Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to participate in the debate on Bill C-2, an act to establish the Canada pension plan investment board and to amend the Canada pension plan, the Old Age Security Act and other related acts.
I begin by commending the parliamentary secretary on his speech and the finance department on the enormous amount of background information it provided to members on this subject. It is a complex one and we appreciate the information.
I am also pleased to hear the parliamentary secretary attach great value to public consultations, certainly something that we on this side of the House value. To see a shift from pay as you go to a more fully funded plan is better late than never.
I heard the parliamentary secretary raise a number of straw men that he proceeded to knock down, which is not that difficult to do. He talked about people who wanted to gut the benefits to the plan. We heard no one advocate gutting the benefits of the Canada pension plan or other pillars of the Canadian pension system.
However I suggest this setting up of straw men is simply a way of disguising or trying to mask some of the more real defects of the bill. Those are the defects I would like to get into. Indeed it is the duty of the official opposition to point out these defects.
I want to point out a fundamental defect in the bill which characterizes most of the legislation brought by the government to the House, that is the absence of an appropriate preamble and a declaration of the intent of the bill.
The absence of a declaration of intent, precisely what is the intent of parliament in passing such a bill if it does so, concerns me for two reasons. The first is a legal reason. Every time parliament passes any statute which does not within itself make crystal clear the intent of parliament, we surrender power from the legislation arm to the judicial arm. This is something we ought not to do as a matter of principle.
The second reason for stating our intent is much more profound and down to earth. The bureaucrats who designed the bill, and perhaps the minister and parliamentary secretary themselves, will say that its principal intent is to establish and fund the Canada pension plan investment board. However that is only the narrow, technical, bureaucratic intent.
The real intent is or ought to be to care for Canadians in their retirement years, to provide adequate income for seniors as well as income for disabled persons. The ultimate intent of the bill therefore is not fiscal or technical. The ultimate intent is social and humane.
I remind other hon. members, as we get into the technical details of investment boards fiduciary responsibilities, rates of return, contribution rates and pensionable earnings, to keep upper most in their minds the people for whom CPP is intended. To help me do this I have written on my pad—and I urge other members to do it—a few names of people whose lives will be profoundly affected by how the pension system is organized and to keep them in front of us as we debate the bill.
I know of people, for example, among my own relatives and certainly in my own riding which has a higher percentage of seniors than any other riding in Calgary for whom CPP and the old age security is their principal source of income.
When I look at the bill I am reminded that we are dealing with the principal source of income of people who are no longer in a position to add to their income. All of us know of middle aged and elderly women who invested most of their lives in raising children in the home and who entered the so-called official workplace, as if the home were not a workplace, late in life or not at all and therefore qualify for little or no CPP benefits.
I know the government says it addresses their needs through the seniors benefit but we all know this is often too little too late. We should keep the needs of these women uppermost as we consider pension reform.
Most of us have young people in our family—I have five children—who are working if they are fortunate enough to find work. Often they are working as hard as they possibly can. We know the skepticism with which young people view the Canada pension plan. They do not believe the minister's assurance that the contribution rates will be kept below 10 percent. They do not believe there will be a meaningful government pension for them at the end of the day.
A recent book entitled Youthquake by an up and coming young Canadian, Ezra Levant, cites a survey that shows over 30 percent of Canadians under 39 years of age do not believe they will receive a Canada pension plan pension at all despite the assurances from the government and from politicians.
In addition these young people do not consider $8,800 a year a meaningful pension when investment of the same contributions in an RRSP over the same period of time would give them a pension of $24,000 a year. They fear that the reform of the CPP is just another huge intergenerational transfer of wealth.
I suggest we write down on our pads the names of some of those young people and keep their concerns in mind when we analyse and review this bill. Let each of us also write down the names of several disabled persons in our families and constituencies who are absolutely dependent in many cases on the disability income provisions of CPP. Let us keep those people in mind as we debate the bill.
I think I have made my point that the ultimate intent of the bill before us though regrettably not stated is to care for people and to provide income to allow people to care for themselves. The technical parts of the bill, essential as they are, are simply a means to that end.
