Mr. Speaker, we have before us Bill C-78, an act to amend the Public Service Superannuation Act, the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act.
The proposed amendments touch the full range of pension operations: benefits, contributions and plan administration. The underlying thrust of all of these proposed amendments is to ensure the long term sustainability of the Canadian public service pension plans.
I propose to direct my remarks today to one particular aspect of these amendments, the proposed changes to employee contribution rates. Before I discuss the proposed changes, I think it is important that I give a brief overview of the existing contribution rate provisions.
A review of the existing legislative provisions will provide a rationale and context for the proposed amendments. Under the existing legislative provisions, employee contributions to the Canada pension plan, CPP, and the public service pension plans are integrated. But what does integrated mean?
The existing integration feature is such that the total contribution rate for an employee is 7.5% of pay composed of both the contributions to the CPP and the public service pension plans. For an employee earning the average wage, the contribution to the public service pension plans would be 7.5% minus the CPP contribution rate, currently at 3.5% of pay, which equals 4% of pay. To the extent that the CPP contribution rates increase, there is an equivalent decline in the public service pension plan contribution rate to preserve the constraint that the maximum pension contribution equals 7.5% of pay.
In the past, with periods of relative stability in contribution rates, this integrated approach has served the public service pension plans well. However, under the integrated contribution rate structure, the increase in CPP contribution rates beginning in 1987 has distorted the distribution of employee contributions going to the CPP and the public service pension plans.
Under the integrated structure, the impact of the increases in CPP rates has been such that for employees earning the average wage, contributions to the public service pension plans have declined from 5.7% of pay in 1986 to 4% of pay in 1999. To reiterate, over the past decade, individual employee contribution rates for the CPP have gone up, while those for the public service pension plans have declined. What are the implications of this shift in the distribution of employee contributions between the CPP and the public service pension plans?
To this point I have discussed only employee contribution rates. The other side of the coin of course is the employer contributions, that is the contribution of the federal government in its role as employer.
Existing legislation for the public service pension plans is such that the employer must ensure that the various accounts for the public service pension plans are credited with an amount equal to the total cost of entitlements accrued by employees in that year.
In other words, the federal government is responsible for the total costs of the plan in a given year, less the employee contributions. As a consequence of the declining employee contribution rates, the federal government, and by extension taxpayers, has had to shoulder an ever increasing share of the cost of employee pension plans.
Let me use the pension plan under the Public Service Superannuation Act as an example. Over the last three decades the financing of that plan has averaged approximately 60% employer funding and 40% employee funding. More recently that distribution has shifted rather dramatically. For 1999 the distribution is approximately 70% employer and 30% employee. Next year in the absence of any changes to the legislation it is projected that the distribution of the financing of the PSSA plan will shift to approximately 75%-25% and by 2003 it will be 80%-20% in favour of the employee.
This ongoing shift in the cost of the pension plan to the employer is not sustainable. It clearly puts the viability of the existing plan at risk unless changes are made. It is our intention to introduce the necessary changes to the contribution rate structure in order to preserve the long term sustainability of the public service pension plans.
With the amendments proposed in Bill C-78, contribution rates for the public service plans and the Canada pension plan will no longer be integrated. In other words, the public service contribution rates will henceforth be set independently and there will be no overall maximum contribution rate. In addition, there will be a two tier contribution rate structure to more directly match contribution rates with the different benefit accruals below and above the average wage as defined by the CPP.
This government recognizes that there will be a financial impact on employees as a result of these changes. In order to facilitate the movement to a long term sustainable pension plan environment, the government is proposing to freeze employee contribution rates to public service pension plans over the period 2000 to 2003 inclusive. Over this period, employee contributions on earnings below the average wage as defined by the CPP will continue at the present 1999 rate of 4%. Contributions on earnings above that average will continue at the present rate of 7.5%.
It must be understood however, that even though federal employees will thus be spared any increases in contribution rates for their public service pensions from 2000 through to 2003, they will nevertheless be subject to Canada pension plan rate increases scheduled for that period, the same CPP rate increases to which all working Canadians alike will be subject. Through integration of contributions, federal employees in effect have been sheltered from such increases in the past. Now they will have to pay for them like the rest of us.
Fortunately the CPP rate is scheduled to stabilize in the year 2004. What of the public service rates then? Will they rise in 2004 after being frozen for four years? Possibly, but not necessarily.
For the year 2004 and beyond, Treasury Board will set the contribution rate structure with the ability to return the cost sharing ratio gradually to the historical average of approximately 60%-40% between the employer and employees. The employer would continue to assume the larger share.
Employee contribution rate increases may or may not be necessary from 2004 on, depending on a number of variables. However, any necessary increases would be gradual. For example, the members of the pension plan under the Public Service Superannuation Act can rest assured that no increase in their public service pension contribution rate will be greater than an additional .4%, not 4%, but .4% in any single year after 2003.
If an increase proves necessary in 2004, the contribution rate will still not be more than 4.4% of salary up to the average wage and 7.9% of the employee's salary over that average, that is, the previous rate of 7.5% plus the maximum possible increase of .4%.
PSSA plan members can also rest assured under the amended legislation that their employee share of current service cost for their pension plan will never exceed 40%. In other words, their contribution rates will not be increased beyond the point where they are paying their historical average cost of 40%. The historical average therefore will also be a limit under the amended legislation.
As for members of the other two public service plans, that is those under the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act, the legislation will provide that their contribution rates will not exceed those of PSSA members.
Amendments to the contribution rate structure are one component of the package of changes required to ensure the long term sustainability of public service pension plans. This bill provides as part of a comprehensive package of amendments the required changes in the contribution rate structure to ensure that the public service pension plans will be sustainable over the longer term.