House of Commons Hansard #138 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-38.

Topics

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

5:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed from June 7 consideration of the motion that Bill C-25, An Act relating to pooled registered pension plans and making related amendments to other Acts, be read the third time and passed; and of the previous question.

Pooled Registered Pension Plans Act
Government Orders

5:40 p.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, as the official opposition critic for seniors, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-25 today.

I must begin by mentioning what our dear Prime Minister said a few months ago in Switzerland. During a speech, he said that Canada's aging population is a problem and that if the government does not tackle the problem, it may have even more serious consequences than the recent economic crises.

First, I would like to express the NDP's official position that the aging population is not a problem; it is a situation. And it is not a surprise situation. We have seen it coming for a long time. Today's 60- and 70-year-olds were not born yesterday. Not only is this not a problem, but I think we can view it as an asset. Canada's seniors are a tremendous resource. They have experience and they share their knowledge and experience. These people volunteer in their communities and in politics, and they spend precious time with their families. No matter how numerous our seniors, they are not a problem for our country.

Today, we should not be attacking the aging population, but we should simply know how to adapt. Yes, there are things that need to be done in this regard. As a country, we need to adapt to ensure that everyone can continue to live well and with dignity. We have known about and seen this demographic trend coming for a long time. One way to adapt is to ensure that the seniors of tomorrow will have reliable pension programs and, we hope, financial security that will enable them to live many more years after retirement in dignity and happiness.

Generally speaking, the fact that today we are talking about a bill on one specific pension program is good news because it means that Parliament is addressing the issue and wondering how it can help people retire with dignity.

However, there is something we do not agree on, and that is how to adapt and what tools to give people to ensure that they will be able to have a pleasant retirement.

What do people want exactly? I think that is a basic question that needs to be asked. What is the problem on the ground? What do people expect the government to do to help them?

I travelled all over Quebec. I visited over 30 towns and cities. People went out of their way specifically to address the issue of seniors' financial security. I heard a number of concerns, questions and fears. I would like to share some of them here today.

First of all, old age security is an important part of Canada's overall pension system. Old age security is universal. Everyone is entitled to receive it when they turn 65. Everyone counts on it, especially middle-income families and people who live below the poverty line—people who do not make enough money to set some aside in savings plans, people who have had an accident, people who have had to stop working for an extended period of time and perhaps have been unable to return to the labour market, people who were laid off at age 55 or 60 and who have not been able to find another job.

Old age security is an essential part of the system, and because of it, Canada can count itself among those countries that have a smaller percentage of seniors living in poverty. Despite that, there are plans to raise the age of eligibility for the program, which will unfortunately increase poverty among seniors. We have talked a lot about this issue. Given that this is not our primary focus here today, I will move on to some of the other subjects before us.

The Canada pension plan, much likes its equivalent in Quebec, is a pension plan that serves all workers. Regardless of the number of hours a person works and no matter what kind of employer he or she works for, everyone who accumulates hours of work contributes to the Canada pension plan or Quebec pension plan. Depending on the number of hours worked and the wages earned, everyone is entitled to receive a certain amount of money. However, this Canada pension plan payment is not enough to replace a person's salary in any meaningful way.

It has to be supplemented by something else. What is more, the Canada pension plan and old age security do not provide Canadians comfortable financial security at retirement either.

Another type of benefit people receive at retirement is an employer provided pension plan. Unfortunately, 12 million Canadians do not have one. Unfortunately, more and more businesses are declaring bankruptcy and are not reimbursing the employees' pension plans, which the employees were counting on for their retirement. Unfortunately, in many cases, these pension plans have been mismanaged by the employers and the benefits have had to be reduced, causing a great deal of discontent.

Something can be done to help Canadians who have employer provided pension plans, but many Canadians do not. What is the government doing for those who do not have an employer provided pension plan?

