Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to make a few remarks on this bill, 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.
Bill C-2, which the finance minister introduced on September 25, is a reform of the Canada pension plan, among other things. This reform has three main components. The first one deals with the level of capitalization of the plan which will increase from two to five years of benefits, as suggested by the minister. The second one provides for the optimization of the plan's performance through the establishment of an investment board. And the third one is a series of changes to certain benefits, such as the disability benefits.
Implementation of these measures depends on Bill C-2 going through the parliamentary process. In order to assess this reform, I would like to give the House if I may a brief background of the CPP. The plan goes back to 1966, when nine provinces opted in, while Quebec created its own plan, the Quebec pension plan, which is also being revised.
The Canada pension plan pays benefits totalling about $17 billion a year. This includes survivor and disability benefits. Right now, the plan has enough money in reserve to pay two years worth of benefits, which amounts to some $39 billion. Of course, this reform will have a significant impact on Canada pension plan premiums.
I will now talk about the various amendments, starting with Motion No. 12 put forward by the Conservatives, which says that, for the years 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2000, any increases in the contribution rate provided for in the bill shall not come into effect unless they are offset by an equivalent decrease in employment insurance contributions.
The motion also says that the contribution rate for self-employed persons shall not exceed 10.25% except if the chief actuary is of the opinion that a higher contribution rate is warranted.
We support the idea of a decrease in employment insurance contributions to offset the increase in CPP premiums. However, the cumulative decrease proposed by the Conservatives is equivalent to a 80 cent decrease in the EI contribution rate. Such a decrease is not compatible with the Bloc's position, which calls for an enhancement of the program in addition to a significant decrease in the contribution rate, because we think that the reform went to far.
Now my mouth is watering in anticipation of what I am about to say on the other amendment, this one being proposed by the Reform Party. We thought we had seen everything, but this tops it all.
The amendment proposed by the Reform Party calls for repeal of the section of the legislation allowing retroactivity of the increase in contributions for 1997. At this time, the agreed CPP contribution level is 5.85% and the act will allow this to be retroactively raised to 6% for 1997. The Reform Party members are against this retroactivity.
I feel that, in politics, at some point one has to see beyond the end of one's nose. I was pleased to be able to speak at the first reading of this bill. Opposition parties are always described as being there to get in the face of the government. I do not believe this is the case. The Bloc Quebecois is in favour of such a bill, except that I note that its vision is rather a long term one. If I want to receive benefits some day, at some point, we have to start realizing that there must be more money in the fund.
Yes, I am in agreement with this reform. It imposes a surcharge on taxpayers, in that people will have to contribute more. It is like another tax. I know that the people will not be delighted at that, but we have to look several years down the road. We have to be able to look at our children and tell ourselves that it would be worthwhile for them to have the same advantages we have had all our lives.
What Reform is telling us is that this is a tax increase. This makes no sense; they are playing politics with blinders on. I find this very frustrating. We in this House see our share of short-sighted policies. I need only think of the position taken by the Minister of the Environment, who, very quietly, will take a position much like that of the United States. It is true they say greenhouse gases are serious business, but what about future generations? I am not just thinking about myself. Policies being formulated now will have an effect in 20 or 30 years when I will be 40 or 50. I think they should give thought to future generations when they establish policies. Policies on sustainable development as they are called.
If I were the son of a Reformer or rather a Reform member, I would be wondering how I could look my children in the eye and say “Sorry, my education did not cost me a lot. When I finished university, I got a job and it did not take long. When I retired, I had a pension plan and one heck of a retirement. Unfortunately, you my son, will have to pay for your university education”. What is more, this morning in committee, a Reform member said he was opposed to loans and bursaries. I am not going to get into this, but as I said, the Reform approach is sort of “You are going to pay dearly for your university education. When you get out, you will not have a job, and that is no problem. When you retire there will be no pension, because the coffers will be empty”.
I do not understand. I am not into partisan politics. I do not want to divide the Bloc Quebecois, the Reform Party and the Liberal Party. I am talking much more of a generational thing. I feel sorry for the poor people my age who vote for the Reform Party in Alberta and British Columbia. Perhaps it is time they looked at their policies.
Finally, this shift to the right is of great concern to me because such policies widen the gap between rich and poor. It is like saying to young people: “Our generation was rich, but we don't care if you have to live on a shoestring”. This makes me very uncomfortable. When I talk about the gap between rich and poor, I am talking not only about long term policies, but also about things that are happening right now. My colleague from the NDP mentioned the banks. One of my Bloc colleagues will soon propose a reform package to encourage banks to become more socially involved in our communities.
I believe it is time for policies that are more concerned with social issues. This shift to the right will lead us nowhere. It only redistributes the money so the rich get richer while the poor get poorer. The poor must resort to violence to be heard, leading to total anarchy. I do not want that kind of society. I want a fair system.
Your generation enjoyed a rather fair and equitable system. My generation and that of my children deserve a system that is just as fair.
I intend to keep Reform members on their toes. As long as they keep moving such phoney amendments—I have no qualms about calling them phoney—I will rise in this House to take them to task.