Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to the second reading of the economic recovery act. This important piece of legislation will implement key portions of budget 2009, Canada's economic action plan, along with other vital measures. There is no doubt that Canada's economy has been profoundly affected by the global economic slowdown, but Canada's economic action plan is getting results, stimulating the economy, protecting and creating new jobs.
While we are still fighting the recession, one we must always remember was not of our making, we are beginning to see tentative signs of an economic recovery both here and abroad.
As Warren Jestin, chief economist at Scotiabank noted:
Monthly job losses appear to have crested and confidence surveys suggest that consumers and businesses are becoming less negative about current conditions and cautiously more optimistic...
[Canada] was dragged fully into the global recession only when faltering emerging economies triggered a collapse in resource prices and export earnings...[and] the erosion in employment, housing activity and car sales has been less severe than [it has been] south of the border.
The bottom line--we will soon begin moving away from one of the most difficult economic setbacks experienced in our lives, but patience will be required because the road to recovery will be a long and winding one.
Clearly, we must remember there is still more to do. We must stay on course. Doing anything else would be reckless and irresponsible. Indeed the goals of the measures included in the economic recovery act are to stay the course, maintain our competitive economic position today and build on it by laying the groundwork for the necessary stability to grow Canada's economy tomorrow, stability to ensure that when the global recession eases, Canada will exit in a stronger position.
My constituents in North Vancouver are concerned about the global economic slowdown and expect us to act. And we have acted. I am proud of this government's record.
Later today, my colleague and a new member of the finance committee, the member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, will outline a few of the highlights of this act, such as the home renovation tax credit, the first-time homebuyers' tax credit, and the enhancement to the working income tax benefit. These are benefits that I hear about as I speak with my constituents in North Vancouver. I hear how they are enjoying the benefits of the home renovation tax credit. Families as well as small businesses are benefiting.
First-time homebuyers in my riding are excited about the first-time homebuyers' tax credit, and I am proud to be part of the government that is working on behalf of all Canadians. During my speech I will review some of the important initiatives included in this act. Among them is one that will significantly improve government transparency and accountability while also fulfilling a promise that our Prime Minister made during the 2008 election campaign.
Last fall the Prime Minister and the Conservative Party pledged to make government more accountable for the use of taxpayers' money. As laid out on page 25 of our campaign platform, we promised Canadians that a re-elected Conservative government would require all federal departments and agencies to produce detailed quarterly financial statements.
I am happy to report that through the economic recovery act, we are delivering on that campaign promise.
The act will amend the Financial Administration Act to require federal departments and crown corporations to prepare public quarterly financial reports and more importantly, make them available to the public. Quarterly financial reporting will ensure parliamentarians and Canadians are provided with greatly enhanced information on government spending. This will also help to ensure more timely and better oversight of government expenditures by parliamentarians and taxpayers so that expenditures are subject to regular, ongoing and necessary scrutiny.
Our Conservative government, the government that created the Parliamentary Budget Office and brought in the Accountability Act, believes that taxpayers' dollars are just that--taxpayers' dollars. We believe that respecting taxpayers' money and prudently managing it includes the provision of transparent and timely accounting of how taxpayers' money is spent. Currently, Parliament and Canadians are provided financial statements only several months after the end of each fiscal year.
Unlike the previous Liberal government, we believe that this is just not good enough. That is why passage of this act would require federal departments and crown corporations to provide quarterly financial reports on their activities, ensuring parliamentarians and Canadians have useful, up-to-date financial information that allows them to more quickly and accurately track spending.
One wonders what politician could possibly oppose the kind of transparency and accountability which our economic recovery bill would bring into force. Shockingly, the Liberal leader and his Liberal members, in an effort to force an unnecessary election, have pledged to vote against this bill and this landmark measure.
However, that is not the only key measure the Liberal leader and the Liberal members are voting against for no reason other than to force an election that no Canadian wants. The Liberals are also opposing key reforms to strengthen public pensions in Canada, reforms to the Canada pension plan, or CPP, that will allow increased flexibility in how Canadians live, work and retire, while ensuring CPP remains affordable and fair for future generations.
The Canada pension plan remains one of the most successful pension plans in the world. As Susan Eng of Canada's Association for the Fifty-plus, better known as CARP, recently declared, the CPP was the pension plan that survived the recent global economic downturn almost unscathed.
Through the CPP, Canadians are provided with a secure, indexed and lifelong benefit. The additional measures proposed in the economic recovery bill not only will help maintain the quality of the CPP but also will actually improve it for seniors during these difficult economic times.
I note that these reforms were unanimously agreed to by each and every federal, provincial or territorial government, governments of all political stripes such as the New Democratic government in Manitoba, the Liberal governments of Ontario and New Brunswick, the Progressive Conservative government in Alberta, and the list goes on.
As a point of clarification and for background, I note that the CPP is a jointly managed federal, provincial and territorial plan. Federal or provincial governments cannot unilaterally alter the CPP. Instead a joint review of the plan is required to be undertaken by federal, provincial and territorial governments every three years. The most recent review, concluded in May 2009, recommended the reforms that I will be outlining in my remarks today.
Furthermore, let me note that the recommendations flowing from that review were publicly announced in May. As well, a detailed information paper that explains the proposed changes and their impacts upon workers and employers in Canada is available to Canadians.
