Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present Bill C-3 for second reading in the House today.
Bill C-3 would amend the Canada pension plan, CPP, and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, CPPIB, Act in order to accomplish a prudent and accelerated transfer of CPP assets to the CPPIB. This transfer would represent the final step in the process of transferring CPP assets not required to pay current pensions and benefits to a market based independent investment organization. Before discussing the bill, I would like to take a few minutes to provide some background that will help to put these measures in context.
As hon. members know, the federal government is fully committed to making Canada's retirement income system secure to all Canadians. Today Canadians from all walks of life take this system for granted without realizing that it did not always exist. Years ago caring for older citizens and those with disabilities was solely the responsibility of individual families. With the introduction of the Income Tax Act in 1917, the federal government was able to adopt national social programs such as Canada's first old age pension in 1927, which at that time included a means test.
Following the second world war other programs such as employment insurance, family allowance and a universal old age security program were introduced. There was also a need for a public pension plan, a portable national pension, that could be carried from job to job and from province to province. This need was met in 1966 with the introduction of the Canada pension plan, a compulsory earnings based national plan to which all working Canadians could contribute.
The CPP provides wage earners with retirement income and financial assistance to their families in the event of death or disability. Set up jointly by the federal and provincial governments, the CPP was designed to complement, not replace, personal savings and private employment pension plans. It should be noted that Quebec administers its own complementary plan, the Quebec pension plan.
As hon. members know, the Canada pension plan is one of three supporting pillars of Canada's retirement income system. This system is a blend of public and private pension provisions and is considered internationally as one of the most effective ways to provide for retirement income needs.
The first pillar is our old age security program provides public pensions for senior citizens and ensures all Canadians a basic income in retirement.
The second pillar is the Canada pension plan, the focus of today's debate.
The third pillar, the private component of the system, includes tax assisted fully funded employer sponsored pension plans, registered retirement savings plans and other private savings.
Some 30 years after the Canada pension plan was launched concerns were raised about its sustainability. In the early 1990s the Chief Actuary of Canada warned that CPP assets, the equivalent of two years of benefits, would be depleted by 2015 and that contribution rates would have to increase to more than 14% by 2030 if the plan remained exactly as it was. These concerns needed to be addressed. After all, future generations of Canadians, including our children and grandchildren, needed assurance that the plan would be there for them at a reasonable cost.
As the plan's joint stewards the federal and provincial governments subsequently released a document entitled “An Information Paper for Consultations on the Canada Pension Plan” which outlined the challenges facing CPP in the coming years and options for reform.
In February 1996 the federal and provincial governments announced that joint cross country public consultations with Canadians would be held on the Canada pension plan to find out what ordinary citizens wanted to see done. Guided by panels of federal, provincial and territorial elected representatives, extensive consultations were held in every province and territory. Governments heard from actuaries, pension experts, social planning groups, chambers of commerce, seniors groups, youth organizations and many concerned individuals.
A common theme emerged during the consultations. It became clear that Canadians wanted the government to preserve the Canada pension plan by strengthening its financing, improving its investment practices and moderating the growth costs of benefits.
In 1997 the federal and provincial governments adopted a balanced approach to CPP reform so that the plan could meet the demand of the coming years when the baby boomers would be retiring.
Changes to the plan included limited changes to benefits and their administration, a moderate increase in CPP contribution rates and the building up of a larger asset pool while baby boomers were still in the workforce. The asset pool would be invested in the markets and managed at arm's length from government for the best possible rates of return. All together these measures ensured that a contribution rate of 9.9% would be sufficient to maintain sustainability of the plan indefinitely.
These reforms, which were endorsed by the provincial and federal finance ministers five years ago, will help ensure that Canadians have a pension plan on which they can always depend.
In the three actuarial reports since the reforms, the chief actuary has confirmed the long term viability and financial sustainability of the CPP.
A new market investment policy to be implemented by an independent organization, known as the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, was a key element of CPP reform. The CPPIB was set up in 1998 and began operations the following year.
Before the CPPIB was established, the CPP investment policy dictated that all funds not immediately required to pay benefits and administrative costs had to be invested in provincial government bonds at the federal government's investment rate. This represented an undiversified portfolio of securities and an interest rate subsidy to the provinces.
The creation of the CPPIB, with a mandate to invest in the best interests of CPP contributors and beneficiaries and to maximize investment returns without undue risk of loss, meant that CPP could be partially funded, in contrast to the 1966 “pay as you go” CPP. The CPPIB reflects a fundamental policy change with respect to investment CPP funds.
The CPP funds that are not needed to pay benefits and expenses are transferred to the CPPIB and prudently invested in a diversified portfolio of market securities in the best interests of contributors and beneficiaries. Certain CPP assets will remain with the federal government and are the focus of Bill C-3 which I will discuss in a moment.
Before doing so, I want to point out that the CPPIB functions within an investment policy framework that is similar to other large public pension plans in Canada, such as the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan and the Ontario Municipal Employees' Retirement System, OMERS.
For example, it operates under similar investment rules which require the prudent management of pension plan assets in the interests of plan contributors and beneficiaries and is free to hire its own independent professional managers. The Canada Pension Plan Investment Board is subject to the foreign property rule like other pension funds.
