Mr. Speaker, the pension plan was introduced in 1952 by an act called the Members of Parliament Retiring Allowances Act. It was amended in 1992 to coincide with the Income Tax Act.
During the course of this debate the conditions of the pension have been illustrated several times, so I do not wish to go into that, other than to look back to pre-election 1993 when there was considerable concern among Canadians as to how the pension plan had developed since 1952. There was enough concern, obviously, that in 1991 an amendment was passed to bring it in line with the Income Tax Act. Here we are in 1995 again looking at a possible adjustment to the pension plan.
Some of the things which were of great concern to the Reform Party prior to the election were members of Parliament having to serve only six years to be eligible to draw the pension, regardless of their age. Another condition which was of great concern to us was the indexing. I think at age 60 it was indexed according to the cost of living. A third concern was the fact that the pension was based on the best six years of salary. It did not say whether they were consecutive years to my knowledge.
The people of Canada had concerns about the provisions in the plan. They were not happy with it because it did not coincide with the private sector. It tended to suggest very strongly that there was a two tier system for pensions in the country, one for MPs and one for everyone else.
I assume some pressure was brought to bear through 1992 and some adjustments were made, such as passing the amendment which would put the plan in line with the Income Tax Act.
Now we are considering Bill C-85. I actually do not understand what the bill will do to address the general concerns which were expressed about the pension plan prior to the 1993 election.
When I read through it I notice that the eligibility age has been increased to 55. That rules out the concern of getting a pension after six years of service. The person would still have to wait until they were 55 years old.
The plan was brought in originally in 1952. In those years I can remember that my parents, for example, were looking toward their retirement. The eligibility age was 65. The trend at that time from a health and a technological point of view was that men, because they formed the major part of the workforce in those days, would retire at 65 and be dead of a heart attack or some such thing before they reached 65 and a half.
I suggest strongly that over the years we have made advances in health, not only in the curing of various conditions but also in prevention. We lead a much more healthy lifestyle, so 55 is not really rational for 1993. If we were debating this in 1952 when the plan was originally implemented it might have some validity.
That is one thing which Bill C-85 does in addressing the inequities of the existing plan. As far as I can see it really does not do much of anything else. It talks about opting out or opting in, however the phrase is worded. That is a one-shot deal. It applies to members of Parliament now. It includes those who have six years' service. Once that happens every MP who comes along after this will have to participate in the plan. The amendment does not really address much other than an increase on when one can draw the pension. To my mind that is not enough.
The whole pension issue and this bill, when one looks at it in its entirety, is an excellent illustration at how out of touch government politicians are with the Canadian public. There was a hue and cry about pensions prior to the election. The majority of Canadians realize that even with these changes in the pension plan, it will far exceed those available anywhere else in Canada.
The other component in this plan that has to be looked at very seriously is the retirement compensation account and the mechanisms used in paying out the benefits.
Regarding the opting out situation, there will be no choice. It is a one-shot deal. It is going to put a number of Reformers, who will come into this Parliament in the next election in great numbers, in the position of having to participate in the plan. It will be against their principles.
One of the things that illustrates the point I am talking about now is an article that was in the Vancouver Sun on February 9, 1995 by Barbara Yaffe. That article was entitled ``Pension tiff is a measure of MP-voter rift''.
In her article she pointed out that one of the problems with the pension issue is that MPs are the ones that determine the
pensions. Many of my colleagues have made reference to the same point. One wonders how many other jobs there are where people can determine their own pension benefits.
We have two options basically. We either have a pension plan or we do not. If we choose to have a pension plan, the Reform position is to bring it in line with that of the private sector, including such things as retirement age, indexing, et cetera. It should allow MPs the choice of whether or not to participate and seriously consider the benefits of allowing for some independent body of Canadian taxpayers to decide on the plan's perks, mechanisms, et cetera.
The pension plan as it stands is not acceptable to the majority of Canadians. The changes proposed by Bill C-85 are tokenism or lip service. I am quite confident that the Canadian public will come to this conclusion as well.
All of us must constantly keep in mind that the Canadian people are the ones who pay the bills. We work for them. It is probably why we are called public servants. That seems to be something that some of us tend to forget quite easily once we come to Ottawa.
Once again I refer to the article by Barbara Yaffe. She writes that this unsavoury struggle over politician pensions has revealed one thing quite clearly. "How utterly out of touch some MPs are with the real people in their ridings".
One must wonder why only Reformers seem to be speaking on this bill. Does this issue not concern the constituents of any other members of the government?
The people of North Surrey have been very clear on this issue. I cannot accept this pension plan as it presently stands, nor can I accept the proposed changes in the bill. My constituents have also said to me very strongly that we must get these opinions out here on the floor of the House because the government is not listening to them.
Therefore I want to tell all members of the House and my constituents in Surrey North that I will not be participating in the pension plan. I am joining my colleagues in opting out until something comes along that is much more equitable with the rest of the country and my fellow Canadians.