Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by congratulating the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre. I believe the motion he has introduced will enable us to have a healthy debate, because it deals with issues we absolutely must discuss, as objectively as possible. It is a matter of great importance for each of us. One day, we ourselves and our children and grandchildren will all benefit from the Canada pension plan.
At the same time, it needs to be pointed out that not everything is bleak; not everything is negative. In fact, before the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board was established in 1998, the investment policy stated that all available funds after the payment of pensions to beneficiaries and of the system's administrative costs had to be invested in provincial bonds, at the prevailing federal interest rate.
The legislation that created the board in 1998 certainly changed things for the better. At the same time, many other steps were taken and it is vital that they be pointed out. As I said, not everything is negative; we are not starting from scratch.
Legislation on corporate responsibility was enacted on June 12, 2003 and a corporate ethics code was also adopted. We created a national contact point for Canada, an interdepartmental federal committee comprised of representatives of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Industry, Human Resources Development, Environment, Natural Resources, Finance and the Canadian International Development Agency, mandated to raise awareness of the OECD guidelines for multinational enterprises and to ensure their implementation.
We developed an information kit on the production of reports on sustainable development. This was a joint effort of Industry, Environment and Foreign Affairs and International Trade with a view to providing information and guidelines for the production of these reports.
What the government attempted to do with the 1998 reform was to make the Canadian pension system self-sustaining, which it had ceased to be. This became a government priority. In fact, a whole series of well thought out changes were introduced with a view to bolstering the plan's financing, improve its investment practices, and reining in the increase in its costs.
The changes effected in 1997 brought in the following changes: better performing investments; changes to the calculation of certain benefits in order to control spiralling costs; regular reports on the CPP for Canadians; and contribution rates limited to no more than 10% for future generations.
In 1997, the chief actuary of the plan informed us that, if changes were not made to the plan and the way it was financed, our children and grandchildren would be paying over 14.2% of all pensionable earnings by 2030, divided 50-50 between employer and employee, for pensions. Today the figure is only 9.9%.
So there have been some salutary and positive reforms. The Canada pension plan of today is certainly far better balanced and far more stable than the one in place prior to the reform of 1997 and the legislation of 1998.
However, much needs to be looked at again. I believe it is really worthy of my colleague from Winnipeg Centre to have brought this subject forward.
As we look at the objectives of the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board under the act, we see that its objective No. 2 is to invest its assets with a view to achieving a maximum rate of return without undue risk or loss. If we look at the principles, the CPP Investment Board statutory mandate and fiduciary duty are based exclusively on investment considerations.
The CPP Investment Board believes that responsible corporate behaviour in such matters as the environment, employee practices, stakeholder relations, human rights, respect for domestic and international laws and ethical conduct generally contribute to enhanced long term investment returns. This is where I agree with my colleague from Winnipeg Centre that the objectives and the principles have to be looked at again. It has to be seen in a far more proactive and precise way than it is today.
To rely on the basic principle that we need to achieve a maximum rate of return without undue risk to loss and that our statutory mandate is based exclusively on investment considerations, belies the intention of using our corporate behaviour to decide on the criteria of the investment. Corporate behaviour can be very elastic and subjective. To say that responsible corporate behaviour in such matters as the environment, employee practices, stakeholder relations, human rights, respect for domestic and international laws and ethical conduct should be our reliance to decide on investment is very deficient.
I really believe the government should look at the whole aspect of both the principles and the objectives to ensure that at least the objectives and principles fit in with the gist of our policies and values as a government and as a country.
I could give examples. We have endorsed, with a large majority, the Kyoto protocol after much debate. The Kyoto protocol has certain obligations for us internationally to reduce our gas emissions. Yet, I would think that any company in the fossil fuel industry could say that it respects complete and utter corporate behaviour in matters of the environment, employee practices, stakeholder relations, human rights, respect for domestic and international laws and ethical conduct. It is just a matter of degree. It is a matter of really deciding what our basic value system is.
It would seem to me that it would not be asking too much for the principles of the CPP Investment Board and its objectives to make sure that whatever basic policies and criteria the government adopts--I think of examples such as the landmines convention-- that certainly language can be found to match those objectives and principles to what the government believes fundamentally to be its paramount policies and values.
In its principle No. 3, the CPP Investment Board believes that social investing means different things to different people and that the CPP Investment Board cannot reflect the divergent religious, economic, political, social and personal views of millions of Canadians in its investment decisions.
The same argument could be made about a government, that a government cannot reflect the divergent religious, economic, political, social and personal views of millions of Canadians in its legislation.
This is a cop-out. It is an excuse for complete paralysis in action. It seems to me that the government, through its agencies, must go forward and establish clear criteria so that the board of the CPP is well aware of the criteria that we set as a government and as a country. It should respect the basic policies, ideals and values that this country and this government represent.
Surely there is a possibility of broadening the objectives, making them far more precise and far tighter than they are today. Surely there is a possibility to add criteria that not only do not offend the various segments of the population, but at the same time reflect values that we all share as Canadians regardless of religion, class or creed.
I welcome the idea of the member for Winnipeg Centre who brought forward the motion to force this debate along. To say that what we have today is the perfect solution and can never be changed, amended or improved is to say that the government must be static regardless of the evolution of society.
When members of the official opposition say that it is impossible to qualify investments in terms of values, I think that is totally wrong. Society is evolving today in whatever sector to reflect the common values that we hold as a democratic society. Surely among the members here there is enough talent, conviction and commitment to arrive at wording which the Canada pension plan board could use to make our investments far more in tune with those same common values that we share.
Right now I believe the principles and objectives are too loose. They are far too open to subjectivity. They are far too open to the possibility that we should invest in corporations that do not reflect our policies and values.
I welcome this debate. I hope that instead of pouring cold water on the idea of the member for Winnipeg Centre that we will use it as a stepping stone for a constructive debate. This debate will help all the beneficiaries of the Canada pension plan now and in the future.