House of Commons Hansard #136 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was panama.

Topics

Third Reading
Pooled Registered Pension Plans Act
Government Orders

June 7th, 2012 / 11:20 a.m.

NDP

John Rafferty Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand today to speak on this bill. Members will remember Bill C-501 in the last Parliament, my bill to protect workers' pensions in case of bankruptcy. Although it was not successful and the parliamentary session ended before there was a chance to pass it into law, I was very pleased to see a number of Conservatives stand to support Bill C-501. As they did, it was very clear to the government in the last Parliament that something needed to be done about pensions.

This is the government's answer to protecting pensions for all Canadians. As this bill does not guarantee an actual pension, it is best to refer to this as a savings scheme. That would be a better term for it. I will not go into detail about how it is set up, but there are some problems with it and I would like to outline some of those today.

This pooled pension or savings plan would be managed at a profit by financial institutions, banks, insurance companies and trust companies, and by the very nature of it, there will be an administrative cost on the money everybody puts into the plan. There is no regulation in this bill to regulate the costs that could be charged, and I guess the government's reasoning is that, by doing that, the costs will remain low because there will be competition among the institutions.

By the way, I will be sharing my time with the member for Brossard—La Prairie.

Unlike other pension plans we have seen in the past, workplace plans and the like, this particular pooled plan would not require matching contributions from employers. That is problematic in itself. I suppose there would be some provincial regulations put in place when the plan is set up on whether employers would have to be part of it, but in the bill right now there is nothing like that.

The first big problem with the pooled savings scheme is that it is not indexed to any kind of inflation. Workers would be putting their money aside for their retirement, which is a good thing, money would be deducted for administrative costs over the course of 20 or 30 years or however long they are putting money into this plan, and they would not have an opportunity to take advantage of inflation.

In addition to that, the other problem is that they are not really protected. Because it is not indexed, people will not be protected from the vagaries of the marketplace. As we have seen in the last couple of years, people who have been saving for most of their working lives and had RRSPs, which are not unlike this particular plan because they are privately managed by institutions, in many cases saw the value of their RRSPs drop by 25% or 30%. People have come to my office in Thunder Bay and talked about a 35% drop in the value of their RRSPs. Therefore, there is no real protection.

I would suggest to the government that there is another much simpler way to help Canadians save for their retirement, with fewer fees, indexed to inflation, and the money will be guaranteed to be there when they retire. In fact, they will have a pretty good idea of how much they will be receiving when they do retire. That is using the best pension plan we have in this country, which is the CPP. We put money into the CPP now and most Canadians are happy to do that. I see the benefits of that every day when people come to my office and ask me to help them apply for their CPP or CPP disability, OAS, GIS and these sorts of things. It is wonderful that we have this in the country.

However, what we could have done, and what we still can do, instead of a savings scheme like this, is we could open up the CPP. We could open up the CPP so that people could contribute to the CPP over the course of their working life, at a higher rate for example, or people who are self-employed could pay into it, or people could pay on behalf of a spouse who might be a stay-at-home mom or dad. They could pay into this scheme over the next 20 or 30 years.

Let us just say for example that people were allowed to pay double the contributions they are making now. If they did that, they would of course reap the benefits of CPP because right now they get out of CPP what they put into it, so it would still work.

What happens is that we reduce all those fees. I understand that the government is interested in having private business involved in pension plans. I understand where it is coming from that on that. What I am suggesting is that is not the best way to go about doing this.

If someone were to double their contributions to CPP, if they were allowed to do that over the course of their working life, and that kind of change is not going to help people like me who are nearing retirement, but let us just think about the people who are in their 20s and working. Not many people in their 20s think about retirement.

CPP would be a wonderful vehicle for them to start planning for their retirement. If they did that now, then 10 years down the road the benefit would be somewhere in the neighbourhood of about $1,900 a month when they retire. If it were a gradual shift, a gradual increase in contribution, let us say doubling over the next 10 years, that is what is would be worth. I think it is actually $1,920.