Let me turn to another aspect of the bill, one of the most important ones and one of the ones completely neglected by the parliamentary secretary in his presentation. I am surprised that the finance department let the parliamentary secretary get away with this omission.
If this bill is adopted and if we accept even half of the minister's glowing predictions of its effects, there is no question it will distribute substantial benefits to Canadians. Those benefits and the impact of this bill upon them are listed in the CPP legislation briefing book issued on September 25, 1997 and I need not enumerate them here.
As the official opposition it is our duty to hold the government accountable for effects of its legislation which it may wish to ignore, or which it may wish the public to ignore because those effects are negative.
Frankly I find it astounding that a government which has said that its number one priority is jobs is putting forward a bill that affects the paycheques of most employees in this country and affects the payrolls of most employers in this country and has not offered a single substantive word on the real employment effects of the payroll tax hike required to fund the CPP investment board established by this bill.
We know the government's view on this subject has changed since it was in opposition. It has been repeated in the briefing book and was repeated by the parliamentary secretary this morning. I want to read it because it is amusing, that “CPP contributions are savings toward pensions. They are not a tax. They do not go into the government's revenues to be spent”. The official opposition and most important most Canadians reject this view on three principal grounds.
First it is completely inconsistent with the previously stated position of the Liberal Party itself. When the Tory government raised CPP premiums six times from 3.6 percent to 5 percent over the period 1987 to 1993, the Liberals then in opposition labelled these increases as tax hikes. It cannot be said that CPP premium increases are a tax increase when Tories do it but not when Liberals do it. This is politically motivated nonsense.
Second the government's position that CPP contributions are not payroll taxes is completely inconsistent with the views of the employers and employees who make the CPP contributions. Unions, business organizations like the CFIB, in their discussions and representations to governments, finance committees and to members of the House, routinely refer to CPP contributions as payroll taxes. If the people who are making these payments feel it is a tax, then it is a tax and should be regarded by this House as a tax, regardless of what government officials or its press officials now choose to call it.
Third the government's view that the 77 percent hike in CPP premiums proposed to fund the CPP investment fund is not a tax is flatly contradicted by previously published reports of the government itself, including the finance department and its advisers. Let me just read into the record some statements by government officials talking about what the CPP premium contributions are:
Joe Italiano of the economic analysis and forecasting division of the Department of Finance in a paper dated April 25, 1995: “Employer's contributions to CPP/QPP are part of compulsory payroll taxes. The share of all such taxes in voluntary labour income, a term which can be interpreted as an effective payroll tax rate” and he goes on and on.
In 1996 a study was done by Lin, Picot and Beach. Beach is a professor of economics at Queen's University; Picot and Lin are with the business and labour market analysis division of Statistics Canada. The study states: “Payroll taxes have four major components: UI premiums; workers compensation premiums; the provincial health and post-secondary education tax; and CPP/QPP premiums”. Statistics Canada provides all the background information.
Another study by Department of Finance officials Lori Marchildon, Tim Sargent and Joe Ruggeri in March 1996 classified CPP premiums as payroll taxes and found that employer payroll taxes invariably lead to a rise in the employer's labour costs in the short run and a reduction in employment.
There is an article by Jack Mintz, chairman of the government's own technical committee on business taxation, Clifford Clark, visiting economist at the Department of Finance, and Mr. Chen of the University of Toronto, another economist. They write that the federal unemployment insurance and Canada pension plan payroll taxes are applied on businesses and individuals.
Jonathan Kesselman, professor of Economics at the University of British Columbia, in the Canadian Tax Journal in 1996, a journal which is often quoted by the Minister of Finance in the House writes that “the distinguishing trait of all payroll taxes is that they apply to a base of labour earnings only”. Kesselman goes on to write that “Canada has perhaps the most diverse range of payroll taxes of any country. At the national level there are benefit linked contributions to social security in programs of unemployment insurance and the Canada pension plan”.
In other words, in the opinion of people who advise the Department of Finance, this is a tax hike.
