I'm now on the slide called the “Canada Pension Plan”.
My apologies for the confusion.
The Canada Pension Plan is the second component of Canada's retirement income system, the third being the private pension plan, RRSPs. As I said earlier, the plan was created in 1966, and the federal and provincial governments are its joint stewards.
The different types of benefits under the Canada Pension Plan include a retirement pension, disability, survivor, and children's benefits. In 2005 about 4.6 million people received benefits from the Canada Pension Plan, of which retirement benefits totalled $16 billion, disability benefits about $3 billion, almost $4 billion was paid out in survivor benefits, and $500 million paid out in death benefits.
The next slide outlines a few more details on the Canada Pension Plan. Unlike the OAS, the Canada Pension Plan is funded from contributions that are made to the plan that are shared equally between the employer and the employee. Presently, the contributor rate is fixed at 9.9% of earnings from a minimum of $3,500 to a maximum of $42,100 in 2006. A self-employed worker pays the full amount of both these contributions on gross earnings.
The plan is funded by employer-employee contributions, as well as revenues from investments and earned interest, all of which is managed at arm's length by the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, which was created in 1998 as part of the wider package of CPP reforms that ensured that the plan continued to be on a sound financial footing for future generations. One point to note here is that if this legislation passes the House of Commons and the Senate, orders in council from the provinces will still be required to bring the new legislation into effect.
The next slide looks at the summary of the proposed amendments to the CPP. I will quickly walk you through some of those.
The first recommendation relates to the existing financing provisions of the Canada Pension Plan. Under current legislation, there is a requirement that for any new benefit or any change that enhances benefits, the enhancement must be paid as the benefit is earned by the contributor. If it is not, it must be amortized and paid for over a limited period of time in order to avoid having future generations of Canadians cover the costs for the existing generation of contributors. These provisions came about in the 1998 reforms.
However, the current legislation does not have sufficient detail to be able to describe how to calculate the full cost of benefit enhancements, or to establish how the costs of a brand-new benefit would be estimated in the future, if this were to happen. The purpose of the proposed amendment is to provide the government with regulation-making authority that would set out the detailed calculation of how the existing full funding provisions would be applied. It would set out the public reporting of these costs, and it would clarify the contribution rate setting when such costs are present.
While this may appear to be a relatively minor adjustment to the CPP legislation, it is one that is very important to the mathematician of the plan, the chief actuary, in order to facilitate the actuarial work and make it easier to explain to Canadians in a transparent manner any proposed changes to the plan and how they would be funded.
The next change relates to these disability benefits. In 1998 a series of measures were adopted to enhance the sustainability of the Canada Pension Plan. At that time, the rules around the qualifications for CPP disability were changed so that a person had to have four valid years of contributions to the CPP out of the last six years in order to qualify for benefits.
In the process of the triennial review, federal-provincial ministers recommended that the present eligibility requirements for long-term contributors to the CPP be modified so that anyone who has had 25 years of contributions to the plan would be able to qualify for a disability benefit with three years of contributions in the last six years, instead of the present four-out-of-six requirement.
The proposed change could potentially expand disability coverage to some 80,000 contributors and result, to use a rough estimate, in about 3,700 contributors and 840 of their children receiving disability benefits by 2010.
The next change is about the statement of contributions online. Because we had this opportunity to open up the legislation as a result of the CPP triennial review, we also put forward a number of administrative measures to modernize service delivery and streamline access to benefits under both the Canada Pension Plan and the Old Age Security Act.
The first such example is to enable Canadians to view online their statement of contributions to the Canada Pension Plan. Currently the legislation specifies that a record of earnings can only be requested once a year. This does not exactly conform to what citizens want or to the fact that we now have advances in modern technology that make the statement of contributions available online to Canadians. In order to better conform with what citizens want, there's no longer a need to restrict access to the statement of contributions to once a year only. Canadians will now be able to view their own contributions as often as they wish and request their statement of contributions more than once a year, whether by paper or electronically.