Imagine younger workers being able, over the next 10 years, to double their contributions. There can be an assumption, I suppose, that people who are working will have their wages increase over that time. They are not going to take a disposable income hit to make that investment.

If people did that, we would not be caught in a situation, as the government seems to think we would be, where OAS would have to be raised to 67 from 65. It thinks a big crisis is coming. We can avoid all of that kind of talk. We can avoid that situation by simply doubling the CPP over the next 10 years and allowing a wider contribution pool for people to get into it.

It is safe. It is secure. The market does not affect it at all to the same extent as private savings plans, RRSPs for example. We would have a very secure fund.

The other reason I like the CPP, and I am talking about that as the alternative to these pooled savings plans, is of course that the government cannot get its hands on it. I think that is critical. It is an important part of the CPP and how it is managed today.

There is a protected pension fund that is guaranteed to be there. People know what they are going to have. It is a defined benefit plan. We have seen what has happened in the past with defined benefit plans. We have seen what happens when organizations like Nortel go bankrupt and people are left out in the cold.

In the pooled plan, I wonder what is going to happen. First of all employers are not required to put any portion into it. It is simply a savings plan, an RRSP-related kind of savings plan, for people to have for their retirement. My understanding from the bill is that it is portable.

If employers are not required to match or make contributions, and I suppose some will, perhaps with some kind of collective agreement, but what happens if that company goes bankrupt? What happens to that employer's contributions? Are they safe and secure? There are some very serious concerns about this.

From 2008, when I introduced—

Third Reading
Pooled Registered Pension Plans Act
Government Orders

11:30 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

The hon. member's time has elapsed, but he may add some comments in response to questions and comments.

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities and for the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario.

Third Reading
Pooled Registered Pension Plans Act
Government Orders

11:30 a.m.

Nepean—Carleton
Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Madam Speaker, the hon. member talked a lot about the Canada pension plan.

I think we all agree that this is a very well run national plan that helps Canadians prepare for their future. The board has obtained good returns on its investment.

However, in the same sentence as praising the CPP, he went on to suggest that it is not dependent upon the mercurial nature of the stock market.

If we look at the holdings of the Canada pension plan, we will find that about half of them are invested in the stock market. It is very much dependent, therefore, upon the profitability of the business sector. Of course, a stock in a company is only worth what that stock can pay out in dividends over time. So, the CPP, which the NDP purports to cherish, depends very much upon after-tax corporate profit.

Would he join with me in supporting lower taxes on Canadian business so that after-tax profit would be higher and the benefits to plans like the CPP would be increased?

Third Reading
Pooled Registered Pension Plans Act
Government Orders

11:30 a.m.

NDP

John Rafferty Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Madam Speaker, I know the member is very concerned about pensions and the future of Canadians and how they retire and so I thank him for that question.

However, in response to that, I have a couple of quotes.

Jon Kesselman, Canada Research Chair in Public Finance at Simon Fraser University, says:

Expanding the CPP is the best option for improving Canadian workers' retirement income security; it can ensure results that none of the many alternative reform proposals for private schemes can provide.

I will not read the whole quote, but in part a Calgary Herald editorial states, at the end of 2010:

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.

So, Madam Speaker—

Third Reading
Pooled Registered Pension Plans Act
Government Orders

11:35 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

I regret to interrupt the hon. member, but I must allow time for more questions.

Questions and comments.

The hon. member for Winnipeg North.

Third Reading
Pooled Registered Pension Plans Act
Government Orders

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, the Liberal Party has talked about this particular fund as a potential small tool that would be able to facilitate a number of individuals who are aging and are thinking in terms of their pension plan.

However, we are very much concerned about the bigger picture, with regard to the CPP.

What we are looking for is stronger leadership coming from the Prime Minister and the government, in terms of sitting down at the table with the different provinces to try to get some sort of an agreement that would enhance CPP benefits for all individual Canadians who are working.