Another type of savings exists and that is everything to do with RRSPs, group RRSPs, TFSAs, et cetera. Again, many Canadians cannot invest in such plans. People who work full time and earn minimum wage are living below the poverty line. They can hardly put money into an RRSP or a TFSA. I will come back to that later. Here again, more needs to be done to allow Canadians to save for their retirement.

Yes, people have expectations of their government. They have worthwhile suggestions for solving the problems in Canada's pension system. I will come back to this later.

People want a reliable pension system that will provide them with a secure retirement. And I have excellent news: we can create such a system. We have the tools. We have the resources to provide seniors with greater financial security. All that is needed is a willingness to take this issue seriously and a little political courage. Unfortunately, we see no political courage in Bill C-25. This is not a strong, effective measure that will help Canadians save for their retirement, and that is too bad.

What does Bill C-25 really do for Canadians? That is a good question, because there is not much difference between a pooled registered pension plan and an RRSP, a group RRSP or a TFSA. There is some difference, of course, but it is not big enough to ensure that the 12 million Canadians who have no workplace pension plan will be able to retire worry-free. These measures are not really going to solve the problems I talked about earlier.

At present, 12 million Canadians do not have workplace pension plans and 31% of Canadians eligible to contribute to RRSPs do so. Why do almost 60% of eligible Canadians not contribute to an RRSP? Have the Conservatives asked themselves this question? It is important to know the answer. PRPPs and RRSPs are very similar. We have to wonder why Canadians who can contribute to an RRSP do not currently do so. Perhaps they would not contribute to PRPPs for the same reasons. It is important to ask the question.

Here is another statistic: 41% of Canadians have a TFSA. Why do approximately 60% of Canadians not have one? It is very pertinent to ask this question because, once again, if people have trouble making ends meet, and do not have enough income to live on and to support their children, they probably could not put money into a PRPP any more than they could into a TFSA or an RRSP.

Furthermore, 50% of Canadians who have a TFSA earn $100,000 or more.

Once again, what are we going to do for these middle- and low-income Canadians who have no retirement security. Is there a better way to help them than setting up a pooled registered pension plan?

Some countries have tried to implement PRPPs but have failed, whereas other countries have been successful. Let me expand on that. For instance, New Zealand and the United Kingdom implemented pooled registered pension plans and they were successful.

That makes you think. What are the differences between the program implemented in those countries and the program that the Conservatives want to implement? The biggest difference is that, in New Zealand and the United Kingdom, employers are required to contribute if the employee does. So it is a very attractive incentive for employees and it increases the amount of money that people can get after they retire. That has encourage with RRSPs or TFSAs, for example. Neither do we find it in the pooled registered pension plan proposed in Bill C-25.

In New Zealand and the United Kingdom, another incentive for people to contribute to pension plans is that the state provides a tax break or pays a bonus to employees who contribute to their pooled registered pension plans.

Countries that have had success with that kind of pension plan have much stronger, much more solid incentives and restrictions. I am not saying that a pooled registered pension plan would be the best solution. But I do want to stress that there are ways to make the tool much more attractive and much more effective.

In a number of cases, we wonder why the government is proposing a solution of this kind. I suggest a comparison with another situation that is being talked about a lot these days, the increase in the age of eligibility for old age security.

Why raise it by two years? A lot of questions remain for which we have no answers. By “we”, I do not just mean my colleagues and I, I also mean experts who also have no explanation as to why the government is moving in that direction.

First of all, what were the government's objectives for old age security? The government tells us that the program is not sustainable, but a number of experts say that indeed it is. Can we have the figures and the calculations? What is the objective that the Conservatives are trying to achieve by raising the age of eligibility for old age security. How much money do they feel is needed to make the program sustainable? We do not know.

The other day, an hon. member opposite told me that it is about plain old common sense, of very simple math. I am sorry, but calculations and arguments like that are not very convincing. Can you identify a clear problem and propose clear objectives that would allow us to analyze the various options and act accordingly?

