Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-18 which is an act to amend the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act, to validate certain calculations and to amend other acts.
From some briefings that were provided in terms of the content of the bill, I want to highlight a couple of the aspects of the bill. I also want to thank the member for St. John's East for highlighting some of the challenges that will be brought forward in committee. The NDP is firmly in support of the bill and the member for St. John's East has identified a few problems that could be resolved at committee, and hopefully the government and other members of the House will take a look at some of the shortfalls in the bill.
The bill aims to make RCMP pensions more portable by allowing for the expansion of existing election for prior service provisions and permitting the introduction of pension transfer agreements.
The pension portability schemes are generally enacted to improve recruitment options especially for lateral applicants. Without pension portability provisions, such as those allowed by Bill C-18, pension credits with former employers, for example, with a municipal police force, would not be transferrable to the RCMP pension plan, making a lateral transfer to the RCMP less attractive.
The introduction of pension transfer arrangements will allow the RCMP to enter into formal arrangements with other Canadian pension plans to permit the transfer of pension credits into and out of the RCMP pension plan. Once implemented the pension transfer agreement sections will bring the RCMP pension plan into line with the federal public service pension plan which has approximately 770 pension transfer agreements.
We can see from that very brief outline that this is a very technical bill, but we can see that these kinds of pension agreements are already in place within the public service. It seems reasonable that the RCMP, who play such a critical role in many of our communities, should be able to have access to the same kinds of arrangements.
The member for St. John's East touched upon this, but I want to remind the House that these proposed changes have actually been in the works since 1995. Once again, what we have is long delays in dealing with some legislative amendments that could have been dealt with more than 10 to 15 years ago. It happened in 1995, in 1999, and it happened again in 2005.
Both the Conservatives and the Liberals simply could not get their act together in terms of addressing this anomaly.
I am pleased that it has now come before the House, but I want to touch on a couple of other points that I know the member for St. John's East raised. I want to touch on them just so that people understand that the bill is still not perfect.
There have been some questions raised about the anomalies in the fact that although current recruits are being paid during training, previous recruits were not being paid. There are some concerns that they will not get the pension credit for that six months of unpaid training. That has changed, but there are current RCMP officers who are serving, who do not have that pension credit or the possibility of that pension credit. Therefore, I am sure that will be raised in committee.
There are other concerns that have been raised around the fact that civilian employees for the RCMP are treated differently. Again, I am sure that will be raised in committee with an opportunity for potential amendments.
I just want to talk about the importance of this for a moment. In the briefing that was provided it talked about recruitment and retention. In my community of Nanaimo—Cowichan, the RCMP are a vital part of the community. The RCMP is our police force. In the province of British Columbia, many of our communities are in that position. I know in Newfoundland that is also the case.
Therefore, this bill is an important one in terms of both recruitment of officers and ongoing retention. I know that in my own community of North Cowichan, as a previous municipal councillor I was part of the protective services committee. One of our roles was examining the agreement that we had between the RCMP, the province and then of course the municipalities. We were consistently short of officers.
I live in a very beautiful part of the country. It was not an issue around RCMP officers wanting to work in my community. It was the fact that recruitment was often an issue. Retention was an issue. There were some challenges with leave provisions. For example, when an officer went on maternity leave at that time, there were no provisions to replace that officer.
Bill C-18 is a very important factor when we talk about recruitment and retention. In many remote communities, it is very difficult to find officers to serve there. We need to make sure we are providing a compensation package, which includes pensions, that is very attractive so that we can recruit and retain.
There is another issue that has come up and has been mentioned a number of times in the House. When Bill C-10, the budget implementation bill, was put forward, it negated the agreement that had been put in place with RCMP officers around wage improvements. I know members throughout the House have been receiving letters, phone calls and emails about the unfairness of this.
I have an email from an officer who wanted to make sure that members understood the potential impact of the negating of that agreement in Bill C-10. The email states:
For the last 135 years, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have been at the heart of our communities, serving Canadians and keeping us safe.