I wonder if the member might want to comment on the importance the federal government has, in terms of demonstrating leadership in negotiating with the provinces.

Third Reading
Pooled Registered Pension Plans Act
Government Orders

11:35 a.m.

NDP

John Rafferty Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Madam Speaker, the problem with this savings scheme, as the government outlines it, is that it misses a whole demographic in Canada that CPP would be able to cover. I am talking about those who are living in poverty.

According to Statistics Canada, more than 14% of senior women on their own are living in poverty. To increase the availability of CPP and GIS, for example, would be enough to eliminate poverty in our lifetime and the next generation's lifetime. More than half, 52.1%, of lone mothers of children under the age of six live in poverty. They would not really have any kind of access at all to the savings plan. Therefore I think what the government should be doing, as the member suggests, is showing leadership, real leadership, to include all Canadians in a retirement scheme in this country.

Third Reading
Pooled Registered Pension Plans Act
Government Orders

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Hoang Mai Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased today to speak to Bill C-25, An Act relating to pooled registered pension plans and making related amendments to other Acts.

At first glance, this measure seems to be a good one. However, it turns out to be a half measure when we take a closer look. That is exactly what was done by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance and even more so by the NDP in the House. This bill really has holes and problems. It has to be studied in its entirety, and we must figure out why the government has introduced this bill.

In Bill C-38 , the Conservatives attack seniors. That is clear. Just look at the provisions concerning the old age security program and the guaranteed income supplement.

The government has decided to increase the retirement age from 65 to 67 without providing any explanation. We posed questions to the Minister of Finance at the Standing Committee on Finance. The opposition was very insistent and, in the end, the government admitted that the savings would amount to $10.8 billion in 2030. The government is therefore balancing its budget at the expense of seniors and future generations, and that is a problem. We must understand where the government is coming from when we study this bill.

One of the first things that is obvious about the RPPP is that this product is very similar to an existing product, the RRSP.

In fact, RPPPs are more comparable to RRSPs—because they are administered by banks and financial institutions that will invest the money in the markets—than to a pension plan for seniors or future retirees.

On the weekend, one of my constituents told me that when he was younger, people talked about retiring at 55. They believed that if they invested as much as their advisor told them to into a retirement plan or their RRSP, they would be able to retire at 55, no problem. Today, that constituent is still working even though he is over 55 because these retirement investment products fluctuate with the market and the market has been turbulent lately. The investor's retirement income depends on the market.

What we are talking about today is exactly the same thing. It seems like the government has learned nothing from past mistakes and is doomed to repeat them. It claims it is introducing a product for the people who need it. Obviously everyone wants to have a stable and guaranteed retirement. However, this product does not offer such guarantees.

I would say it is like an RRSP because the employee is told to invest in this plan, but the employer is in no way forced to contribute to it. Therefore it is the employee who assumes all the risk. Of course, the employer might contribute, but that depends on his goodwill.

The government currently has tools such as the Canada pension plan and, in Quebec, the Quebec pension plan. These are solid plans.

No one across the way can deny that the Canada pension plan works, that it is well run and ensures a good retirement for those who are lucky enough to benefit from it: workers, self-employed workers, and people in the public and private sectors.

This plan exists and that is why we are saying that instead of creating a product that is similar to RRSPs or TFSAs, which we already have, the government should be investing in a plan that works. According to witnesses at the Standing Committee on Finance, the cost-benefit ratio for taxpayers is very high. It costs less to administer the CPP than to create a new product.

One problem is that this product is administered by financial institutions that want to generate profits. We know this; it is normal. At whose expense are these financial institutions going to make their profits? At the expense of those who have invested in this product. In this case, there is no guarantee. We talked about the fact that regulations might be brought in to ensure that the fees are not too high. However, there can be no guarantee that those fees will not go up over time. And when those fees go up, who loses? Who will have less money in the end? The people who paid in will lose. In this case, it will mainly be employees.

