Madam Speaker, when I was asked to speak about this bill, my first reaction was to recall that the RCMP closed the Rivière-du-Loup detachment a few years ago. The people in my region were not very pleased with that, because it left a large territory open to organized crime. Today we are feeling the effects of this.
As I thought about this, however, I realized that there was a difference between the RCMP and the RCMP officers themselves. When the detachment in Rivière-du-Loup was closed, I talked to the police officers, and they made it very clear to me that this was not their decision and they thought that the detachment should remain open because they knew what was going on on the ground.
It was with this in mind that I agreed to take the floor today on Bill C-18, An Act to amend the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act, to validate certain calculations and to amend other Acts.
This bill would amend the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act to add the provisions necessary for the implementation of amendments made to that Act by the Public Sector Pension Investment Board Act that relate to elective service and pension transfer agreements. The creation of the Pension Investment Board has in fact introduced different procedures. The Board administers many different pension funds, and corrections had to be made to the RCMP officers’ fund.
In addition, the bill would bring into force certain provisions enacted by the Public Sector Pension Investment Board Act. Finally, it would validate certain calculations.
Let us look at this bill in greater detail. It was introduced on March 9, 2009 by the Minister of Public Safety, and was studied in the course of various proceedings: here at second reading, then in committee. The Bloc Québécois gave its support at second reading. Then it proposed some amendments which, for the most part, have unfortunately not been adopted. That does not mean that we have to vote against this bill, even if we do intend to point out that these improvements would have been desirable.
The principal amendments confer the authorities necessary to expand the prior service provisions and to establish pension transfer agreements.
Prior service means buying back years of service for entitlement to a full pension. Bill C-18 sets the cost of buying back prior service according to actuarial rules. If an officer has worked for other police forces and has pensionable periods where he has not contributed to the pension fund, can that service in fact be bought back, and how? This is what the bill attempts to define.
According to information provided by the Library of Parliament, the member assumes responsibility for buying back past service, and can do so through his former pension plan, a lump sum, or monthly deductions. When someone is a member of the RCMP, and at some point in their career, after 20, 25 or 30 years, reviews the situation and decides they are worn out and want to take well deserved retirement, but they have not contributed to a pension plan for a large part of that career, retirement is not possible unless they buy back service. That is what this bill is intended to make possible.
These new provisions do not concern members of the public service, the Canadian Forces, or the Senate who are already included in the RCMP Pension Act. The bill extends this past service buy back right to other Canadian pension plans, which are listed in the bill.
The expanded election provisions will allow eligible pension plan members to elect for prior service under other Canadian pension plans. As I said, this will also enable them to have access to a pension sooner.
The introduction of pension transfer agreements will allow the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to enter into formal arrangements with other Canadian pension plans to permit the transfer of pension credits into and out of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Pension Plan.
In other words, the RCMP which at present cannot sign transfer agreements with other pension funds will be able to do so under this bill. Thus a number of officers wishing to buy back service will be able to do so.
This bill amends a number of acts: the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act, the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act, the Pension Benefits Division Act, the Public Sector Pension Investment Board Act, and the Act to amend the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts
This is about trying to strike a balance between different pension plans and, for RCMP officers, updating their plan to make sure that they have a better chance of benefiting from these situations.
Since we began the debate on this bill, the Bloc Québécois has focused on how Royal Canadian Mounted Police members are treated upon reaching retirement age. There is one tangible way to recognize an individual's service to society as a member of a police force: its retirement plan. That is what the Bloc Québécois is concerned about.
A lot of people have had to make major sacrifices to defend the cause of freedom and justice in their work. We want that to be recognized. However, we are also aware of the RCMP's recruitment problems, and we think that recognizing years of service in a provincial or municipal police force should be part of the solution. We know that in today's world, we need a mobile workforce more than ever before. That applies to police forces as much as it does to other groups of workers. In this case, we want that to work for RCMP officers, and we hope that the same will apply to provincial and municipal police forces.
We support this bill because we want to ensure that all members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police receive fair and equal treatment. We studied it in committee and proposed amendments that were not accepted. I will get back to that. Overall, however, the bill has some good points and deserves our support.
The study in committee gave us a chance to call various witnesses from all sectors to discuss the bill. Committee members tried to take their testimony into account as much as possible. We are going through an economic crisis, and given the instability of public finances, the Bloc Québécois is concerned about sound management of public funds. That is why we took such a close look at the viability of the pension fund and the potential financial impact of Bill C-18 on the government.