The increase in CPP premiums from 5.6 percent in 1996 to 9.9 percent in the year 2003 is not only a tax hike, it is a tax hike of monumental proportions, the biggest single tax hike in Canada's history. The maximum employee contribution will rise from $893.20 in 1996 to $1,635 in the year 2003, an increase of $741.80 a year or 83 per cent. A person who started working and contributing to CPP in 1996 at age 20 and continues to work until age 65 earning the average industrial wage which we assume to grow at 2 percent per year before inflation, will pay out $119,193 in CPP premiums over their lifetime.
Moreover in its own documents the government admits that there can never be absolute guarantees that the 9.9 percent rate is the highest the rate will ever go. Members will recall back in the 1960s and 1970s when this plan was put together, Liberal politicians stood in front of public audiences and swore that the contribution rates would never go over 5 percent. Of what value were those commitments? They were not worth the powder to blow them up.
The CPP increase represents a tax hike, to put it in other terms, of $400 million in 1997, $900 million in 1998, $1.8 billion in 1999, $5 billion in 2001, and as much as $10 billion by the year 2005, all in constant 1997 dollars. The CPP premium increases are unquestionably a payroll tax hike.
That is not all the bad news. What is the principal negative effect of payroll tax increases? They kill jobs. This is not simply the view of the Reform Party. This is not simply the view of business people and workers, although that should be sufficient for the government to take heed. This is also the view of the Department of Finance and its advisers. Let me read into the record some of the evidence of that.
After discussing increases in CPP contribution rates, Joe Italiano whom I quoted a few moments ago wrote these words: “These increases have had and will continue to have a negative impact on the labour force. By 1993”—he was writing just before that period—“the rise in contributions by employers and employees had reduced employment and the participation rate in the economy by nearly 26,000 jobs and .12 percentage points respectively”.
The 1996 Department of Finance study by Marchildon, Sargent and Ruggeri classified CPP premiums as payroll taxes and found that “employer payroll taxes invariably lead to a rise in employer's labour costs in the short run and a reduction in employment”. The authors go on to state that employers will bear from 50 percent to as much as 100 percent of the tax, which implies a direct reduction in employment as a result of the payroll tax.
There is the Department of Finance paper entitled “Explaining the Jobless Recovery” by Cozier and Mang which was produced within the economic studies and policy analysis division. The authors found that the main cause of the jobless recovery has been excessively high wage growth. They continued by saying that large increases in payroll taxes, like UI premiums, CPP and QPP contributed to escalating labour costs over this period. Cozier and Mang wrote that payroll tax increases would therefore have lowered cumulative employment growth over the recovery by just under one percentage point. This represents just over 100,000 jobs that would have been created if payroll taxes had not been increased.
I do not want to bore the House but let me quote one more Department of Finance economist. F. Weldon from the economic studies and policy analysis division of the department wrote this in “The Rising Burden of Payroll Taxes in Canada” in 1993: “The long run effect of a one percentage point increase in the effective rate of payroll taxes is estimated to be a decline of nearly 1 percent in employment”. A 1 percent decline in employment represents 140,000 jobs. Weldon wrote “These payroll tax increases can have a sizeable and permanent negative impact on the level of employment in the Canadian economy”.
I do not know how much evidence the Department of Finance needs from its own officials to establish the connection that payroll taxes kill jobs and they kill them by the thousands. If this finance department official has found that a one percentage point increase in payroll taxes reduces employment by 1 percent which in current terms is about 140,000 jobs, how many jobs will be killed when total premiums are increased 4.1 percentage points?
The Department of Finance has access to econometric models of the Canadian economy that enable it to predict the employment effects of bills like this one and payroll tax increases. We insist that the finance department conduct those computer runs if it has not done so and that the minister table those results in the House so that members will know how many jobs are being killed by the payroll tax hike required to finance the provisions of this bill.
I turn to another fundamental question raised by the bill before us, one I do not believe the government has answered correctly. It has to do with the subject of ultimate accountability. I do not know where the parliamentary secretary gets the nerve to think he could get away with this. Perhaps he could get away with it in this House but certainly not in front of any financial audience or any audience of pensioners.