The next slide is about credit splitting. This is a provision in the legislation allowing pensioned credits to be divided equally between two partners whose legal marriage or common law union has ended. This division is called credit splitting.
For persons divorced before 1987, the legislation provides divorced couples with the opportunity to waive existing time limits and to initiate a credit split, as long as both spouses agree to do so in writing. However, the provisions for common law partners are not the same as those for married spouses. If you take John and Sally, for example, whose common law relationship broke up in 2003, the existing CPP rules state they only have until 2007, or four years, to initiate a credit split. Because some have found this requirement frustrating and rigid in its application, we're proposing to change the provision to allow the existing time limit to be waived, as long as both partners agree to do so in writing, and thereby to treat married and common law partners in the same fashion.
I'm going next to the old age security amendments.
The proposed amendments are divided into four areas: simplifying access, achieving equitable benefit entitlements, implementing recommendations of the Governor General, and clarity of legislation in both official languages.
On the next slide, simplifying access to and delivery of benefits, the first significant change relates to accessing the guaranteed income supplement. I know that this committee has heard a lot about the frustration that citizens have around the access to the guaranteed income supplement. One of the issues is the fact that under the current legislation citizens now have to apply separately for the OAS and the GIS, and seniors are currently forced to reapply whenever their income changes and their income level has affected their eligibility. When a person's income goes above the allowed threshold, the person is no longer entitled to receive the benefit, and again would have to reapply in writing in a subsequent year when they became eligible.
To explain this better, I'll give you an example. Let's take Mary, who at age 65 received GIS benefits until the age of 68, at which time she received a windfall inheritance that changed her income level. Because her income rose, she was no longer entitled to a GIS benefit until the age of 80, for example, when her income went down again. Under the current rules, Mary would have had to reapply for the benefit in writing, and it's possible that she could have fallen through the cracks because Mary might not have known that she had to reapply for this benefit in writing.
Under the proposed amendment, Mary will be able to use a new common application form to apply for the OAS and the GIS at the same time. Not only that, Mary will also be able to let us know that she would like to receive the GIS benefit for the rest of her life as long as she remains eligible. Once an initial combined OAS-GIS application has been made, this will assure her continued eligibility for the rest of her life. So long as we can obtain income information and information about the marital status of an individual applicant from their income tax records, the benefit would be paid to pensioners in any year that they meet the income requirements. This amendment will largely prevent seniors from falling through the cracks. We want to simplify the administration of the benefit and reduce the paper burden so that seniors can receive all of the benefits to which they are entitled.
I'm moving on to the next slide now, which is simplification of access to and the delivery of benefits. This amendment is about enabling the federal government to enter to agreements for the administration of certain provincial low-income benefits. While current legislation allows the federal government to administer provincial benefits--that is, we pay low-income GIS benefits and provincial low-income benefits on behalf of the province of Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories--we do not now determine the entitlement to those benefits. Doing so would simplify the administration of low-income benefits for many provinces that already rely on the GIS eligibility to determine the eligibility for provincial benefits. The proposed amendment would permit the federal government to determine eligibility and to calculate the benefits for a senior with respect to both provincial and federal low-income benefits. The provision would rely on agreements that would be signed between the interested provinces and the federal government that would establish the terms and conditions for these arrangements.
The next slide is on simplifying the reporting of income for couples and seniors. This is something that we call options. It is a complicated provision at the moment, which we are trying to simplify. The legislation currently allows seniors who retire or who suffer a loss of earnings or a reduction in pension in a given year to provide an estimate of their current income in order to qualify for the low-income benefits. Applicants are required right now to estimate income from all sources, whether it's employment, interest from investments, or pension income. This process can be very cumbersome because it is difficult to accurately predict all of your income from all sources.
The proposed legislation would limit the estimated income to pension and employment income only, which is much easier to predict on an annual basis and predict accurately.
