Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to the third reading of Bill C-18, An Act to amend the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act, to validate certain calculations and to amend other Acts.
I am proud of this bill for a number of reasons and pleased that all parties expressed support for the bill at second reading, in particular because it reinforces the work now underway to strengthen and modernize the RCMP.
Hon. colleagues will know that as Minister of Public Safety, strengthening and modernizing the RCMP is one of the minister's priorities, as it is a priority for all of us as Canadians. That is why this bill is important.
The House supported improvements like these many years ago and it moved forward in passing legislation to help implement them, but those legislative changes did not authorize all the necessary regulations. Therefore, today these improvements remain long overdue. If we can better support the men and women who have chosen to serve Canadians through the RCMP, I believe we should because better supporting the RCMP means better supporting the safety and security of Canadians.
The RCMP is Canada's leading law enforcement agency in the battle against drugs, organized crime and terrorism. It investigates economic crime and fraud, child exploitation and serves some 600 aboriginal communities and 200 municipalities as local police. The RCMP is also responsible for provincial and territorial policing in all jurisdictions except Quebec and Ontario, which have their own forces.
It runs its own academy in Regina and the Canadian Police College in Ottawa. Police officers from all over Canada and beyond can take advanced and specialized training at this facility. The RCMP maintains key support services that are critical to Canadian law enforcement, like informational databases, forensic labs and identification services, as well as technical operations. Its members protect the Canadian Prime Minister, Her Excellency the Governor General, as well as visiting dignitaries and Canadian diplomats in foreign countries.
The RCMP co-ordinates and takes part in the participation of Canadian police offices in UN peacekeeping missions. It works with the Canadian Forces and other federal and international partners to bring security to fragile and fallen states. The RCMP helps secure our borders and steer Canada's young people away from crime. More than 7,500 people will call the RCMP today for assistance. That is 2.8 million requests for service a year.
In international law enforcement circles, the Mounties continue to enjoy a reputation as one of the best and most unique police services anywhere in the world. We have much to be proud of in the RCMP and its members, who have sworn a duty to protect Canada and Canadians in their communities.
At the same time, the RCMP is not without its challenges, challenges it is working hard to overcome. Many of these were outlined in the Task Force on Governance and Cultural Change in the RCMP in a public report to the Minister of Public Safety a little more than a year ago. The report identified a number of cultural, structural and organizational issues within the force and made 49 recommendations for improvement.
The RCMP is working diligently on a comprehensive transformation plan to realize its vision of being an adaptive, accountable, trusted organization of fully engaged employees demonstrating outstanding leadership and providing world-class police services.
A modernized pension plan supports the RCMP's commitment to effective human resources management as part of its change agenda. It can contribute to making the RCMP the very best police service it can be, which benefits us all. With a myriad of duties and security challenges, the RCMP leverages a blend of skills to keep Canadians safe.
To quote from the task force report, it states:
Well-trained front line officers, highly skilled scientists, sophisticated intelligence and communications experts, experts in financial management and logistics, competent human resource managers, perceptive and thoughtful trainers and coaches--all are necessary to enable the Force to perform its whole portfolio of different tasks.
To that, let me add that recommendation 31 of the report dealing with educational prerequisites reads in part:
The RCMP needs to demonstrate greater openness and willingness to accept lateral entry into the Force in order to provide needed specialized skill sets and experience.
As hon. members know, the RCMP is taking its change mandate quite seriously and moving full steam ahead toward its vision for change, a vision that sees it better serving Canadians, better supporting its people, and better preparing itself for the policing needs and challenges of tomorrow.
What has the RCMP achieved in terms of change? It has established a full-time change management team led at the assistant commissioner level and developed a change management plan, as I mentioned, that it is actively pursuing. It is investing in leadership development and has re-established the position of chief learning officer at the senior level to work with its chief human resources officer.
It has restructured management at national headquarters and made key personnel adjustments throughout the force. It re-established the position of commanding officer at headquarters to directly support and oversee the thousands of people who help the RCMP front-line officers do their jobs across the country.
It has hired an executive director of public affairs to support clear and timely communication with Canadians and the media. It has stepped up its national recruiting campaign and improved key policies dealing with officer safety and use of force.
I could go on but instead I will refer to the second report of the Reform Implementation Council, which was released this past March. The council is an independent body appointed to advise and report on the RCMP's change management process. This report reaffirms the positive progress of RCMP reform.
At the conclusion of that report, it states:
The Force is working hard to strengthen its own leadership and management capabilities, while addressing such critical issues as reconciling workload with capacity. But it cannot be fully and effectively reformed without the continuing commitment of the government and the support of the central agencies.
It continues later to state:
All concerned—and certainly the members of the Council—now understand better the challenges facing the RCMP and the scope and complexity of reform. But the Council believes the Force has the capacity to make the required changes to its management and culture, and we have no doubt that senior leaders are prepared to do what is necessary to succeed.