I would like to make a few additional comments about the CPPIB and how it functions before discussing the bill.
It is important to understand that the governance framework of the CPPIB was designed to ensure full transparency and accountability. Because the CPPIB operates at arm's length from governments and is responsible for billions of dollars of retirement funds belonging to CPP contributors and beneficiaries, it is imperative that the board be fully accountable to the public and governments. CPPIB funds are managed prudently to the highest professional standards, with qualified managers making investment decisions.
Let me assure the House that the CPP Investment Board is fully accountable to CPP plan members and federal and provincial governments. It keeps Canadians well informed of its policy operations and investments in a number of ways.
First, the CPPIB makes its investment policies and financial results public. Second, it releases quarterly financial statements. Third, the CPPIB publishes an annual report that is tabled in Parliament. Fourth, the board holds regular public meetings in each participating province at least every two years to allow public discussions and input. Fifth, the CPPIB maintains a very informative website.
Full accountability is also assured through a robust process, with strong checks and balances, that is in place for identifying and appointing CPPIB directors. Great care was taken in structuring the CPPIB to ensure that its board of directors was independent and accountable to CPP contributors and beneficiaries.
Following consultations with the ministers of finance in the participating provinces, the federal government appoints directors with high qualifications. The Minister of Finance also consults with provincial ministers of finance and with the board of directors on the appointment of the chair of the CPPIB.
Directors are chosen from a list of qualified candidates recommended by a joint federal-provincial nominating committee which is comprised of one representative from each of the nine participating provinces. The criteria used by the nominating committee to identify potential candidates for director have been made public. In addition, in making appointments to the board of directors, consideration is given to ensuring that a sufficient number of directors have proven financial ability or relevant work experience to ensure that the CPPIB carries out its objectives. As a result, individuals who sit as directors have extensive business, financial and investment expertise.
I am pleased to say that the independence and quality of the CPPIB of directors has received strong support from public and pension management experts.
Independence from government in making investment decisions is critical to the CPPIB success and public confidence in the CPP investment policy. This is of the utmost importance because the money that the CPPIB invests today, and the higher returns earned, will be used by the CPP to help pay the pensions of working Canadians who will begin retiring 20 years from now.
Let me turn now to the measures we are debating today.
Through Bill C-3, the federal and provincial governments are implementing the final steps of CPP reform launched in 1997. All CPP assets remaining with the federal government would be transferred to the CPPIB over a three-year period. These assets include a cash reserve and a large portfolio of mostly provincial government bonds. These asset transfers will represent the last steps of the path established by the federal-provincial governments in 1997 to invest in CPP assets not immediately required to pay benefits in the market by an independent professional investment board.
There are several advantages to putting all CPP assets under one independent, professional organization.
To begin, consolidating all assets under one organization will put CPP on the same footing as other major public pension plans, thereby providing fund managers with the flexibility to determine the best asset mix and investment strategies to manage risks and optimize returns for all CPP assets.
Analysis undertaken by the chief actuary of Canada indicate that CPP assets fully invested in the market would be expected to earn a greater return and thereby grow more rapidly for the benefit of present and future CPP contributors.
The benefit of the transfer of assets under Bill C-3 is very significant. Based on the financial projections in the chief actuary's 19th report, CPP assets would increase by approximately $85 billion over the next 50 years and by $72 billion in 2050.
Obviously this welcome result would add considerably to the soundness of the Canada pension plan and enhance the confidence of Canadians in their public pension plan. In addition, transferring the CPP bond portfolio to the CPP investment board over three years would provide for a smooth transition for capital markets, provincial borrowing programs and CPPIB.
Finally, all changes in the CPP and CPPIB legislation would require the approval of the provinces. I am happy to report to the House that provincial and territorial governments unanimously support these changes. This is important. Also, before the new legislation comes into force the provinces would need to formally approve the changes.
Bill C-3 essentially completes the process that the federal and provincial governments began in 1997 of investing CPP assets in the market by an independent professional investment board.
The end result of this move for the Canada pension plan would be increased performance, better diversification, and enhanced risk management of the entire CPP portfolio.
I wish to remind the House that during the 1997 public consultations on CPP reform, Canadians told their governments to fix CPP and to fix it right. Canadians also told their governments to preserve the CPP by strengthening its financing, improving its investment practices and moderating the growth costs of benefits. The provincial and federal governments have addressed these requests.
I should mention that the transfer of CPP assets to the CPPIB would have no impact on the Quebec pension plan which is administered separately from CPP.
The establishment of the Canada pension plan in 1966 was one of the most important public policy initiatives ever undertaken in the country. The plan reflects a national belief that retirement for working Canadians should not be a time for hardship. It also captures the Canadian value of shared responsibility among contributors and governments to provide reliable support to wage earning Canadians after they cease active work.
Ours is a government with a conscience. Together with the 1997 reforms the measures in the bill would ensure that the Canada pension plan remains on sound financial footing for future generations. With the transfer of all CPP assets to the CPP investment board Canadians can now feel secure that prudent, sound investment diversification, as well as increased performance would result.
I urge all hon. members to support the passage of this legislation without delay.