Rather than helping employees and people who are going to retire, the government is helping financial institutions, which, clearly, are already at an advantage thanks to the choices this government has made with previous budgets and the most recent budget. All the government is doing is continuing to reduce their tax rate so they can generate more profits. However, those profits do not go back to the common people. They do not go to those who want to retire with dignity and prepare for their future. Once again, clearly, this government does not have the best interests of seniors at heart.

My colleague from Thunder Bay—Rainy River introduced a bill to protect pension plans in case of bankruptcy. During the last election campaign, I met people. One person came to see me to say that we had come up with a very good idea, something that would protect them. He had spent a good part of his life working for Nortel, investing, working hard and keeping the economy going. Money was invested in his pension for the future. He was promised that he would be protected when he retired. We all know what happened in the end. Nortel went bankrupt. Because pensions were not protected, he is now living in misery. That is what he told me. This man's plight touched me deeply. He had tears in his eyes when he said that he had worked, he had invested, he had done everything he was expected to do, and yet the government failed to protect him.

What I find so difficult to understand is why the government does not really want to protect seniors, the people who truly helped build this country, who worked very hard. Thanks to these people, Canada has made progress in terms of the economy and quality of life. The government should be thanking them and telling them that they have worked hard, but what is it doing instead? It is giving them the cold shoulder. Not only that, but it is also attacking them. They worked hard and set money aside, but the government does not even want to protect them. What a shame to see that kind of attitude from the government.

As I said, that is what we are seeing in the budget, in Bill C-38. All of that and various changes have resulted in a record gap between rich and poor. That gap has been growing steadily since the Second World War. Of course, former Liberal governments have to take some of the blame, but so does the Conservative government.

The Conservative government is aware of the situation. The Conference Board of Canada and the OECD are saying it. The facts are there. The gap between the rich and poor is growing wider and wider, particularly in Canada, where it is growing more rapidly than in the United States. Imagine that. The United States has always seemed to be the prime example when it comes to this gap. Of the industrialized countries, Canada has surpassed the United States and other countries in how fast this gap is widening. It is because of measures like the budget and this bill that we are seeing these differences. Why? It is because the government is not helping those who need it most.

When we talk about old age security and the guaranteed income supplement, we are talking about people— seniors who are living on the edge of poverty. This government's solution is to tell them to work two years longer—to increase the age of retirement from 65 to 67—and that things might be better for them later. This is a completely ideological way of doing things. As the OECD said, there is no problem; this is purely a government decision.

Third Reading
Pooled Registered Pension Plans Act
Government Orders

11:45 a.m.

NDP

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

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Brossard—La Prairie for his speech. We know that, of the 75 or so members who could speak, he is one of the few who will be allowed to do so because the government has just imposed a gag order.

The cat is finally out of the bag. We heard it recently from the Conservative member for Nepean—Carleton. The plan is to make entrepreneurs, companies and business leaders pay less while workers pay more. This is a disguised tax. Employers will not be required to contribute to the pension fund and all of the responsibility will fall on workers' shoulders.

I would like the hon. member to explain this aspect in greater detail. Why is the government not asking employers to pay their fair share of their workers' pension funds?

Third Reading
Pooled Registered Pension Plans Act
Government Orders

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Hoang Mai Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for the very good question. That is really at the core of this bill and it is truly what we oppose.

Generally speaking, the bill looks good. However, upon closer examination something very important stands out. It is not mandatory for the employer to contribute, and therefore the employee is told to set aside some money and maybe the employer will contribute. If the objective is to protect employers rather than employees—the people who will be retiring—it is not mandatory for employers to contribute. In that case, the employee assumes all the risk.

That is why I repeated that it is the same as an RRSP. It is about putting money aside. The employer does not have to contribute.

I would like to read a statement by Michel Lizée, coordinator of UQAM's Service aux collectivités, who sits on the Université du Québec retirement committee:

We should first expand the Quebec pension plan in order to increase universality and income security. An enhanced QPP could reduce employers' current service costs, and consequently their funding risk and administrative burden, while levelling the playing field with respect to competition among businesses.

