That this House condemn the government for requiring Canadians to pay over 70 per cent more in CPP premiums, thus increasing payroll taxes that are a cancer on job creation, while refusing to eliminate the huge subsidy that those same Canadians must pay to maintain the gold-plated MP pension plan.
Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak on this motion which pertains to the government's 70 per cent hike in CPP premiums. I will begin with a brief review of the Liberal-Tory record on the Canada pension plan.
The plan was established in 1966 under the Liberal government of Lester B. Pearson. The plan was originally established as a pay as you go plan. It has been described critically by Bill Robson of the C.D. Howe Institute as a pyramid type scheme in which income for early investors is provided not from investment in real assets but from the capital of later investors.
During its 31 years of existence the CPP has never been administered by anyone other than Liberal and Tory administrations. Over the years various observers have pointed out that the CPP was headed for trouble and that it would require a significant increase in contributions to deliver the benefits promised, particularly to the aging baby boom generation.
Successive governments ignored this problem and the situation was allowed to deteriorate to the point where drastic action was required. On February 14, four days before the federal budget was brought down, the finance minister therefore announced that Canada pension plan premiums would be increased from 5.8 per cent of earnings to 9.9 per cent of earnings over six years, a whopping 73 per cent increase in payroll taxes, the greatest single increase in payroll taxes in the history of the country.
He also announced that despite the increase in premiums there would be no increase in benefits. Thus the average worker will end up paying a total of $1,635 per year matched by another $1,635 from the employer. Self-employed people will pay both shares just to receive a pension of less than $9,000 per year, in 1997 dollars.
What was most conspicuous about the government's announcement was what it did not contain. First, there was no acknowledgement of the mismanagement by both Liberal and Tory administrations which allowed the CPP to get into this situation in the first place. As has been pointed out, if the CPP had been a private plan and had been mismanaged in this way, its managers would now be making licence plates in some penitentiary.
Second, there is no honest assessment of the negative impacts of the 70 per cent hike in payroll taxes, in particular the negative impacts on jobs, even though the finance minister on previous occasions has acknowledged that payroll taxes are a cancer on jobs.
Third, there is no serious assessment of alternative approaches to securing retirement income for Canadians at a lower cost such as those proposed by the Reform Party of Canada. What the government has neglected to do, my colleagues and I now propose to do in this debate, starting with an assessment of the negative job impact of a 70 per cent increase in CPP premiums. We want the finance minister to frankly admit, first of all, that the 70 per cent hike in CPP premiums is a payroll tax hike and to table in the House his department's assessment of how many jobs this payroll tax hike will kill so that we can propose counter measures.
In his presentation to the finance committee on October 17, 1994, the finance minister clearly referred to CPP and QPP contributions as payroll taxes and acknowledged their negative impact on jobs. But now that he has had to increase them, the finance minister is living in denial and says exactly the opposite. He now says that CPP premiums are not a payroll tax.
The finance minister refuses to acknowledge, for example, the position of the Minister of Industry, who ought to know about such things, and who said in the House as far back as 1991: "When you look at the burden of payroll taxes on small firms you have to include, of course, the Canada pension plan employer contributions. The combination of all these payroll taxes imposes an onerous burden, especially on small and medium sized businesses".
Perhaps most importantly, the finance minister is flatly contradicting the published views of the forecasting division of his department. I refer to a paper by Mr. Joe Italiano of that division published on April 25, 1995, entitled "Growth in CPP and QPP
contributions: Implications for employment and participation". In that paper Mr. Italiano clearly defines compulsory CPP and QPP contributions as payroll taxes. He also studied the employment impact of the Tory increases in these payroll taxes from 1986 to 1993 and showed how they had killed 26,000 jobs.
We therefore call on the finance minister to frankly and honestly admit that the 70 per cent hike in CPP premiums is a payroll tax hike of unprecedented proportions and to table in the House his department's assessments, and we know that they run these assessments, of how many jobs this payroll tax hike will kill so that we can propose counter measures.
In criticizing the government's ill-conceived approach to rescuing CPP, Reformers are not saying that nothing should be done, far from it. But what we propose in our fresh start platform is a more comprehensive reform than what the government proposes.
Our fresh start proposals to secure retirement income for Canadians are a combination of Canada pension plan reform, of expanding the RRSP system and of providing tax relief for lower and middle income seniors. Our proposals-we will argue this during the election campaign-deliver more retirement income per dollar invested than anything that the government has proposed to date.
I hope that MPs will ask me about this superior alternative in our question and answer time because it is worth the House considering.
Finally, I want to conclude with some observations on the government's moral authority to lead pension reform. To gain the trust of Canadian seniors, Canadian youth and the aging baby boomers, the government must be seen to be acting fairly and ethically on the issue of pension reform.
The Liberal government abandoned its responsibility to act fairly and ethically on this issue when it adopted, as its first pension reform priority, not the improvement of CPP, not the improvement of pensions for the Canadian people, but when it adopted as its first and highest pension priority the provision of the gold plated pensions for its own MPs and other MPs willing to receive them.
What does the average Canadian worker get at age 65 after contributing to CPP at 9.9 per cent of earnings? A lousy $9,000 a year. But what do Liberal, Tory, NDP and Bloc MPs get who accepted the gold plated MP pension plan at age 55? If they live to age 75, pension benefits amounting to: for the Conservative member for Sherbrooke, $4.3 million; for the Liberal member for Cape Breton-East Richmond, $3.9 million; and the NDP member for Winnipeg Transcona, $2.7 million. And the list goes on and on.
When it comes to issues of integrity, a moral authority to lead, we have observed that the government has a blind spot and perhaps a fatal blind spot.
On February 5 I asked both the Prime Minister in the House and later in the day his ethics counsellor in committee whether they did not see an ethical dimension, an integrity dimension, issues of right and wrong with respect to the political interference with the Somalia inquiry, the stonewalling of the Krever inquiry, the use of the justice department to go on a political witch hunt and the Prime Minister's broken GST promise.
The Prime Minister professed not to understand what I was talking about but the answer of his ethics counsellor was more revealing. I was asking about ethical matters, matters of public trust and integrity and right and wrong. On February 5, 1997 at the Special Joint Committee on A Code of Conduct he said: "I think you are speaking about policy questions, questions in which there is a difference between opposition parties and that of the government. It is the essence of our democratic system. I do not believe I can go and take your question"-questions about the ethics of those situations-"any further than that".
In other words, political interference and cover-up in the investigation of a murder, stonewalling an inquiry into tainted blood from which Canadians died, misuse of the powers of the justice department, breaking a key campaign promise and denying you broke it-I would add to that list giving yourself a gold plated pension while giving Canadians tin plated pensions-by the ethics of the Prime Minister and his ethics counsellor are simply differences of opinion on policy matters, not matters of trust or integrity or right and wrong.
If these are the ethical standards of the government, I believe it will never be trusted by Canadians to bring fairness and integrity to the pension issue. By its own actions and blindness it has forfeited that right to others.
To conclude, I am reminded of a study on integrity and 19th century British politics by the historian D.C. Somervell. He focused his study on two British statesmen, William Gladstone, the moralist who if he did not see right and wrong in an issue was uninterested in it, and Benjamin Disraeli, the pragmatist at the other end of the scale who never saw right or wrong in any issue, only differences of opinion.
What was Somervell's conclusion? He concluded that while it is an error to discover moral issues where none are in fact at stake, it is a greater error to be blind to them when moral issues really arise.
When the government put the old age security of MPs ahead of the old age security of Canadians, it committed that greater error, which is why I urge hon. members to support the motion before the House.