In short, while the council, as well as the RCMP, I might add, both recognize there is much more to do, they also recognize that a great deal has already been accomplished.
However, our primary focus today is on the merits of Bill C-18 and its importance to the RCMP and its members. Bill C-18 proposes several technical amendments to the RCMP Superannuation Act to improve pension portability and, ultimately, bring the act in line with the federal public service pension plan, as well as other public and private sector plans across Canada.
The proposed amendments would: allow for the expansion of existing election for prior service provisions so that regular and civilian members of the force can purchase pension credits from other public and private sector pension plans across Canada; allow the RCMP to enter into pension transfer agreements with other pension plans in order to permit the transfer of pension credits into and out of the RCMP pension plan; and clarify and improve some administrative and eligibility aspects of the existing act, such as those related to part-time employment and the cost of elections for prior service with a police force that was taken over by the RCMP.
The amendments before us today are about fairness and flexibility. They will put each member of the RCMP on an equal footing in terms of pension portability. That is not the case under the current rules. Today, the 24,000 members of the RCMP whose pensions are governed by the RCMP Superannuation Act do not have the same pension choices as their 6,300 colleagues whose pensions fall under the Public Service Superannuation Act even though they are all public servants.
Today, people who work for the RCMP and whose pension is governed by the Public Service Superannuation Act have a pension that can follow them to the RCMP from other departments and levels of government, even from some private sector employers. They may be able to leave with their pension if they explore other federal or public sector opportunities. The other 24,000 members of the RCMP currently have pensions without that same level of portability.
Bill C-18 proposes to address that discrepancy by providing these RCMP members with the same pension choices currently available to public service employees in the federal government, as well as to members of many provincial and municipal forces.
Expanded pension portability may, in some cases, mean that the value of future pension benefits for members of the RCMP whose pensions currently fall under the RCMP Superannuation Act might be increased. It might also help these members qualify for survivor benefits for their spouses or partners and improve the value of that benefit in some cases. As well, the proposed amendments will mean that they can qualify for retirement at an earlier age, if they are eligible and wish to do so.
An additional aspect to the amendments proposed by Bill C-18 is that the enhanced portability provisions may help to strengthen current recruitment efforts, an issue that is top of mind for the RCMP at the moment given their target of achieving a net increase of 1,000 additional police and civilian staff by 2013.
Enhanced pension portability has the potential to make the RCMP a more attractive career choice for Canadians working in other fields or even as members of other police forces. In this way, Bill C-18 supports many of the existing initiatives already under way to help the RCMP recruit more officers.
I would like to respond to a few concerns raised by hon. members during debate at second reading of the bill. One was that time spent as a cadet at the RCMP training academy in Regina is not pensionable service. The issue here is that the new pension rules would allow the RCMP to recognize prior service with other employers as pensionable time, including that from other police forces who may count their officers' training time toward pension provided they were actually employees of another police service during their training periods.
The difference with the RCMP is that RCMP cadets are not sworn in as police officers and, as such, are not in the employ of the RCMP until they pass their 24 weeks of training at Regina. The RCMP pension plan is available only to employees of the force, so the time spent at depot is not pensionable as current service.
It is not possible to introduce a new provision within Bill C-18 to permit the cadet training time to be purchased as a prior service event because it does not meet the requirements of the Income Tax Act that govern registered pension plans. There is an explicit tax rule that states that any prior service must be a period throughout which the member was actually employed in order to be eligible for purchase.
Another issue at second reading was whether Bill C-18 would help recruit aboriginal people or members of Indian band police.
I am pleased to confirm to the House that Bill C-18 would allow pensionable service under another Canadian pension plan registered under the Income Tax Act to be recognized under the RCMP pension plan. Regardless of where a potential recruit originates, if he or she was a member of a registered pension plan, employment with the RCMP may become more attractive once that pension is transferable.
There were also questions about the financial impact of Bill C-18. The estimated program cost for these initiatives are $1.1 million. Elections for prior federal government service already exist. Consequently, many administrative tools are already in place for the new type of prior service provisions. The administrative costs associated with the changes are derived from existing RCMP reference levels in the RCMP pension plan. No additional financial resources are required.
Further, under the proposed amendments, the actuarial cost of purchasing prior service is borne entirely by the plan member. In the case of a pension transfer agreement, pension funds are transferred directly from the previous employer. For a transfer into the RCMP pension plan, if there is a shortfall between the demand for funds made by the RCMP and the amount for transfer from the previous plan, the plan member will have the opportunity to purchase the balance.
The bill before us is long overdue. Some hon. members will know that the new elective service and pension portability options proposed by Bill C-18 were intended to be implemented in legislation that received royal assent in 1999. What is before us today is, therefore, an opportunity to set things right and grant the government the necessary authority missing from the original legislation in order to implement these measures.
I urge all hon. members to once again rise in support of Bill C-18 and to send a strong message of support to the dedicated men and women of the RCMP who touch so many lives and who play such a vital role in making our communities safer for everyone.