Clearly, the government is not even going with what makes the most sense.

Third Reading
Pooled Registered Pension Plans Act
Government Orders

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, I know the Liberal Party critic was quite strong on the point of the importance of CPP, but also emphasized that this was something we classified as a relatively small tool that many consumers would be able to utilize. There are other tools.

I recall the Crocus fund, for example, in the province of Manitoba. The NDP provincial government promoted it as a fund for seniors to invest in to get the tax breaks and so forth.

Does the member believe seniors or individuals looking at retirement should have other options outside of CPP? If so, what should those options be?

Third Reading
Pooled Registered Pension Plans Act
Government Orders

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Hoang Mai Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Madam Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for his question. In terms of the options to be considered, why look elsewhere when we have a program that works?

The Canada pension plan and the Quebec pension plan work. They help those who are eligible. Accessibility can be changed and expanded, but that is a discussion to be had with the provinces. If a product is working and helping those who benefit from it, then we have to invest in that product. That is why in the NDP, we have said that this program works. It has been shown to have lower costs and higher profits. Who benefits from those profits? People taking their retirement; that is who. The program works.

We have heard the government say that it has to negotiate these things with the provinces. However, when we look at the government's current approach to negotiating with the provinces, we see that it is less about negotiating and more about imposing things. Just look at the health transfers to the provinces. This government makes unilateral decisions. The same goes for employment insurance. The government imposes its decisions, end of discussion. Then it turns around and says it consulted the provinces. When the federal government imposes its way of doing things and tells the provinces what they are going to receive, where is the opportunity to negotiate?

We think this should be discussed with the provinces. There are ways to improve the pension plan and I agree that there are ways to go about it. However, above all, we have to talk to the provinces, which the government is not doing.

Third Reading
Pooled Registered Pension Plans Act
Government Orders

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Joyce Bateman Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time today with the hon. member for Crowfoot.

I am honoured today to add my voice in support of the work our government continues to do for Canadians regarding pensions and retirement income security.

Promoting the retirement income security of Canadians is an important goal of the Government of Canada, and we will continue to ensure that our policies, programs and services meet the evolving needs of Canadians.

In the wake of economic shocks from beyond our borders, Canadians are concerned about the long-term viability of their pension plans. We are listening to their views on how we can leverage Canada's financial sector advantage to strengthen the security of pension plan benefits and ensure the framework is balanced and appropriate. We are working toward a permanent long-term solution to protect the pensions of Canadians.

In our efforts to achieve greater retirement security for Canadians, our government is building on the inroads we have already made to strengthen the framework for federally regulated private pension plans. In 2009, we consulted Canadians from coast to coast to coast on these earlier initiatives and subsequently introduced a number of significant changes based on the advice of individual Canadians.

Why were pooled registered pension plans, or PRPPs, created? Canada's aging population and the global economic crisis brought the issue of retirement security to our attention. It is a very important issue. In this context, a joint federal-provincial working group was established in May 2009 to undertake an in-depth examination of retirement income in Canada.

The working group found that, overall, the Canadian retirement income system was performing well and providing Canadians with an adequate standard of living for retirement. However, some Canadian households, especially middle-income households, were living with the risk of not saving enough for retirement. The ministers worked together to analyze the wide range of ideas put forward in order to address the issues raised by the research report.

This exhaustive research led the Minister of Finance and the provincial ministers to agree on a framework for pooled registered pension plans in December 2010.

Since taking office in 2006, our government has also introduced several improvements to the tax rules for registered pension plans and registered retirement savings plans. If I have a moment I will get back to those important initiatives as well, but the pooled registered pension plans really are the crux of this bill.

Pooled registered pension plans, or PRPPs, will mark a significant step forward in advancing our retirement income agenda and will be a vital improvement to Canada's retirement income system.

