Thank you, Mr. Chair.
It is indeed an honour to be sitting directly in front of you, instead of beside you, and cheering you on in your balanced decisions, to which we listened many days and many nights at this committee. I enjoyed it all.
Welcome to the new members here.
It is great to be back, and great to be back to speak to what I think is a well overdue option for our pension or income retirement system in Canada.
I should mention that I'm here with some very learned people, some from our Department of Finance—Diane Lafleur, Leah Anderson, Lynn Hemmings, and Yasir Syed—and as well from OSFI, or the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions, a couple of experts, Carol Taraschuk and John Grace. John Grace and I and Lynn covered a lot of miles developing this new concept. They have been a tremendous help. Bill C-25, the Pooled Registered Pension Plans Act, is the reason we are here.
Mr. Chair, Canada's retirement system is recognized around the world by such experts as the OECD as a model that succeeds in reducing poverty among Canadian seniors and in providing generous levels of replacement income to retired workers. Simply put, our system is the envy of the world. The introduction of the pooled registered pension plan, or, as it has come to be known, the PRPP, will only build on this well-earned reputation.
The success of this model rests on the strength of the three pillars. The first pillar is made up of the old age security, or OAS, as well as the guaranteed income supplement, often referred to as the GIS. These programs provide a basic minimum income guarantee for seniors and are funded primarily through taxes on working Canadians. Our government has a responsibility to ensure that programs such as these are available for the next generation of Canadians as well. That's why our government will take a prudent, balanced, and responsible approach to making sure that OAS remains sustainable.
The second pillar is the Canada Pension Plan as well as the Quebec Pension Plan. These are mandatory public target benefit pension plans that provide a basic level of income to Canadian workers when they retire. There are currently 16.5 million workers contributing to either CPP or QPP. With these programs paying $44 billion in benefits per year to now more than 6.5 million Canadians, the CPP is the centrepiece of Canada's pension system. I'm proud to say that it is fully funded, it is actuarially sound, and it is sustainable for the long term.
The third pillar is composed of tax-assisted private savings opportunities to help encourage Canadians to accumulate additional savings for retirement. It includes registered pension plans and registered retirement savings plans. In total, the cost of tax assistance provided on retirement savings is currently estimated at $25 billion per year.
How do the PRPPs fit into what, as I say, is a good system already?
In 2009 a joint federal-provincial research working group conducted an in-depth examination of retirement income adequacy in Canada. While the working group concluded that Canada's retirement system is performing well, it also found that some modest- and middle-income households may not be saving enough for retirement.
Of particular concern were the following findings. Participation in employer-sponsored registered pension plans was declining. The proportion of working Canadians with such plans has declined from 41% in 1991 to 34% in 2007. Also, Canadians are not taking full advantage of other retirement savings options, such as the RRSP. Currently there is over $600 billion of unused room in RRSPs.
Through you, Mr. Chair, let me reassure the committee that our government recognizes the importance of ensuring that all Canadians have adequate income for their retirement. The report by the working group sent a clear signal that a gap exists on the voluntary side of Canada's retirement system.
With this information in hand, our government took immediate action to fill that gap. Over the past two years, our government's commitment to strengthen Canada's retirement system has taken me to every province and territory and countless communities across this country. In my travels, I've consulted with many Canadians, met with our provincial and territorial counterparts, and held discussions with small and medium-sized business owners as well as self-employed Canadians.
At our federal-provincial-territorial finance ministers meeting in December of 2010, after examining the various proposals that came out of the consultations, the federal, provincial, and territorial governments unanimously decided to pursue the pooled registered pension plan framework. This decision was taken because the PRPP was considered an effective and appropriate way to target those modest- and middle-income individuals who may not be saving enough, and in particular those who currently do not have access to an employer-sponsored registered pension plan.
What then are the PRPPs? They are in fact a large-scale, broad-based pension arrangement. They will be available to employees with or without a participating employer. As well, they will be available to the self-employed. This is particularly important as, incredibly, over 60% of Canadians do not now have access to a workplace pension plan. In short, PRPPs will provide these Canadians with access to a low-cost pension arrangement for the very first time.
By pooling pension savings, PRPPs will offer Canadians greater purchasing power. Basically, Canadians will be able to buy in bulk. This means more money would be left in their pockets for their retirement. The introduction of PRPPs also marks a significant advancement for small and medium-sized businesses. Small and medium-sized businesses have, until now, experienced a significant barrier in being able to offer a pension plan to their employees. Under a PRPP, most of the administrative and legal burdens associated with a pension plan will be borne by a qualified, licensed, third-party administrator.
We all understand that Canadians want their governments to work together to deliver results for them, and the PRPP is a prime example of what we can accomplish for Canadians when we do just that. Bill C-25 represents the federal portion of the PRPP framework and is a major step forward in implementing PRPPs. Once the provinces put in place their PRPP legislation, the legislative and regulatory framework for PRPPs will be operational. This will allow PRPP administrators to develop and offer plans to Canadians and to their employers.
Working together, I am confident we can get this important new retirement savings option up and running for Canadians as soon as possible. Let me quote Dan Kelly, the vice-president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business:
This can't come soon enough from our perspective. We think this has great potential.
Before I take questions from committee members, I cannot stress enough how the introduction of the PRPP is just the most recent example of this government's continuing commitment to ensuring that Canadians have a dignified retirement.
I would like to take some time before you today to highlight some of the actions our government has taken to secure retirement income for Canadians. Financial literacy, for example, is an area where we are working to improve retirement income outcomes. Obviously, a strong system depends on the ability of its users to make informed decisions. That is why our government launched the task force on financial literacy to make recommendations on a cohesive, national strategy to improve financial literacy across Canada.
Since 2006, our government has increased the age credit amount by $1,000 in 2006 and then another $1,000 in 2009. We've doubled the maximum amount of income eligible for pension income credit, up to $2,000.
We introduced pension income splitting. We increased the age limit for maturing pensions and RRSPs to 71, up from 69 years of age before.
All told, we have provided about $2.3 billion in annual targeted tax relief to seniors and pensioners.
In addition, Budget 2008 introduced the tax-free savings account, which is particularly beneficial to seniors, as it helps them meet their ongoing savings needs on a tax-efficient basis after they no longer are able to contribute to an RRSP.
Our record also includes important improvements to several specific retirement income supports. In Budget 2008, we increased the amount that can be earned before the GIS is actually reduced. We raised that to $3,500 so that GIS recipients will be able to keep more of their hard-earned money without any reduction in their GIS benefits. Also, Budget 2008 increased flexibility for seniors and older workers with federally regulated pension assets that are held in life income funds.
In May 2009, Bill C-51 reformed aspects of the CPP to increase flexibility and fairness in the plan and allow it to better reflect the way Canadians live, work, and retire.
In Budget 2011, we announced a new GIS top-up benefit for the most vulnerable seniors. Seniors with little or no income will receive an additional annual benefit of up to $600 for seniors and $840 for couples.
The next phase of Canada's economic action plan provides an additional $10 million over two years to enhance the New Horizons for Seniors program. This additional funding is enabling more seniors to participate in social events, pursue an active life, and contribute to their community. The program provides funding for projects to expand awareness of elder abuse, promote volunteering and mentoring, as well as encourage social participation of seniors.
Clearly, Mr. Chair, our records show our government is committed to the financial well-being of Canada's seniors, a commitment we've demonstrated since our first budget.
The PRPP is only the latest example of our government's continued commitment to helping Canadians realize their retirement dreams. The introduction of the PRPP not only fills a gap in Canada's retirement system but makes a system that is the envy of the world even stronger.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I'd be happy to take questions.