He lists off the things that are supposed to prove the accountability of the Canada pension plan investment board. What does he list? They are going to make regular reports. They are going to issue quarterly financial statements. They are going to issue annual statements.
These are simple things that are taken for granted by anyone who is part of a private pension plan. A pension plan cannot be operated without meeting these minimal requirements.
The parliamentary secretary is trying to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear if he thinks these things illustrate some profound level of accountability.
What does Bill C-2 do? It establishes a corporation to be known as the CPP investment board. The shares of the corporation are to be issued to the Minister of Finance, to be held on behalf of the crown by the Minister of Finance. The corporation is to be managed by a board of 12 directors to be appointed by the federal government on the recommendation of the Minister of Finance, who in turn is to be advised on these appointments by a committee of representatives to be designated by provincial finance ministers, whose primary interest in this whole scheme is not pensions but access to the capital to be managed by the board.
With respect to the characteristics and qualifications of these directors, the bill only specifies that they be representatives of various regions of Canada and have proven financial ability or experience.
We have a crown corporation, the shares of which are held by the government, run by directors appointed by the federal government and acceptable to provincial governments, which will be managing up to $130 billion of investment capital within 10 years.
The question which needs to be asked, which was not answered by the parliamentary secretary, is to whom does the money invested and managed by this corporation really belong. It does not belong to the governments, although in the past they acted like it did. The federal government was lending the funds in the CPP back to the provinces at less than market rates. That is one of the reasons the fund is in trouble.
The money to be managed by the corporation established by the bill belongs to the workers and future pensioners of Canada who are putting up the money. If it belongs to the working people of Canada, who will also be the recipients of the CPP when they retire, we want to know what provision the minister intends to make to ensure that employee interest, employer interest and seniors interest are adequately represented on the board. How is the corporation to be accountable? By what mechanisms? What criteria are taken into account in the appointment of its directors?
It is their money. The bill should make it clear, which it does not, that the funds to be received and managed by the corporation are to be held and managed in trust for the workers and pensioners of this country.
My last point concerns an alternative framework for pension reform. We have numerous points to make with respect to the defects of the bill. We also have a number of proposals to make for improving the retirement income prospects of Canadians beyond reliance on the CPP. These proposals also come from extensive consultation, long before the government even recognized that this was an issue. We trust that the government will be open to these ideas, as it says it is open to ideas, particularly if they bear the stamp of extensive public consultation.
Many of these points will be made by my colleagues, in particular the hon. member for Calgary—Nose Hill. However, allow me to conclude by providing a framework for pension reform which is broader, deeper and more future oriented than what we find in this bill.
The government refers in its briefing notes, as did the parliamentary secretary this morning, to the three pillar retirement income system which it seeks to preserve and enhance. The three pillars which the government sees are the Canada pension plan, the old age security and guaranteed income supplement, which will be replaced by the seniors benefit, and the registered retirement savings plan provision for tax assisted private savings. The government claims to be strengthening these three pillars by this and upcoming legislation.
What many Canadians see is the following. First, they see an erosion, not a strengthening, of the OAS/GIS senior benefit system by government tax policies that claw back an increasing proportion of seniors income.
To illustrate, the seniors benefit will go into effect on January 1, 2001. Current pensioners could have $2,000 per year less in after tax income due to the elimination of the age and retirement income credits. Pension experts at William Mercer Ltd. estimate that the seniors benefit will raise the average tax bill of a retiree by $3,000 to $7,000 a year and increase their tax rates.
What the government proposes with respect to the seniors benefit is not a strengthening of that pillar. It is a chipping away at the bottom by tax increases.
Second, the public sees an erosion of the RRSP system by recent changes in government tax policy that restrict rather than expand the RRSP system. In the 1995 budget it reduced the RRSP limits. It reduced the RRSP over contribution allowances. It phased out retirement allowance rollovers and, incidentally, collected about $160 million from seniors.
In the 1996 budget it froze the RRSP contribution levels. It eliminated the seven year limit on carrying forward unused RRSP room. It reduced the age limit for maturing RPPs, RRSPs and BPSPs. It eliminated the deductions of RRSP and RRIF admidistration fees.