It will also extend the time limit for seniors to submit an estimate of their income, because the current deadlines can be very tight. This change, we think, will be very welcomed by low income seniors, because it will mean fewer adjustments, and it will simplify the administration by greatly reducing the complexity of this provision.
The next slide is “Application Withdrawal”. Currently, the Old Age Security Act does not allow for a person to withdraw his or her application for benefits once it has been submitted and payments have started. Seniors have asked us to look at this, because they would like to have some additional flexibility.
For example, sometimes seniors have miscalculated what they can expect to receive in OAS payments and they may want to defer the receipt of their pension to another year. Or they may have received additional income from dividends and may not want to increase their overall income at age 65 because they may still be working, or may want not to apply for the OAS benefit just yet, in order to keep their income relatively modest for income tax purposes.
While this appears to be a minor fix, it's relevant to seniors who want the ability to withdraw their application if they so choose.
The next slide is about “Achieving Equity in Benefit Entitlements” through two proposed changes. The first is about income-tested benefits and eligibility for income-tested benefits.
These income-tested benefits are provided to seniors to help them meet their daily living needs; however, the current legislation allows an estate to also make an application for GIS benefits on behalf of the deceased. This provision would be changed to only allow the living person to benefit from the supplement to which he or she is entitled.
The second relates to income-tested benefits for sponsored immigrants. As I explained earlier, the OAS benefits are not based on a person's citizenship but on a person's residence. Currently, there are provisions that allow the payment of an OAS pension to someone with less than ten years of residence if they lived or worked in a country with which we have a social security agreement.
In 1996, the legislation was amended to recognize the financial obligation of sponsors to look after a family member during the length of the sponsorship, for persons receiving benefits under social security agreements. However, the words “Canadian citizens” were left out of the drafting of the original legislation, which inadvertently created a difference in treatment between permanent residents and those who become Canadian citizens during the period of their sponsorship, allowing the latter to receive pro-rated GIS benefits during the sponsorship period.
The proposed legislation is designed to respect the integrity of the residence-based OAS program by treating all categories of persons the same, regardless of citizenship. Pro-rated GIS benefits are still available to non-sponsored immigrants from agreement countries, as well as sponsored immigrants whose sponsors have passed away, become bankrupt, or become incarcerated.
I just have a couple of more slides, and then I will end. The next is “Implementing the Recommendations of the Auditor General”.
There is a series of amendments to both the OAS and CPP; these are the common amendments to both legislation.
The first relates to observations of the Auditor General, who recently noted that the Old Age Security Act and by extension the Canada Pension Plan were not in compliance with the provisions of the Financial Administration Act, because unlike what the Financial Administration Act states, neither the OAS nor the CPP collects interest on overpayments.
The proposed legislation will formally recognize that the government does not wish to charge interest to seniors and will exempt the OAS program and the CPP from the provisions of the FAA that oblige the programs to charge interest.
The Auditor General also recognized that the existing penalty provisions in the OAS Act were never brought into force. Penalties were supposed to be assessed in cases of deliberate misrepresentation or fraud. The proposed provisions would ensure that both acts are in compliance, as recommended by the Auditor General.
There are some other proposed common amendments. They are identified on the next-to-last slide. These relate to broader access by Canadians to electronic services that would provide the ability to apply for benefits online, which current legislation does not allow for.
Another proposal would ensure that information can be shared with third parties other than those who have been specifically listed in legislation--for example, advocates and lawyers. The amendments would enable seniors to share information with family members in order to facilitate the application process and the administration of their benefits throughout their lifetime.
Finally, some of the provisions propose to update the French translation of certain sections that have been noted not to be coincident with the English versions in the past.
I've come to the end of a very long presentation. You have my apologies for the length of it.
In conclusion, I'd like to say that we think Bill C-36 will provide greater access to pension benefits, strengthen the administration of the program, hopefully simplify some of the red tape that's involved in it now, and implement many of the suggestions and recommendations for improvements that have come from Canadians and from your committee.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.