Thank you for the invitation, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee.
We are very privileged in CUPE to represent 630,000 Canadians who work all over Canada in big and small cities and communities delivering front-line services like municipal health and education, to name a couple. Our members work very hard to provide quality public services, but they're taxpayers as well. On the income tax side, a little over $3 billion in income taxes are attributable to CUPE's members, along with a host of other taxes, as you'll know.
When we discuss these issues, as we did in convention in Quebec City a couple of weeks ago, as opposed to tax cuts people speak about restoring social programs such as medicare, employment insurance, and public pensions. The average CUPE full-time members--that's about 75% of the membership--if they have full-time jobs, make $40,000 a year, a quarter of what members of Parliament make. Quality public services are critical to their standard of living, just as they are to the vast majority of Canadians. They want tax fairness, but they don't want tax cuts at the price of needed public services.
As is clear from our submission in August sent to you, we disagree with those who want to take the country backwards by abolishing the employment insurance system. Involuntary unemployment is not a choice, and a public insurance system to cover it should not be a choice either. Even if people did self-insure, it would take eight years of premiums at current levels to save up the money for an average period of unemployment. Instead of further cuts, the EI program needs to be restored so that vulnerable Canadians are protected. Successive cuts mean that fewer than 40% of the unemployed are eligible for benefits. Eligibility is even lower for women and the most vulnerable. You might pay heed to the message from the Atlantic Maritime premiers of all political stripes and their comments on EI.
The Canada Pension Plan also needs to be enhanced, in our view, as provincial premiers recently reiterated, along with provincial finance ministers. Mr. Flaherty met with our Canadian Labour Congress executive in 2010 and talked about the timing of an enhancement, not whether it should be or not. Interestingly, now government argues that it needs unanimity amongst provinces to improve the CPP, but not to make constitutional changes in relation to the Senate.
Fewer than 25% of Canadians contributed to RRSPs last year, and only 32% of the national workforce has a workplace pension plan. Canada has the highest private investment fees in the developed world, five times those of the CPP administrative costs. Canada's CPP system is well run, fully portable, fully paid for by employees and employers, and is funded sufficiently for the next 70 years, according to the federal actuary. We need to build on this success through an expansion of the CPP.
There are many areas where government could and should improve efficiency and reduce red tape. PPP Canada and the $1.25 billion P3 Canada Fund should be eliminated. Canada is the only OECD country with a fund like this to subsidize privatization of public services.
Bill C-377 is back in the House, if you want to speak about red tape for a moment. It should be rejected by parliamentarians. This is vindictive legislation. Senator Segal described it as immature, ill-conceived, and small-minded. It would force every single labour organization in Canada to submit 24 schedules detailing every aspect of their finances and political activities, or face penalties of $1,000 a day. It will cost the federal government, as well as labour organizations, millions of dollars to implement, including an expansion of CRA staff.
Bill C-377 is also, in my view, extraordinarily hypocritical, given that MPs fully paid by the public purse only publicly disclose one schedule with 14 lines of information, and the government amended a private member's bill recently requiring disclosure of public sector salaries; only those over $444,000, quadruple the amount of the forced disclosure in Bill C-377 for labour officials, because labour dues are tax deductible.
Witness the Parliamentary Budget Officer having to go to court to get basic information about departmental spending and operations. Government could become much more efficient and effective in representing the needs and interests of all Canadians, if it changed its approach and acted transparently, accountably, fairly, and in the best interests of all citizens.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.