Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to Bill C-445, a proposal for a refundable tax credit for shortfalls in pension income, which has been introduced by my good friend, the member for Richmond—Arthabaska.
The intention of the member's proposal is somewhat laudable. It seeks to assist Canadians who have seen their retirement incomes negatively impacted by a failed business. Unfortunately, it is fundamentally flawed to such a degree that we cannot support it.
The biggest problem with Bill C-445 is its annual cost, as was referred to previously by my colleague in a question, which is estimated to be approximately $10 billion. Clearly, were Bill C-445 to be enacted, it would have a negative impact on Canada's fiscal position.
This proposal also raises serious concerns with respect to pension and tax policy, while also failing to take into account the multitude of prudent ways we are improving Canada's retirement income system. Again, as previously mentioned, Bill C-445 relates to the tax treatment of pensions and savings, an area that this Conservative government has recognized as a key priority, an important element for economic growth as well as an improvement for living standards.
As I am sure the House is well aware, our Conservative government has implemented an ambitious and aggressive agenda to reduce the tax burden on Canadians by cutting corporate taxes and personal income taxes, cutting the GST and many more. Tax cuts have prompted Canada's competitiveness and improved our standard of living, but tax cuts also spur investment while creating jobs, encouraging economic growth and allowing the freedom for Canadians to save.
Personal savings provide Canadians a means to invest in their own future and improve their standard of living. Savings also bring the peace of mind that comes with the knowledge that funds will be available in the event of an emergency or for future endeavours like starting a small business, purchasing a home, or a child's education.
Our Conservative government has taken major steps to improve incentives for Canadians to save. Most significantly I would point to the introduction in budget 2008 of the tax-free savings account, commonly known in the House as TFSA, whose introduction has been heralded in nearly all corners as an exceedingly positive initiative, perhaps the single most important personal savings vehicle since the introduction of RRSPs in 1957.
Indeed McGill University Professor William Watson praised it as a “great step forward for the country...almost all Canadians will now be able to shelter all their savings from tax”.
TFSA will be a flexible, registered, general purpose account that will allow Canadians to earn tax-free investment income. As the TFSA matures over the next 20 years it will permit over 90% of Canadians to hold all of their financial assets in tax efficient savings vehicles in combination with existing registered plans. In 20 years, relative to the size of today's economy, the tax relief provided by the TFSA will grow to over $3 billion annually.
In addition to the landmark TFSA, our Conservative government has introduced a number of tax measures to improve the pension and RRSP system, such as: doubling the amount of eligible income that can be claimed under the pension income tax credit to $2,000, the first increase since 1975; increasing the maximum age to 71 by which Canadians must convert their RRSPs to registered retirement income funds and begin receiving pension payments; permitting employers to offer more flexible phased retirement programs in order to retain older, experienced workers and ease succession planning pressures; increasing the age credit amount; and permitting pension income splitting. The cumulative effect of these important measures represents nearly $1.6 billion in tax relief every year for pensioners and seniors.
Clearly, this Conservative government has worked to improve the tax treatment of pensions and RRSPs and to make our retirement income system even more effective in meeting the needs of Canadians, and we will do more. However, we must make certain that policies are prudent and consistent with sound pension and tax policy principles.
Regrettably, Bill C-445's proposal to introduce a refundable tax credit for pension shortfalls is neither the most prudent nor the best way to promote the security of pension benefits. It would create undesirable economic incentives for pension plan sponsors and would be an improper use of the tax system. As well, it would be exceedingly costly and unfair in its application.
I will now expand on the points to which I have just alluded.
Bill C-445 would go far beyond its proposed intent. It would not provide a refundable tax credit in respect of shortfalls in pension income but would instead effectively provide a refundable credit on the full amount of pension benefits received by most retirees.
This is because, as drafted, the proposed credit would be based on the difference between the pension benefits payable to an individual from a registered pension plan and the amount of benefits received by the individual from a retirement compensation arrangement. As a result, the proposed credit would be extremely costly. In fact, it would cost about $10 billion annually. I am assuming that this is why the Speaker ruled earlier today that this private member's bill does require a royal recommendation. I would concur with his decision.
Such a costly measure clearly would not be supportable. Let us make no mistake: it would put Canada into deficit and would put at risk the fiscal health of future generations of Canadians. Regardless of whether Bill C-445 has been drafted properly, its underlying objective is to provide a government-backed guarantee for pension benefits. This would not be good tax or economic policy and would not be fair to the taxpayers of the country.
The tax system is not intended to ensure or compensate individuals for the loss of pension benefits due to the underfunding of pension plans. Indeed, the proposed refundable credit would set a significant precedent for government compensation of shortfalls in expected retirement income in other situations.
Let us consider the example of an RRSP saver or an individual in a defined contribution pension plan who does not achieve the pension income he or she expects because of poor investment performance. Bill C-445 would mean he or she could request that a similar credit or other compensation be provided to help offset such shortfalls.
There are a number of other significant concerns with the proposal. For example, it would effectively mean that the federal government would provide compensation for shortfalls in pension income for provincially regulated plans. Moreover, providing a government-backed guarantee is not the best way to protect pension benefits.
The best way of ensuring that promised pension benefits are secure is to have healthy plans with good supervision. Providing any kind of guarantee or compensation for pension benefits, whether through the tax system or otherwise, is potentially costly for taxpayers. In addition, it raises issues of fairness, given that the costs would be borne by all taxpayers while the benefits would accrue only to a minority of those participating in pension plans.
Therefore, I urge members not to support this fundamentally flawed proposal.