Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to Motion No. 243 presented by the hon. member for Kitchener Centre.
This motion would instruct the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities to undertake a study of the current level of financial support that is being provided to people with disabilities through the Canada pension plan disability benefit.
May I state at the outset that the Government of Canada is pleased to support this motion.
In supporting Motion No. 243, I would like to talk today about three central points: first, what the Canada pension plan disability benefit is intended to do; second, who it is meant to assist; and third, how it is governed. I wish to briefly discuss each of these areas because I think it is important for Canadians to understand what the CPP disability benefit is all about.
What is it intended to do? I would like to remind members that the Canada pension plan is one of the most highly regarded public pension plans in the world. The Canada pension plan, along with old age security, provides Canadians with a solid foundation upon which to build their retirement income. Together, Canada's public pensions deliver about $54 billion in benefits to Canadians each year.
Starting at the age of 18, Canadian employees and the self-employed contribute to the CPP throughout their working lives. Employers match the contributions of their employees. The funds built up by the investment of these contributions enables CPP contributors to access important benefits for themselves and for family members over the course of their lives. These benefits include retirement pensions, survivor and death benefits, children's benefits, as well as disability benefits.
I know that members are already aware of how important the CPP disability program is to Canadians. CPPD is the largest long term disability insurance program in Canada. It provides annual benefits of more than $3 billion to almost 300,000 Canadians with severe and prolonged disabilities who can no longer work, as well as nearly 90,000 dependent children. As a matter of fact, according to the 2005-06 statistics, the most recent available, there were 296,000 beneficiaries of which 89,000 were children, and a total of $3.3 billion in benefits.
Who is it meant to assist? The primary role of CPP disability is to replace a portion of the earnings of contributors who, due to a disability, are incapable of regularly working. It is important to understand the specific eligibility requirements for CPP disability. It consists of two parts as laid out in the Canada pension plan.
First, applicants must have made valid contributions to CPP in four of the last six years. This means that applicants have to have worked recently to be eligible for CPP disability benefits. Second, the legislation stipulates that eligible applicants must have a severe and prolonged mental or physical disability which prevents them, on a regular basis, from doing any substantially gainful work, not just their previous job. This means that not all Canadians with a disability are eligible for the benefit. It is a benefit intended for some of the most vulnerable Canadians.
Who gets CPPD? Let me give the House a snapshot.
Seventy per cent of CPPD beneficiaries are between the ages of 50 and 64. The gender breakdown of recipients is roughly equal, with females at 50.5% and males at 49.5% in 2005-06. It is interesting to note that this is a significant change from 20 years ago when over 70% of the beneficiaries were male, or 70.7%. That was in 1986.
Persons with mental disorders now represent the largest proportion of Canada pension plan disability beneficiaries at 27%. Until recently, 2004-05, persons with musculoskeletal conditions represented the largest category.
How is it governed? A moment ago I referred to the Canada pension plan legislation. This brings us to the issue of how CPP, including CPPD, is governed. Although the federal government administers the Canada pension plan, the federal, provincial and territorial governments are joint stewards of the plan.
It should be noted that the legislation stipulates that substantive changes to CPP benefits and financing require the approval of Parliament, as well as that of at least two-thirds of the provinces with two-thirds of the population.
Every three years federal, provincial and territorial ministers of finance review the Canada pension plan to ensure that it remains financially sound and to make any necessary adjustments. This review also enables us to ensure that the CPP is evolving to meet the changing needs of Canadians throughout their lives.
The triennial review process, therefore, is an important way of demonstrating accountability and transparency to Canadians.
Notwithstanding the ongoing review of the CPP, we welcome the opportunity to have a separate study of CPP disability benefits as proposed by Motion No. 243.
A study of this kind by the standing committee would help to reinforce the practice of the Department of Human Resources and Social Development to continually monitor and assess the plan in order to ensure that it is meeting Canadians' current and future needs and that it remains affordable and financially sustainable.
I spoke earlier about the eligibility requirements for CPP disability. I would now like to discuss our government's recent action in this area.
In November 2006 this government introduced Bill C-36, which will, among other things, ease disability eligibility rules to promote fairness by making it easier for applicants who have worked for many years to qualify for disability benefits. This is a change that the disability community, as well as members of the House, have long wanted. This is exactly what our government has delivered. We are listening carefully to Canadians' concerns and acting on them.
The amendment will allow applicants with 25 or more years of contributions to become eligible for disability benefits if they have contributed in three, rather than four, of the last six years. Of course the applicants, including long term contributors, must still meet the medical eligibility requirements.
Introducing this change to the CPPD eligibility rules will mean that in the future, thousands of applicants will be able to receive disability benefits. For example, in the four years following the coming into force of this amendment, it is estimated that an additional 3,700 disabled individuals will receive CPPD benefits, as well as 800 of their children. This is an estimate by the chief actuary of the CPP.
This improvement and others included in Bill C-36 clearly demonstrate how governments can work together to improve the lives of Canadians while keeping CPP affordable.
Today I have tried to underscore the important role that CPP disability plays in the lives of hundreds of thousands of Canadians. Accordingly, we want to ensure on an ongoing basis that this program is soundly administered and transparent in all aspects of its operation. We want to also assure Canadians that it provides good value for money with demonstrable results in keeping with the program's intent.
The study proposed by the hon. member for Kitchener Centre would enable the standing committee to provide us with valuable information to help keep this essential program strong, transparent and accountable.
For these reasons, I, along with the Government of Canada, am very pleased to support Motion No. 243.