A certain number of concerns were raised throughout consideration of the bill. For example, RCMP division representatives in Quebec acknowledge that this bill is a step in the right direction. However they have some concerns, particularly with regard to recognizing the prior service of their members, as cadets, as pensionable service. Until the legislative change in 1992, cadets, then called recruits, were given credit for training under the pension plan. According to RCMP division representatives in Quebec, those who were consulted and who appeared as witnesses, the definitions included in Bill C-18 still do not permit recognition of cadets' years of training in the RCMP. This is an anomaly because time spent in training by recruits is recognized as pensionable service by provincial and municipal police forces but not by the RCMP.
The Bloc Québécois examined the facts in committee. We wanted some amendments but they were not adopted. According to the RCMP, civilian members should be members of the same pension fund as other members because they must observe the same code of conduct. Therefore, we examined the working conditions of civilian members and compared them to other members of the RCMP and public service employees to determine whether at the Department of National Defence, for example, it is possible to find a pension fund for their situation.
The long-term viability of the pension fund and the allocation of the cost of pension fund contributions are also important issues. Bill C-18 allows the recognition and transfer of years of service and pension amounts accumulated in another federal or provincial police force. That is a good thing. This recognition and transfer do not seem to pose any problems for the majority of positions. In that sense, the bill is doing what it is supposed to.
Some divisional representatives had concerns about senior RCMP officers, though, because these officers, who number 160, can be appointed by the commissioner or the Governor in Council. This category is eligible for bonuses whose amounts add to pensionable earnings year after year. This puts pressure on the pension plan. The divisional representatives are afraid that the amount transferred from the former pension plan will not be enough to cover the benefits under the new plan. It is important that this be handled properly. Obviously, beyond the pension provisions, there is another reason why the government went ahead with this bill, and we have to recognize it.
The RCMP has recruitment problems. According to some members, the RCMP has a very hard time recruiting new members. For example, it has difficulty recruiting new cadets, because it faces real competition from municipal police forces and other security organizations. They are all part of the same market. The RCMP has difficulty attracting people, so it must find a way to retain its experienced members.
More and more, the pillars of the organization—members with many years' experience and wisdom—are retiring or taking on new challenges elsewhere, just when the RCMP most needs their talents and their perspective. In response to these very real problems, the Government of Canada promised to reform and strengthen the RCMP. In March 2008, it created the RCMP Reform Implementation Council, which is to provide advice to the minister on modernizing that institution. The current bill reflects the desire to reform the RCMP so that it can retain current personnel and attract new people from outside.
In permitting the recognition and transfer of years of experience, Bill C-18 brings a major change to the operation of the RCMP. The RCMP pension fund is recognized as being one of the best. This bill makes this fund accessible to police officers from outside the organization. So this measure is attractive as a remedy for the recruitment difficulties now being experienced by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. We hope that these efforts yield results and that the recruitment problem is not as serious in the years ahead.
However we have fewer compliments for the government on the way it has acted unilaterally on several occasions with RCMP employees. For example, the Conservative government decided to change the RCMP wage agreement signed last year, which was designed to give the members of the RCMP wage parity with the leading Canadian police forces for the next three years. The Bloc has vigorously denounced this attack by the Conservative government. It is bizarre that the government should go back on its word when police forces are working to enforce the law. It would have been much more sensible to honour the agreement.
The government also continues to deny RCMP officers the right to unionize. The government is regressive and has an archaic view of things. For better labour relations within the RCMP, it should have accepted this right to unionize long ago. That would lead to much healthier labour relations and get rid of the paternalism sometimes typical of some employers who do not allow their employees to unionize. The most obvious example of paternalistic behaviour is when the government goes back on its own signature.
Therefore the Bloc would like the Conservative government to revisit its decision and grant the entirety of the wage increase promised to the RCMP members, as agreed in the wage agreement. We are a little worried by the underhanded manoeuvring of the Conservative government, and will be keeping a close eye on this issue.
In conclusion, the Bloc Québécois is happy to support this bill. It allows for greater officer mobility and recognition of work done. When people want to leave at the end of their career, they will have the best possible chances, as they will have contributed for recognized time and will be able to use it to begin their retirement. This is one of the best ways to recognize the quality of work done in the service of society.