From stopping liquor trafficking and gaining the respect and confidence of Aboriginal peoples to fighting child sexual exploitation and clamping down on gang and gun crime; Canada's national police force has always counted on men and women of sound constitution and good character to serve and protect. And for more than a century, that's exactly what thousands have done.
On December 11, 2008, Treasury Board modified a previously signed wage agreement that ensured the RCMP could compete for the best and brightest new talent and offer an incentive for seasoned members to stay with the force. The original agreement was supported by the Commissioner, the Minister of Public Safety and approved by Treasury Board as recently as June 2008.
Changes to this previously-enshrined agreement will inflict irreparable damage to ongoing efforts to retain current members and will have serious consequences for recruiting new cadets--a stated priority for this government--who do not qualify for incentives afforded to members with more than five years experience.
This Treasury Board decision poses long-term challenges for bolstering public safety in Canada. Without significant changes, the legacy of this decision will be a series of negative and enduring repercussions for RCMP capacity building; particularly when it comes to recruiting new cadets.
Further on, the email goes on to state:
I write to ask that you act to protect the integrity of Canadian public safety; frontline RCMP officers ask only that the existing, signed agreement be allowed to stand. In full-recognition of the serious economic challenges we face as a country, the men and women of the RCMP are committed to abide by the letter and the spirit of that agreement for the next two years.
It goes on to talk about the fact that the RCMP, of course, played a significant role in this country's development and expansion, and that it will continue to play a very important role in public safety in our communities.
Again, I come back to my own community of Nanaimo-Cowichan. I know RCMP officers there are absolutely dedicated women and men who often contribute a lot of their own personal time to be involved with youth, first nations and a variety of community organizations. They often sit on committees contributing in a very positive way to the overall health and well-being of our communities.
I would argue that we should ensure once again to not only look at pension changes that will significantly contribute to recruitment and retention but that we also look at negotiated signed agreements. I know the member for St. John's East raised the fact that the Supreme Court has upheld the ability of the RCMP to form a union and the current government continues to fight that.
The RCMP has a staff association in place to represent its interests. My understanding is that RCMP members have stated that they would agree not to strike, but there is no reason why, in a democratic country, our police force could not have the mechanism to organize and represent itself in terms of labour management issues.
One of the reasons that this discussion around pensions is so critical is because in today's current economic climate there are some serious challenges with pensions. One of the elements that was raised in a current pension issues and trends paper talks about bankruptcy protection and pension insurance. Fortunately, at this point, the RCMP's pension fund is not in this kind of situation and would not likely ever be.
Many Canadians are very concerned about what is happening to their pensions in the current economic climate. One of the things that has been identified is this bankruptcy protection and pension insurance. It states:
The laws concerning bankruptcy protection and pension insurance are closely related to the rules governing pension funding. If pensions are fully funded when employers enter bankruptcy protection, then bankruptcy laws do not matter much to the fate of the pension plan. On the other hand, if pension plans are underfunded when the employer becomes bankrupt, then the question of the nature of the claim that the pension fund has on the bankrupt company is critical, as is the question of whether the pension deficiency is insured.
This is just one aspect of some very serious problems going on with pensions right now. The member from Hamilton will be going out to the public to talk about the kinds of reforms that are needed to pension plans.
Bill C-18 talks about portability. Many members will be surprised that I am quoting from a C.D. Howe Institute commentary on pensions, but the portability of pensions is an absolutely critical aspect. Again, for RCMP officers we are recognize that portability of their pensions is extremely important. Members of municipal police forces should have the ability to move from the municipal police force to the RCMP and not lose their pension credits. It is a very important aspect.
The C.D. Howe Institute is talking about pension portability from job to job across Canada. It is not talking specifically about RCMP officers; it is talking about all Canadians. I would argue that as we set the standard for RCMP officers to have that portability, we should make sure that other Canadians have that pension portability as well.