What other options are being studied? There are other options. A bill presents one option to us, but what other options have been looked at? Why this option for the PRPP and not another? Why would another option not work? These are questions that have to be asked but have not been answered. It is difficult to work co-operatively and to propose specific initiatives when we have no idea of the basic objectives. What other options have really been studied? Why was this one chosen rather than another?

Lastly, what will the short-term, medium-term and long-term repercussions be? In other countries, an option like that was studied, put in place and did not work. Why would it be any different in Canada, with Bill C-25? I expect to get some very interesting answers. What can we do to ensure that it will work this time in Canada, when it has not worked in other countries?

It is a well-known fact that the NDP is proposing a solution other than the one proposed in Bill C-25. It proposes doubling the Canada pension plan and Quebec pension plan benefits, rather than create a PRPP, first because of the management costs. How much will the management costs be for a PRPP? Once again, we do not really have an answer. The number is approximate, but it is certainly higher than the costs of managing the Canada pension plan. Then, it is much more egalitarian for certain segments of the population.

One of the examples I like to give is the example of women. The Canada pension plan takes into account the obligation of women to leave the work force if they have a child and the obligation of people to leave the work force if, for example, they have to take care of a family member who is ill. Women are often the ones who do that as well. A pooled registered pension plan does not take those obligations into account. People who have to stop contributing during a specific period will then be penalized through reduced benefits when they retire.

The Canada pension plan is a plan where the risk is assumed by everybody and, because everyone's contributions are grouped together, it makes up for the fact that some people have to take time off for an illness or disability or for family reasons.

Introducing PRPPs instead of improving CPP will lead to an increase in poverty among women. I do not think I need to go on at length about this, but there is much more poverty among senior women than senior men. Something must be done about this. It has to be taken into account. It cannot be ignored. It is a problem the government has to be sensitive to.

Risk sharing is also important. With CPP, everyone shares the risk. But with a PRPP, a single individual assumes the risk. I want to come back to what will happen to someone who lives longer. Since a PRPP is not a defined benefit plan, this person knows how much he is putting into the plan, but not how much he will get out of it. There is certainly a fixed amount. This means that someone who lives a long life will have to figure out how to manage his portfolio so that he has enough money to live on for the rest of his days. What are we saying? Should we hope that this person does not live too long, or else he will pay through the nose and live in poverty? It makes no sense. We can avoid this sort of situation by enhancing CPP.

The same applies to someone who becomes disabled at 58, for example. That person has to stop contributing and will be penalized. The individual has to bear all of the risk, but that risk could be shared by improving the Canada Pension Plan.

I still have so much to say, but I think I will end with some good news.

Canadians want to know that this is not the only way to do things. The Conservatives often argue that if they do not take this step, our economy will crumble and we will end up like this or that other country. That is not true. There are many ways to run a country and many ways to address a problem. There are alternatives to Bill C-25. As I mentioned earlier, the government could double Canada pension plan benefits. We think that can and should be done to ensure financial security for as many seniors as possible.

The government could also increase the guaranteed income supplement. I have talked at length about poverty among seniors. Currently, the government does not provide seniors with enough money to get them out of poverty. Seniors have to choose between buying food and buying medication. That is unacceptable in our society. The government should increase the guaranteed income supplement to ensure a certain level of dignity for our seniors.

There are still more things the government could do: leaving the old age security age at 65 is an obvious one for the NDP. Protecting employer-managed pensions and amending Canada's Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act are other options. There are many good things the government could do to ensure financial security for retired Canadians.

Pooled Registered Pension Plans Act
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6 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to my colleague's remarks, but there was one comment right near the end that I really take exception to. She was commenting about the amounts given by government not being adequate. Well, the amounts given by government are actually the money that is earned by Canadians, so we simply cannot continue to spend other people's money. That is the NDP proposal.

I would like to ask my colleague why she would be opposed to extending the right to a workplace pension to Canadians who do not have that option now. Over 60% of Canadians currently do not have access to a workplace pension.

