Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleagues from all parties who have spoken on this matter. Clearly stated, as members of Parliament we want to see more independence in these important watchdog activities.
I would like to read some headlines: “pension plan deficits demand attention”, September 1, 2003, Ottawa Business Journal staff byline; “retirement worries rife among middle aged”, from the Toronto Star September 2 of this year; “Drain France's pension time bomb”, from April 2002. Other countries are aging faster than Canada and their pension time bomb is starting to blow up. Our time bomb is just ticking.
Then we have “pension plan liabilities Increased in all markets” from the business editors in New York. We have U.K. headlines about “plans needed to protect pension holders”; and on and on it goes.
In the few minutes I have I would like to address the argument that the government puts forward that somehow, after Mr. Dussault was fired and said publicly that it was because he refused to fudge the numbers for the finance minister and the finance department, a new structure was put into place and now everything is okay.
The fact is that this new structure falls far short of independence for the chief actuary. The chief actuary, instead of being an independent officer of Parliament, still reports and is accountable to the finance minister and can be fired by the finance minister at the whim of the decision of the finance minister without Parliament being involved in any way. The finance minister put in a new procedure whereby he gets a report from the chief actuary but also picks a panel of other actuaries that in effect second guesses what the chief actuary says.
Let us think about how this will work. The chief actuary makes all these calculations based on a huge amount of knowledge and decisions about trends in society and there is an element of professional judgment involved. However judgment can always be second guessed. Then the finance minister sets up another panel of hand-picked actuaries who the finance minister pays, undoubtedly good and capable actuaries but again beholden to the finance minister for this appointment and pay. However that panel second guesses the chief actuary. What can the chief actuary do? Obviously this puts a real damper on the free and fair exercise of his discretion, and that is not acceptable.
We know the government leans on its appointees, on the people it hires. One only has to look at what the Prime Minister did to the president of the Business Development Bank. He forced him to accept a loan that the president knew was bad. When the loan did go bad and the president wanted to foreclose, the Prime Minister fired him. This government has that kind of a record with the people it hires to do jobs on behalf of Canadians.
This independence is absolutely critical if we are going to have full and independent judgment like the Auditor General has. This is a watchdog who is respected because the government does not own that individual. It does not choose nor pay that individual in the sense that it can hire or fire the individual. It is Parliament that has that oversight.
It is critical that we understand that the government's arguments that this new procedure of a panel to second guess the chief actuary is not good enough. It is not even close to independence. We must put a procedure in place that will guard our pensions, the future retirement security of Canadians, and that means passing this bill to ensure that the chief actuary is fully independent reporting only to Parliament.