to pay high management fees to people who have that expertise. This would be another way of discouraging Canadians from what they are trying to do. Canadians would have to become market experts. Their employer would be playing no administrative role in PRPPs. Canadians would have to bear 100% of that investment risk. A single market stumble could spell the end of any retirement hopes. We all know what happened with the investments a few years ago when the stock market crashed, and what happened to thousands of Canadians whose retirement income was lost.

The Conservatives talk about people working later. They are going to have to work later because they lost a tremendous amount of their retirement income. They do not have the expertise needed. They would need the expertise with PRPPs, to be able to manage a certain degree of their investments. Employers would be forced to create administrative systems to enrol members. If the provinces made them mandatory, and that is highly unlikely, Ontario, the province I represent, has already indicated it is not going to have anything to do with PRPPs. It does not believe this is the answer to the pension issue.

The proposal for an enhancement of the Canada pension plan, which is what we have been proposing, along with the supplementary Canada pension plan, which I will talk about a little further, are much more reasonable methods for most Canadians out there.

This PRPP will be of no help to homemakers unless they are contributing to employment income. One of the challenges facing many women today is that, when they are at home caring for children or elderly relatives, parents and so on, they are out of the workforce. When they are out of the workforce, they have a much more difficult time thinking about their pension and what will be in it for them. That is why unless they are in the workforce for 35 or 40 years, most women at 65, or 67 as the government is going to, end up with minimal income. They are living on $11,000 or $12,000. That is not the Canada I want to live in, and I do not think it is the Canada most people want to live in. Changing that age to 67 years old will certainly hurt a tremendous amount of people.

I had a meeting in Kemptville last night. There were about 60 or 70 people. When I asked the people there, who were a non-partisan group, to raise their hand if they supported moving the age of retirement from 65 to 67, everyone in that room opposed the change, and there were many Conservatives in that room. They did not feel it was necessary, but that it was part of an ideology of the government or because the Conservatives are starving the government for revenue sources by removing the GST and lowering taxes. The government only has so much money. That is probably the real reason: they are starving the beast we call the government. They will not have the money to give people pensions at age 65, so they want to move it up and take $30,000 out of the pocket of every Canadian over that two-year period of time.

As I indicated, the management fees are a big problem on PRPPs. We know that Canada has an F rating, according to the OECD. It says Canadians already pay some of the highest management fees in the world on their mutual funds. That is exactly where we are going with PRPPs, creating more vehicles for people to be able to do this.

However, the government knows all of this. We raised all these issues at committee. Our Liberal finance critic moved a couple of amendments that would have strengthened and improved the PRPP, which went nowhere. The Conservative members put their heads in the sand and voted down the amendments rather than possibly thinking that maybe together, because we were prepared to work with the government on this, we could strengthen it and make it better, recognizing that we need some pension reform. However, the government members do not care what everybody else offers. If it is not their idea, it is not good enough.

It is the same if we talk about some of the things in the budget. Look at the changes to EI and what impact they will have on Canadians all across the land. Never mind talking about where they are putting money into pensions. Many of these people will be forced to move away from their families to go out west, which is clearly where the jobs will be, starving other parts of Canada. Again, that is not the way we are supposed to be going. Canada needs to be a land where everybody is treated fairly and with a bit of respect and understanding.

What happens to the seasonal workers who are being brought into the country? Many of those seasonal workers are the reason we have a thriving industry when it comes to fruits, vegetables and so on. Canadian employers need those temporary foreign workers to come over and be able to do those jobs. We should not kid ourselves. There are lots of Canadians who physically do not want to do those jobs. I think they are quite happy to see these temporary foreign workers come over and work for six months in the agriculture industry or other industries and then go back to their home countries with some very much needed money, because many of these people are coming from countries that are very poor. Will we deny them that opportunity, again with short-sightedness and some of those issues that are in the budget, in Bill C-38, that we will continue to deal with over these next few days that will hurt many Canadians and employers? It will hurt Canadians if that is the only work they have. It is not as if they do not want to work 12 months or 10 months of the year. They are seasonal workers. Who will be working the fisheries?

I remember the amount of people who told me they would love to work longer but the season is only so long, when I visited the east coast last year with one of my colleagues. Where are they supposed to go at the end of that particular point? They have to collect EI because they have no other options.

Some of the changes at second reading, which the Liberal caucus said it would have liked to put forward, were raised by many witnesses as additional ideas. However, when it comes to voting at the committee level, government members vote down anything anybody else suggests, no matter how good it is. The Liberal finance critic put a very good amendment forward on the issue of controlling high management fees, because that is a major concern for Liberals, one that would cap the management fees. There was a bit of discussion with government members, but it did not matter. They voted it down as they do everything else because it was not their idea.

Reducing government spending is a laudable goal, as we hear from the government. However, financial players offering PRPPs will need to offer annuities so that members may convert their accumulated balances into a stream of pension payments. Once that occurs, insurers are required by law to price in a profit margin and keep regulatory capital aside to underwrite those contracts. In simple language, this means that investors, the average Canadians the government is talking about, are legally required to pay fees that would guarantee a profit for the banks and insurance companies. This is a very inefficient way of delivering pensions, and once Canadians find out about all the small print, fewer and fewer of them and businesses will be interested in getting involved in all of this.