This is not strengthening the RRSP pillar of retirement income. This is chipping away at the bottom, again by the insatiable appetite for tax revenue.
Last, the public sees the government attempting to shore up the Canada pension plan, not by pension reform that better distributes the burden of retirement income across these three pillars but by the simple expedient of a massive increase in CPP premiums.
What Reform would like to propose to the House is the following. I submit this is a better, broader and a more far sighted framework for pension reform than anything we heard this morning. What we propose, first of all, is to add a fourth pillar to the retirement income system and a better distribution of the burden of retirement income across those four pillars. The fourth pillar we propose is broad based tax relief such as proposed in our 1997 federal election fresh start platform.
Through a combination of personal income tax relief measures, increases in personal and spousal exemptions, changes to the child care tax benefits, reductions in EI premiums, surtaxes and capital gains taxes, we can take about 1.3 million Canadians off the federal tax rolls altogether, including 300,000 seniors.
It is a very simple idea that we can help people's retirement income by simply leaving more money in their pockets when they retire. We propose tax relief, in particular tax relief for low income seniors, as the fourth pillar of retirement income.
We further propose the achievement of a better balance for the provision of retirement income between the Canada pension plan, RRSPs and the seniors benefit by means of the following pension and tax reforms. There are five of them.
First, a fairer targeting of the proposed seniors benefit to those most in need, with more generous RRSP provisions for middle and higher income pensioners.
Second, a guarantee to existing seniors with respect to CPP that every Canadian currently age 60 or above receives all the benefits to which he or she is entitled under the Canada pension plan. Surely the government cannot disagree with that, as it is moving in the same direction as what it proposed today.
Third, an improved survivor benefit. Currently the CPP provides only a small pension for surviving spouses of CPP contributors. The maximum pension entitlement of a surviving spouse is 60 percent of the pension entitlement of the deceased spouse. The maximum monthly payment in 1996 was $436.25. To lessen poverty among surviving spouses, particularly elderly widows, 100 percent of the funds in the deceased individual's RRSP should be transferable to a surviving spouse tax free.
Fourth, the government claims to be looking at international experience with respect to moving toward more funded pension plans. Let it look at some of the more far reaching international experience and start looking at super RRSPs.
Reform proposes shifting younger and middle aged workers on to an expanded RRSP program with compulsory contributions like CPP which will provide higher benefits at lower cost than the Canada pension plan while maintaining intergenerational fairness. These super RRSPs would be mandatory. Individual RRSPs would be funded by means of employee and employer payroll deductions. Super RRSPs would supplement rather than replace the existing system of optional RRSPs. The savings in each Canadian super RRSP would be individually invested, managed by government approved financial institutions and would be the property of that Canadian.
This is an idea that is being explored elsewhere. Why the government is blind to it we cannot understand.
Fifth, transition mechanisms are required to ensure that working age Canadians receive pension benefits at par with those promised by the CPP. This can be done by a combination of existing CPP entitlements and new super RRSP benefits, the exact mechanisms to be determined by actuarial professionals and consultations with stakeholders.
If members opposite and the Department of Finance misses everything we have said today, get this one point. It is our intention that the combination of these four pillars, a reformed Canada pension plan, a targeted seniors benefit, an expanded RRSP system and tax relief, will deliver more retirement income for Canadians per dollar invested than the three pillar system proposed by the government, of which this bill is a part.
If our real concern is to care for Canadians in their retirement, or more correctly to provide the income to permit more Canadians to care for themselves in their retirement, I urge hon. members to consider these alternatives to the government's approach.
In particular, I urge non. members to support the following reasoned amendment: I move:
That all the words after the word “that” be deleted and the following substituted therefor:
this House declines to give second reading to Bill C-2, an act to establish the Canada pension plan investment board and to amend the Canada pension plan and the Old Age Security Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts since the principle of the bill, while attempting to address the failures of the Canada pension plan, is particularly unfair to young Canadians and fails to recognize the employment impacts of the CPP premium increases.