As previously mentioned, the reforms proposed in the economic recovery bill are intended to modernize the CPP to better reflect the many different paths people take to retirement today. These reforms will provide greater flexibility for older workers to combine pension and work income if they wish to do so, expand pension coverage and improve fairness in the plan's flexible retirement provisions.
The reforms specifically include removing the work cessation test in 2012 so that a person may take his or her retirement pension as early as age 60 without the requirement of a work interruption or earnings reduction; increasing the dropout from 15% to 16% in 2012, and to 17% in 2014, a change that would allow a maximum of almost seven and a half years of low or zero earnings to be dropped from the contributory period; and requiring a person under the age of 65 who receives a retirement pension and continues working to contribute to the CPP, thereby creating eligibility for a post-retirement benefit.
As I mentioned earlier, the reforms I have outlined were publicly released in May and have already generated considerable positive feedback.
An Edmonton Journal editorial from May welcomed the reforms, remarking that they will
allow Canadians of a certain age to draw on their Canada Pension Plan benefits and still be allowed to work...the prospect that thousands will be able to discern a horizon when they can not only choose to be gainfully employed but also collect on a pension they paid into for years must come as some relief...
In fact, upon even the briefest reflection it seems odd that this rather simple case of fair play wasn't in force years ago...After all, what would we think if our private pensions were withheld or clawed back because we decided to pick up a job or two following official retirement?
As well, a nation rooted in liberty such as ours should never, ever build in disincentives for those who want to be engaged in productive work. That's simply antithetical to the story of Canadian enterprise. Another positive aspect of the proposed CPP amendments will allow those who are 65 or older and still employed to continue to contribute to the plan.
As well, citizens will be permitted to drop an additional low-earning year from the equation that calculates pension benefits. Those who decide to delay the start of their CPP income until age 70 will be further rewarded, with benefits pumped up to 42 per cent versus the current maximum of a 30-per cent increase for working longer.
The Edmonton Journal editorial concluded by cheering what it labelled an “overdue update”, as it:
...reflects contemporary realities. Older Canadians are healthier than ever and getting even fitter. If they want or need to continue to make a material contribution to the nation's productivity, they mustn't be discouraged.
However, that is not the only positive feedback we have heard. Jack Mintz, public policy professor at the University of Calgary, applauded them by saying, “the more flexibility you build into pension arrangements, the better”.
Finn Poschmann from the C.D. Howe Institute declared that they were:
...an important shift in public pension policy...[t]he proposed adjustments mark an important sea change in government pension policy's approach to dealing with population ageing and, in particular, making it easier for those people who want to work later in life to do so.
Clearly, the new measures will ensure that the CPP continues to address the needs of Canadians.
I would also note that this is only one example of how our Conservative government has been engaged in the important issue of pensions. Indeed, our Conservative government has been and is working hard on this issue, work that would be derailed should the Liberal scheme to force yet another unnecessary election on Canadians succeed.
Our Conservative government has already been engaged in a discussion with Canadians on pensions. In January we released a major research paper on federally regulated pension plans for comment, after which we conducted cross-country and online public consultations open to all. Based on the feedback we received from Canadians coast to coast, comprehensive regulatory changes to improve the federal pension framework are being drafted and will be released shortly.
Also, we have long recognized the need to work with our provincial partners to examine the larger pension concerns facing Canadians. That is why we raised this issue at the annual meeting of finance ministers in late 2008, and earlier this year set up a joint federal-provincial research working group, with respected academic Jack Mintz as director of research to conduct an in-depth examination of retirement income adequacy. The finance minister has already convened a meeting of his provincial and territorial counterparts for this coming December to discuss the findings of this important group.
If members truly believe the future of Canadian pensions deserves attention, they will recognize our efforts and work with our Conservative government, support the economic recovery bill and not jeopardize it and plunge Canada into yet another election. While I doubt that the Liberal opposition will reconsider their obsession with forcing an election, Canadians should rest assured that our Conservative government stands with hard-working Canadians who want to be able to count on their pension plan for a stable retirement. We will take the steps required to make sure Canada's pension framework is strong.
The economic recovery act, with these important reforms to CPP, is a tangible demonstration of that. There is much more to the economic recovery act such as supporting farmers affected by severe weather as we extend important tax deferrals; ensuring dependability for public broadcasting by increasing the borrowing limit for the CBC, as requested by the CBC board of directors; promoting global growth and cooperation by giving small and low-income countries a bigger voice at the IMF, while strengthening Canada's commitment to debt relief; and resolving the Crown share saga, as our Conservative government, after decades of neglect by previous Liberal governments, is ensuring that Nova Scotia finally benefits from its resources through Crown share adjustment payments in accordance with the landmark agreement between Canada and Nova Scotia.
Yet the Liberal leader would vote a against these measures, not out of principle, not out of some disagreement over the contents of the act, for he has likely never even read it, but for narrow, partisan self-interest. He wants an election, regardless of the consequences, not because he has an economic agenda, but because he wants power. In a period of major economic uncertainty, Canadians deserve better from their elected representatives. As Macleans' magazine trumpeted this past August:
Almost any way you look at it, Canada is uniquely positioned...Compared to the U.S. and many other countries, Canada has done well and we should be proud. But it's one thing to gloat, and another to exploit our relative lead.
Let us not exploit our lead, as the Liberals would with a pointless election. Let us work together, keep our focus squarely on the economy through measures like the economic recovery act, and make certain Canada remains in the lead for decades to come. Canadians deserve that.