There are all kinds of small and medium-sized enterprises. We know that the small and medium-sized businesses in the country are the economic engine that keeps our country going, so why would she deny them that possibility? The small engine repair shop, a dental office or a hair salon are all examples of these kinds of business that up until now could not afford to go out and buy a pension plan, but if they pool their resources with others in similar professions, they could actually get a low-cost, effective pension plan. Why would she deny that to the 60% of Canadians who do not have access to it?

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6 p.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his very pertinent and intelligent question.

It is true that I am prepared to say that the pooled registered pension plan is not a problem in itself. I agree with it, but it is not the best solution. A number of Canadians are not able to put money aside in RRSPs. Will PRPPs really help those Canadians? Some, maybe, but certainly not all. We can do better, as I have been saying since this debate began.

Why not enhance Canada Pension Plan benefits? The program works well; it has very low management costs and the ability to handle risks collectively.

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6 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, prime ministers like Mackenzie King and Lester Pearson saw the value of retirement and the importance of providing a pension income for our seniors. Today we look at the foundation programs that were put into place by Liberal administrations in the past, such as the CPP, OAS and GIS. These programs have provided for seniors over generations now, and we believe in those programs.

In regard to this specific bill, there are provincial jurisdictions, we are told by the federal government, that support the need for having this bill passed so that this new pension option would be there for those few Canadians, and ultimately it could be quite a few. In particular, the Province of Quebec and the Province of Manitoba, where there is an NDP administration, seem to be supportive of having this pooled pension plan.

We in the Liberal Party see it as a small tool. It needs to be changed and it could be far more effective, but there does seem to be a desire to have it. Why would the NDP oppose it as at least a pension option? That seems to be all it really is. It is a very small one.

We too want to see the increases to programs like CPP, but this does seem to be a consumer-friendly option for individuals who might have additional pension money going forward. I do not quite understand why the NDP would oppose it as an option.

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6:05 p.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

But, Mr. Speaker, we also have to emphasize the fact that a lot of people are not in favour of creating savings schemes of this kind, but instead are in favour of enhancing the Canada Pension Plan, or its Quebec equivalent, the Régime des rentes du Québec.

I would like to quote from a recent study done by the Régime des rentes du Quebec, which states:

…this quick analysis shows that there may be a significant gap in the standard of living at retirement between those with fixed benefit pension plans and those who must rely only on RRSPs, RRIFs, LIRAs and LIFs.

We can add PRPPs to that list.

There is a better way to provide for people's financial security and quality of life than by creating a program like this. It is time to take decisive action, with political courage and with specific initiatives.

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6:05 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her excellent intervention on this topic.

Recently at the World Economic Forum, our Prime Minister announced that there would be major transformations coming to Canada's retirement pension system.

The only transformative change that Canada really needs for retirement security is investment in our Canada pension plan and Quebec pension plan, yet the government once again is proposing another privately administered voluntary savings plan. However, statistics have shown and even members across the aisle have said that people are not participating in it, and that makes it difficult.

My colleague here has many suggestions. I wonder if she could elaborate very briefly on some suggestions that would be equitable, to lift every senior in Canada out of poverty rather than just the wealthy ones.

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6:05 p.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question.

First, I spoke a lot about old age security, an essential part of the social security net. Increasing the age of eligibility for this program would have a direct negative impact on people in the middle class and people living close to the poverty line.

There are other things that Canadians want to see us do about their retirement security. They are investing in RRSPs, but right now they are now seeing their RRSPs decrease because RRSPs depend on the stock market. That is not retirement security.

Canadians want a defined benefit pension plan. This means that they would be able to count on a set amount of money. Regardless of the amount, they must be able to count on a set amount.

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6:05 p.m.

Independent

Bruce Hyer Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Mr. Speaker, building on the previous several questions, it is clear to everybody on this side of the House and I think we all agree that what we need is a real CPP, expanded, enhanced and made functional.

Having said that, I am getting a lot of correspondence from small business people in my riding saying this is not great but at least it would be something for small businesses and for people who do not currently have another vehicle.

