Mr. Speaker, I rise to follow up on a question that I asked in this House in late September prior to a meeting of federal and provincial finance ministers on the Canada pension plan.
I urged the government at that time not to rush into changes to the Canada pension plan but rather to take the time to consult seriously and study more carefully the impact of its regressive proposals and look at progressive changes to the CPP instead of hitting the most vulnerable beneficiaries of the system.
Many Canadians believe that the CPP is in a state of crisis, that it will soon be bankrupt. Nothing could be further from the truth. The CPP was established in 1966 as a publicly administered socially insurance program. It is funded entirely by contributions from employers and employees. There is no government funding. It has had a significant impact on reducing poverty among the elderly. It is a pay as you go plan which has been strongly endorsed by the chief actuary of Canada who says: "It provides all the flexibility needed to avoid bankruptcy".
Because of the weak economy and the high levels of unemployment and bankruptcy the level of contributions has been lower than anticipated and disability claims up to 1994 were higher, although since then they have dropped dramatically. Thus there is certainly a need to readjust the level of contributions from both employers and employees to ensure future viability. This review process is built already into the CPP.
Instead of looking at how we can strengthen and improve the CPP, in particular to enhance the level of benefits of the lowest income seniors, the Liberal government aided and abetted by the Reform Party and its right wing allies in the Fraser Institute and the Globe and Mail is laying the groundwork to attack the fundamental principles of the CPP.
In February, the Liberals issued a so-called information paper. It was full of distortion and inaccuracies. It ignored some proposals for improving the CPP and took as a given that benefits must be cut. Indeed, the Liberal MP for Winnipeg North Centre, who chaired the rushed consultations, suggested that current benefits be cut for CPP beneficiaries. There was absolutely no analysis of the disproportionate impact of the proposed cuts on women despite evidence that it would be women who would be most hurt.
The Reform Party has suggested that we abolish the CPP and instead adopt the model proposed by Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet: individual private RRSPs for everyone. This would destroy income security for millions of elderly Canadians and eliminate the many advantages of the CPP.
I urge the government to stop this rush to weaken the CPP and instead examine ways that public pensions can be strengthened. This is all the more important when an increasing number of Canadians are working at part time, temporary and contractual labour with no workplace pensions. Certainly RRSPs are not the answer. Too many Canadians simply cannot afford to save and more and more are cashing them in.
The New Democrat governments of B.C. and Saskatchewan have opposed cuts in benefits and have suggested that along with a modest increase in contributions, the federal and provincial gov-
ernments consider increasing the maximum level of earnings subject to contributions. This has also been proposed by the National Council on Welfare.
Finally, I want to urge the government to listen with care to people with disabilities and their spokespeople. They are deeply concerned about the impact of cuts in federal transfer payments, the elimination of the Canada assistance plan and the impact that has on disability programs. There are already totally unacceptable lengthy delays in adjudication of Canada pension plan disability claims. We understand that there may be even more cuts in the number of officers working in this area. Some individuals, including those with fibromyalgia, complain of serious problems in the present process.
Therefore, let no one suggest that disability programs under the CPP be weakened or cut. People with disabilities are too often already living below the poverty line.
In conclusion, I urge the Liberal government to strengthen the Canada pension plan and reinforce its basic principles instead of heeding the right wing voices that would destroy it. As well, the government should help to educate Canadians about the strengths of the CPP and help to rebut the distortions and myths that have given rise to a lack of confidence in the future viability of the plan.
Canadian seniors have sacrificed much for my generation through the depression and two world wars. They deserve dignity in retirement. They deserve economic security. I trust that will be the objective of the review of the Canada pension plan.