Madam Speaker, I welcome this opportunity to address this motion asking that the government amend the definition of pensionable employment in the Canada pension plan to include worker's compensation payments.
First, I commend the hon. member who sponsored this motion on her concern for Canadians who are prevented from working by a disability or a serious illness.
I want to point out that this is an issue that the Government of Canada takes very seriously.
Since coming into office, we have endeavoured to find new and improved ways to help people with disabilities so that they can adequately support themselves and their families.
We have developed programs to help workers with disabilities acquire the skills and training necessary to re-enter the labour force.
For example, we have introduced the Opportunities Fund under which, every year since 1997, $30 million was used to help persons with disabilities take their place in the labour force.
We have introduced and enhanced tax relief measures for persons with disabilities and their families.
In 1998, we introduced the Canada study grants for persons with disabilities, and increased the amount of the grants in 2001.
In budget 2003, we renewed a transfer of $193 million a year for the employability assistance for people with disabilities program. This money will be transferred to the provincial and territorial governments to fund programs and services designed to help Canadians with disabilities overcome employment barriers.
In addition, the Minister of Human Resources Development and her colleagues are working closely with their provincial and territorial counterparts to make sure there is a coordinated approach to meeting the needs of people with disabilities, one that will provide them with the best possible services and eliminate duplication.
Of course, one of the most important programs is the Canada pension plan disability benefits program, which provides an income to contributors who are unable to work because of a serious long-term illness or disability.
The Canada pension plan is the most significant income program for people on long term disability. During fiscal year 2000, the Canada pension plan paid out $2.6 billion to 280,000 contributors with disabilities, and $245 million to the 97,000 children of these contributors. No fewer than 55,000 applications are received each year.
The Canada pension plan offers more than just disability benefits. It also provides retirement pensions, death benefits, survivor benefits, and child benefits. Almost all Canadian residents contribute to the Canada pension plan and will eventually receive benefits from it.
Clearly we must ensure that the Canada pension plan is able to continue this important work over the coming years.
This means that we must ensure that it is financially viable and can count on the necessary assets to provide future generations of workers and their families with the same level of protection that their predecessors are now enjoying.
One way to do this is to ensure that the rules governing eligibility for benefits are relevant, clear and easy to administer and that they allow for the right balance between providing enough support to those who are entitled to the benefits and ensuring healthy management of Canadians' contributions.
A very good example that illustrates this principle is the clear and precise definition of “pensionable employment” contained in the Canada pension plan and intended to be used in determining eligibility for benefits and the amount thereof.
This definition, which excludes compensation for workplace accidents, employment insurance benefits, social assistance and other benefits of this kind, has struck the right balance and shown that it is here to stay.
This definition was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2000, when an applicant claimed that the workplace accident compensation he received should have been considered income for the purposes of eligibility under the Canada pension plan.
The Court's decision was very clear: Part I of the Canada pension plan is adequate and corresponds to the objective that was set out by Parliament.
There are other reasons that suggest that the proposed change is not relevant.
First, implementing such a change would lead to increased Canada pension plan contributions for both workers and employers.
This would place an additional burden on many workers already having trouble making ends meet.
It might also act as a disincentive for some employers to hiring new workers, something no member of this House would want to see happen.
Moreover, this measure would have a negative impact on many workers' compensation recipients, because CPP would have to be deducted from their benefits, thus reducing their already pretty modest incomes still further.
Are these results we would want to see? I think not.
Extension of CPP coverage to workers' compensation recipients might seem unfair, particularly to injured self-employed people who would not be entitled to it.
Finally, if such a change were approved, it might have repercussions on such provincially administered programs as social assistance and worker's compensation.
The long term disability plans offered by private insurers would also be impacted.
The provincial and territorial governments might refuse to consent to such a change, and this would greatly complicate implementation.
All of this points to the fact that the change proposed in this motion would not be as desirable as it might seem at first glance. Worse yet, it might end up doing harm to those it seeks to help.
That is why I cannot support the motion as presented, but I do congratulate the hon. member for her efforts and her determination to help disabled workers and their families.
I say again, this is an important matter which the government is determined to address, but everyone must do his or her part in this.
I am therefore calling upon each and every member of this House, regardless of political affiliation, to work with us in our efforts to ensure that programs are put in place that can provide disabled persons and their families with the support they require to cope with their most challenging circumstances.
This is the only way we will be able to find a satisfactory solution to this situation, and to provide Canadians with the help they need and deserve.