My question to the hon. member is simple. Despite all the things we would like to see, which would be much better, does she think there is some potential for this to meet the needs of some people, and would there be any real harm in it if we were to go with the flow?

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6:05 p.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to respond by talking about another very similar tactic, which we have seen in other cases.

Recently, the Conservative government announced that it was working very hard on combatting elder abuse because it had amended a small part of the law that makes it possible to ensure that elder abuse would be subject to a harsher penalty. That is the type of smoke and mirror show that the Conservatives like to put on. They brag about taking action for a cause, when really all they are doing is amending a small part of the law, and they could have done so much more.

Why not combat the real causes of elder abuse? Why not combat poverty among seniors? Why not ensure that they have access to affordable and adapted housing? Why not take strong measures to truly address the issues, rather than making big promises but very few changes?

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June 11th, 2012 / 6:10 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to stand to talk about the pooled registered pension plan bill that is here before us.

I am going to talk a bit about some of my experiences as a small-business person and how this would help the employers, the employees and the entrepreneurial sector of our economy. The small businesses, as was said earlier, are the driving forces in our economy. We sometimes forget how important that sector is and how hard it is for them to save for retirement.

I am also going to talk a bit about what a pooled registered pension plan is, so that we can better understand what it is, how it works and what it would do.

If I have time, I am going to talk about the organizations and people out there who have talked positively about pooled registered pension plans, and I will try to convince some of my colleagues on the other side that this would be a great tool to put in the toolbox of pension saving.

First, let me talk about small businesses. Let me talk about small-business owners. In my past, I have certainly been a small businessman. I have been a mentor to other small-business people. Far too often the entrepreneurs in this country worry a lot about one thing in their business. That is the customer, the person who they are selling their product or their service to; that is their whole outreach. Small-business people and entrepreneurs are singularly focused to do what they do and do it right.

It is not that they, in any way, dislike their employees or do not want to do best by them, but something like putting together a pension plan for the employees would come under some of the other things that small-business owners and entrepreneurs have to do. It is about their economy. It is about growing their business and serving their customers right.

Entrepreneurs, by their true nature, are usually very good at one thing, whatever it is. I rather like the food business and the customer service side of the food business. I was very focused and I knew I was very good at that. Others may be very good as insurance brokers, as mentioned earlier, as dentists or whatever. Whatever small-business owners are engaged in, they are usually absolute experts at the one thing they do.

But guess what? Small-business owners are the only people who get to make the decisions. They get to be the purchasing director, the person who ensures all the supplies show up and at the right price. They are also in charge of marketing, even though their business may not be about marketing. They are in charge of making sure customers come and are happy.

Most of the day, they spend their time being a coach, a trainer, helping their employees do the job right to serve their people properly. They are also financial planners because their bank will want to know what it is they are looking for. Sometimes they are nothing more than cleaners. If there is a spill, as owners, they are the ones who clean it up. That is what small-business people do: customer service, customer complaints. They are in charge of productivity. In a big business, there may be a whole department, but here in small-business and entrepreneurism, it is the owners. The owners of a small business are responsible for ensuring that happens. They are the accounts payable manager. They are the accounts receivable manager. They are all these things. As small-business people, they may be expert at one thing, but they are responsible for being good at all those things.

Let us add to it, then, pension planning. It just is not in their portfolio, in most cases.The pooled registered pension plan would give them the ability to allow that to go somewhere else. It would be administered by pooling together a business' employees with other businesses' employees, those of other small-business people and other entrepreneurs who might otherwise never plan a pension plan. The money would go into a great big pool and would be administered by someone else. A small-business owner would think, “Is that ever good. Somebody is going to do part of my list. I'm going to be able to hand this off to someone else”.

Let us talk a bit about what the pooled registered pension plan would do. It would do exactly what it says. It would allow businesses, certainly small businesses, entrepreneurs, single-owner businesses and single-operated businesses, to pool together.