What is a pooled registered pension plan? PRPPs are a new kind of defined contribution pension plan that will be available to employers, employees and the self-employed. PRPPs will improve the range of retirement savings options for Canadians. In fact, they will give all Canadians an opportunity to save for their retirement by providing an accessible, straightforward and administratively low cost retirement option for employers to offer their employees.

They will allow individuals who currently do not participate in a pension plan—over 60% of the population—such as the self-employed and employees of companies that do not offer a pension plan, to make use of this new kind of plan.

More people will benefit from the lower investment management costs that result from the economies of scale of membership in large pooled pension plans, while allowing employees to transfer their accumulated benefits from one system to another and ensuring that funds are invested in the best interests of the plan members.

Some Canadians may also be failing to take full advantage of the discretionary savings opportunities offered to them through individual structures like RRSPs. In fact, the average Canadian has about $18,000 in unused room in their RRSP, unused for possible contributions. Research indicates that a portion of Canadians are not saving enough, and as I said, more than 60% of Canadians do not have a pension plan. We are trying to provide them with a means to save for their future.

PRPPs will address this gap in the retirement income system by providing a new, accessible, large-scale and low-cost defined contribution pension option to employers, to employees and to the self-employed.

We will allow individuals who currently may not participate in an employer-sponsored pension plan the same opportunity to save for the future. This is very, very important.

What are the advantages of pooled registered pension plans? PRPPs are innovative retirement savings plans that will address the lack of large-scale, low-cost retirement options for many Canadians. Some Canadians cannot take advantage of savings opportunities provided by individual structures, such as RRSPs.

For example, the average Canadian has about $18,000 in unused contribution room. Many Canadians have access to a pension plan only if their employer offers one. Many employers refuse to take on the legal and administrative burden related to a pension plan. PRPPs will eliminate most of the usual barriers that may have discouraged some employers from offering a pension plan to their employees in the past.

Since these plans will involve large pooled funds, plan members will benefit from the lower investment management costs associated with the scale of these funds. Essentially, they will be buying in bulk.

The design of these plans will be straightforward. They will remove barriers that might have been in the way of people who want to save for their future and for the future of their families.

We all understand that Canadians want their governments to work in partnership with them to provide and deliver results, and the bill today does exactly that.

Canada's seniors have worked hard to build a better country for future generations, and today's workers should be given every chance to follow in their footsteps.

Our record shows that our government is committed to the financial well-being of Canadian seniors, as well as those Canadians who are currently still working to realize their retirement dreams.

Third Reading
Pooled Registered Pension Plans Act
Government Orders

Noon

NDP

Wayne Marston Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for her presentation, but the reality is that 12 million Canadians have no savings and no pensions whatsoever. The PRPP will not address that because it is not mandatory. The biggest problem with the bill is that those same people who are not investing now will not invest unless they are put into a position where they must invest. The other problem with the bill is that the fees are not capped.

When we made the proposition that we should increase the Canada pension plan, it was on the basis that the Canada pension plan was portable and mandatory. The cost to a person who makes $40,000 a year to double the Canada pension plan in 30 years would be $161 a year, roughly $9,000 over their working career. Where can we invest $9,000 today and look forward to having $1,800-plus per month in the future? The reality is that the PRPP fails.

Also, the government has announced that it is going to make seniors work two extra years. People on disability or welfare who looked forward to moving up when they got OAS and GIS will now have to wait two more years to have that money.

Third Reading
Pooled Registered Pension Plans Act
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Joyce Bateman Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to explain a few more details to my colleague opposite.

First, the reality right now is that more than 60% of Canadians do not have pension coverage. That is a very serious reality. Given that, with this legislation we are enabling Canadians to help themselves, to take charge.

We have just created 750,000 new jobs, but if the average experience in the Canadian workplace applies to those jobs, some of them may not have entitlements. We have created those jobs, and now we are creating an opportunity for those people to save for their future, enabling them to accept that responsibility and to be helped with lower-cost opportunities for that saving.