In this particular case, the C.D. Howe Institute makes another recommendation. To put it into context, it says, “Canadians must understand that they all do not need to become experts in life-cycle finance and investments to achieve this goal”. It is talking about maintaining standards of living in retirement. The member for Sault Ste. Marie has been a tireless advocate on poverty generally but certainly on poverty as it relates to seniors. One of the aspects that significantly impacts on seniors is changes that were made to the Canada pension plan.
In the context of the Canada pension plan, I am getting a number of emails from people who are concerned about what is happening with the investments in the Canada pension plan. People want us to raise that here in the House. They are concerned about how the Canada pension plan is currently managed. However, that is outside the scope of Bill C-18.
The C.D. Howe Institute indicates that Canadians should be insisting that their elected representatives and employers play informed and constructive roles in inserting the major missing piece in Canada's current pension system that would deal with the inadequate coverage in retirement savings facing millions of Canadians.
Part of the issue is that, first of all, many Canadians simply do not have a pension plan. We are talking about portability in the context of Bill C-18, that pension plans in Canada largely are not portable and we cannot take them from job to job, and because we are talking about this with Bill C-18, I would argue that at some point we need to introduce legislation that talks about portability across this country.
I touched on the bankruptcy provisions. Many pension plans in this country are underfunded. If a company goes into bankruptcy protection, workers are at risk. In my riding we see forestry company after forestry company laying off people. There are some concerns as these companies go into bankruptcy protection with their underfunded pensions that workers who have worked 30 and 40 years, rather than going into retirement, have to go back to work. It is critical that we, as a House, perhaps using Bill C-18 as a kickoff point, look at conducting a broader pension review. I know the government has been talking about examining what is happening with pensions, but we need to move on this very quickly.
Women have been very concerned about what is happening with pensions because many women do not have either a private or a public pension. We are very concerned that we will see an increase in seniors living in poverty.
Many women have been in part-time, seasonal, contractual employment. This means that when they retire at the age of 60 or 65, they will only have access to the Canada pension plan, and because they have been in that kind of part-time, seasonal, contract employment, they will not have the full Canada pension plan.
The group WE*ACT has put together a number of very good proposals for overall reforms to the pension system. Unless we act quickly, we are going to see a spike in seniors poverty once again. I would encourage the House to use Bill C-18 as a catalyst to move quickly.
Again with Bill C-18, we have seen a bill that was looking at amendments back in 1995. We simply cannot wait that long for the kind of pension reform that is necessary. There is a wave of baby boomers, the first edge of which is turning 65 as we speak, that is going to change the face of retirement in this country. All too often we ear very sad stories about people who, after working for over 40 years, come up to retirement and find that they have to work at a McJob to survive in retirement.
There are a whole number of other issues that are facing seniors as they retire, such as the lack of availability of long-term care, home care support, access to prescription drugs, access to hospitals, and access to all kinds of other support programs for seniors. That is outside the scope of Bill C-18, but I would hope that we would put together a proactive package that looks at that whole range of issues.
We often hear in this House of the social determinants of health. I would argue that we also need to look at the social determinants of aging, and at such things as housing and income security. Because there is this wave of baby boomers coming up to retirement, this would be an opportunity for us to be proactive and we could put together a package that would have some meaningful impact on people as they retire.
In conclusion, Bill C-18 is a very important move toward protecting our ability to make sure that our communities are kept safe. It is important that we put together a package that will encourage young men and women to see the RCMP as a viable career opportunity, and make sure that the pensions help in our ability to retain police officers.
I am very pleased to say that New Democrats will be supporting this bill. I look forward to hearing from the member for St. John's East about testimony that will come forward at committee. Perhaps some amendments will be made to deal with some of the deficiencies that are currently in the bill before the House. Hopefully it will help us to ensure that our communities stay safe and well protected.