I cannot tell members how many times during RRSP season I drive by a bank with a sign that says to buy RRSPs by such and such a date. As a small-business owner I may have even been on my way to that bank to make a deposit. However, I would get to that the next day. Procrastination on the areas where we are not really experts, as entrepreneurs, get left until the next day.

One of the previous speakers asked, if this is so great, why is there not more uptake on RRSPs and why is there not more uptake on TFSAs, the tax-free savings accounts. The reason is that they both require a small-business owner to go someplace and do something. This requires employees to automatically become registered as part of a pooled pension, and it works. It will automatically happen.

As a small-business owner, I always thought my small business was my retirement. That was part of the financial planning. At the end of the day, I hoped it was worth enough and I could sell it, and that was how I would retire. I think most entrepreneurs out there with a small number of employees, or no employees at all, think that is what their retirement is. Their saving for retirement is working hard every day, hoping their business is successful.

What the pooled registered pension plan does is make it also available for them to pool together with other small businesses and save for their retirement in a different way besides simply being the cleaner, the dentist, the hairdresser or whatever the business is. It just is out there. It is a tool in their toolbox. It makes it easy. If we can make it easy, people will do it. It makes it easy for them to pool together to get their employees to automatically register, and then there are pensions out there.

I heard one of the previous speakers talk about some 60% of people in Canada not having a pension plan. That is absolutely right. It is terrible. Here is a chance for more people, whatever their rate of pay, to pool together their assets in those pooled pension plans and allow that to pay for itself and provide a pension plan for them.

In order to increase or do anything with the Canada pension plan, it takes the provincial ministers of finance and the federal Minister of Finance to agree to do it. I am sorry, but we are not at that point. We have not yet been able to get the required number of provinces to do that. That is not on the table, but this is, and when it was launched it had unanimous consent of the ministers of finance in the provincial and federal governments to move forward to do this. It can be done.

Let me switch to some of the great comments that have been made about pooled registered pension plans on behalf of small business. I recognize that I am concentrating there because of being a former small-business owner. The new voluntary low-cost and administratively simple retirement savings mechanism would allow more employers and employees and those who are self-employed to participate in a pension plan. Who would not wish for that to happen?

Dan Kelly, from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business agrees and wants it to happen.

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce stated that this legislation:

...introduced...has the potential to benefit the estimated 60 per cent of Canadians who have either no, or insufficient, retirement savings.

That is the group we are trying to address here, those who are not part of a large industry and have a pension plan to go with it. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce believes PRPPs, pooled registered pension plans, would give many businesses the flexibility and tools they need to help their employees save for retirement, who might otherwise not do it because they missed the great big reader board at the front of the bank saying that RRSP time was here and it was time to put some money in there.

Here is one of my favourites. Minister Duncan from Ontario said that the McGuinty government supports the federal Conservatives' PRPP proposal but believes it is only one tool in helping Canadians save more.

I agree. It is only one tool. We will still have the Canada pension plan, the OAS and the rest of the things, but there is just one that would have given me a chance to save for retirement as a small-business owner, a person who got up every morning and went and worked for myself most of my life.

This is important to us. Let us get this done.

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6:20 p.m.

NDP

Andrew Cash Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, I wonder what the size of that tool is or how big a tool it is in that toolbox that the minister across the way spoke of. There are micro screwdrivers and maybe this pooled pension Ponzi scheme that he is talking about is a micro screwdriver. I can tell the member opposite that there are a lot of small businesses in a riding like mine in a big urban centre. Not one of them would be able to access this plan or use it to build a retirement plan.

Will the member opposite agree with me that, if this is a tool, it is a darned small one at that?

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6:20 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am not here to discuss what size of tool he is. I am here to discuss this bill. Business people who have not had the opportunity to save for retirement, this gives them that opportunity. This plan is available to millions of Canadians who otherwise do not have it available to them.

What will the uptake be? If everybody over there would vote for this and get it out there, we will see what the uptake on it will be.