Those requirements are the cornerstones of the PRPP we are talking about. With this in mind, I am left to wonder how the PRPPs could possibly yield any results for Canadian pensioners. The simple answer is that they are not going to help the average Canadian prepare for retirement, just as millions of Canadians have not been able to max out their RRSPs either. It is just a locked-in RRSP. That is what the PRPP is. Forcing seniors to work longer and harder to save for retirement on top of asking them to pay for $6 billion in giveaways to the largest corporations, $13 billion for new megaprisons and $40 billion for untendered stealth fighter jet deals is not a plan for pensions. However, the government is certainly spending a lot of money and clearly it is looking to pay for all of these on the backs of Canada's seniors.

PRPPs will not work for those who need them the most. Instead of copying the failed work of others, why did the Prime Minister not seek to lift seniors out of poverty? The supplemental Canada pension plan already proposed by the Liberals would provide the best of both worlds. It would create a new retirement savings vehicle for Canadians who need it, while delivering the low overhead cost structure of the Canada pension plan.

The supplementary Canada pension plan is a simple and cost-effective solution to the pension question. It is a defined benefit pension for everyone who has a social insurance number, even those who have left the workforce during their lives for child rearing, illness, seasonal employment and educational advancement. It would use proven and existing resources to give every Canadian man, woman and child a reliable and stable investment vehicle for the future.

The supplementary Canada pension plan is a plan for real pension reform, and I offer it to the government at any time because it would benefit Canadians all across the board, no matter what their occupation. Even if they are home and not able to work, they could still contribute to the Canada pension plan. I could contribute to the supplementary plan. However, by steadfastly following their PRPP plan, by ignoring Liberal calls to improve the CPP, moving to slash the old age pension, slashing EI, cutting people off, making it difficult for farmers to be able to employ temporary foreign workers and all that goes with it, the Conservatives are really showing their true colours. Balancing the budget on the backs of seniors is nothing short of waging a war on the poor. It is unacceptable, and the government should be ashamed of that direction.

The Prime Minister, who is the sixth highest paid political leader in the world, earning an annual salary of $296,000 U.S., is telling Canadians to put their extra money into the bank for their retirement, but he seems to forget that not everybody has extra money. What about the seniors who pay their taxes, raise their families and work hard but still do not have extra money to invest?

Let me tell members about a woman named Mary, who I met last night. She is a single woman who talked to me about income splitting. Yes, the income splitting idea is a good idea for all those who have money and who have a partner, but for single men or women who do not have anyone to share their pension income with, what help is it to them? Mary has to take the hit for the taxes that others get to save. She asked me why the government would do that when it is clearly unfair. I said she would just have to look around and judge for herself. Government is all about choices.

As a government, one makes choices every day and decides what is important and what is not. Clearly, this government's choices are far more interested in helping the rich and much less interested in helping the low-income or middle class Canadians, or in helping to build the Canada, Mr. Speaker, that you and I believe in.

The Prime Minister is the same man who said that the Canada pension plan should be scrapped in 1998, which I referred to earlier, and that government involvement in the financial security of Canadians runs counter to the Conservative ideology of fending for oneself. If one cannot fend for oneself, there is no room in the Conservatives' Canada.

That is very different from the Canada I want to live in. I believe we have an opportunity for a hand up, not a hand out. We can create an atmosphere where Canadians can thrive and do well. Canadians are a very independent, tough bunch of people. We are used to standing on our own feet, and we take great pride in that. I do not believe there are a whole lot of Canadians who are interested in living off the purse of the government.

Given the fact that the Prime Minister has made the kind of comments he has made, I have to wonder if these changes are not the first bricks in the long-desired firewall that the Prime Minister indicated he wanted to create.

I am very glad to have had the opportunity to speak for a bit today. The changes that are coming forward, both in Bill C-25, the PRPP legislation, and in Bill C-38, and all the things the government is moving are going in this direction, which is not an area to which I think we should be going.

We need to be making some changes as well to the Bankruptcy Act. We all know about Nortel and what happened to the thousands of people who were working for Nortel and in other companies that go bankrupt where individuals lose their pension funds.

There is no change. With all of the multitude of things in the omnibus Bill C-38, there is nothing in there about how to protect people's pensions when it comes to bankruptcy, how to better protect Canadians. It is all about creating crisis management and making people think that the country is in a major crisis situation when it is not, whether or not we are talking about immigration issues and creating a crisis, in order to justify the means at the end.

It is unacceptable for us and it is unacceptable for Canadians.

POOLED REGISTERED PENSION PLANS ACT
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. friend for her speech on the pension issue. She has been very involved in the question of pensions for a long time.

I stand with the members of the opposition parties in general in believing that the CPP is our best and most reliable pension system and that it must be expanded. I am concerned about this new approach, because it is discretionary. It appears to create the greatest benefit for those people who buy and sell investment services.

I would like to ask my hon. friend what can be done and whether we can put forward perhaps a private member's bill from this side of the House to ensure that we protect the pensions that are held in firms that go into bankruptcy. For such plans as that of Nortel or Catalyst Paper and others, can we make those secured creditors in bankruptcy?