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House of Commons Hansard #102 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was spam.

Topics

PensionsGovernment Orders

10:50 p.m.

Conservative

Russ Hiebert Conservative South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale, BC

Mr. Chair, I have to say that I am astonished that the member would have the nerve to stand up six times in the course of one evening and ask the exact same question when he very well knows that, as far as we can tell, there is no substance to this question. As he knows, the parliamentary secretary has already committed to find an answer to this question.

Perhaps the member is at a loss on the subject matter to ask any additional questions, but to raise the same question six times, I think, is going a little too far.

PensionsGovernment Orders

10:50 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Chair, on June 16, 2009, the New Democrat motion calling for action on pensions passed with unanimous support of this House. The motion provided that, in light of the legitimate concerns of Canadians that pensions and the retirement security may not be there for them in their retirement years, the Government of Canada should begin work with the provinces and territories to ensure the sustainability of Canadians' retirement incomes. This should be done by bringing forward, at the earliest opportunity, measures such as: expanding and increasing the CPP, OAS and GIS; establishing a self-financing pension insurance program; ensuring workers' pension funds go to the front of the line of creditors in the event of bankruptcy; and, protecting CPP from imprudent investment practices by ceasing the practice of awarding managers performance-based bonuses and recovering those bonuses for 2009.

Canadians have been pleading for action on safeguarding and improving pension benefits. Yet a year and a half after voting for these measures, where is the government action?

In the time I am allotted I will speak to just a few of those agreed actions that have not yet occurred.

First of all, I wish to share a little of my personal experience in assisting seniors in my riding.

This summer, in response to a number of tearful calls to my office from distraught seniors, I did some house calls. I found it deeply troubling to find seniors who have worked hard all their lives, many of them widows of retired farmers, struggling to get by on their meagre savings and pensions.

We have, over the past few months, hosted sessions for seniors to provide information on pension and disability benefits. However, from the majority, the message I have taken away from these sessions with seniors is that they do not just want more information, they want the government to respect their contribution to society and provide greater pension support.

A senior wrote to me a few weeks back to remonstrate that this October seniors' OAS rose a maximum of six-tenths of one per cent; a mere 10¢ a day. He despaired that many seniors received zero increase due to clawbacks. He requested that an MP from any party rise in the House to thank seniors for their support of the economic recovery program, as among the few to have increased taxes are seniors. He specified the HST in Alberta and clawbacks.

On behalf of this gentleman I stand here in the House to thank all of Canada's seniors for all they have contributed and for their patience and forbearance.

We need this government to stand up for those who have worked for a lifetime contributing to our prosperity, yet are left struggling just to get by in the last years of their lives. Considering the state of the economy and minimal pension supports forthcoming, it is sadly probable, given the lack of government action, that even more will fall between the cracks.

Canadians need more than endless consultations. This is a time of restraint due to job losses; increased taxes, and that includes the HST; as well as seniors and far too many families living on fixed a income. Canadians need the federal government to make them a priority. Tax cuts continue to be extended to major corporations while a growing number of working, retired and laid-off Canadians struggle.

Why am I and all New Democrats calling for an increase in CPP pensions? Why the call to inform seniors of the benefits they are entitled to?

A September 2010 poll commissioned by CUPE reports 66% of Albertans support expanding the CPP. More than 11 million Canadian workers, 68% of the workforce, have no workplace pensions. There are eight million Canadians who are reported to have no private pension plan or RRSP. The vast majority of Canadians rely on public pensions and private savings for their retirement.

With only 31% of Canadians contributing to an RRSP last year, the government merely calls on Canadians to set aside more savings for retirement. Where, pray tell, are the majority of middle income, let alone low income, Canadians to find that extra cash?

Canadians' meagre savings are fast being depleted by rising costs for basic services: electricity, fuel, food, accommodation, extra school fees and new taxes.

Over 266,000 seniors are barely surviving at poverty level incomes. Given today's cost of living, it is a struggle for anyone to have quality of life on $16,000 a year.

It has been estimated that, by 2030, two-thirds of Canadian retirees will not have enough retirement income and are looking at relative poverty. Alberta's situation is the worst in Canada, with Albertans only able to replace 45% of their income in retirement. In my province of Alberta, more than half of senior families have no private pension. Among those without pensions, only 38% have RRSPs or registered investment funds.

For Canadian women, access to basic living support, or frankly any pension at all, is all the more critical.

In budget 2009, the government set women workers further back by killing measures ensuring equal pay for work of equal value for federal workers.

Canadian women are still not receiving the equal treatment they deserve, as they receive almost one-quarter less than what men receive on every dollar of income.

Almost half of Canadian workers are women, 60% of whom are over 50 years of age.

Three-quarters of Canadians living in poverty are women and children.

We all know that it is the majority of women who set aside their working careers to look after children at the front end, and at the back end to look after their aging parents. As a result, they qualify for less pension benefits than men, and that is the case for those lucky enough to have any pension plan at all.

By doubling the CPP, we could lift many Canadians out of poverty. We have the money. It is a political choice to grant yet deeper, unneeded corporate tax cuts or to allocate the dollars to quality of life for seniors.

Another proposed solution would be to allow for voluntary contributions to top up CPP. While the government has talked about this option since last June, so far it has not acted. The right to choose to invest in one's CPP is an important one, given how many lost their life savings through private RRSPs.

Yet another example of the government ignoring the will of the House and reneging on its own undertakings to act expeditiously to protect pensions is the delayed action to protect workers' pensions in the event of bankruptcy.

When the government failed to act, our party did. My NDP colleague, the member for Thunder Bay—Rainy River, introduced Bill C-501. The bill would ensure that pensions for employees of private companies that go bankrupt are granted priority over large creditors. This is a critical measure for Albertans, as the province has suffered the highest rate of bankruptcy during this recession, including small and medium-sized companies, an increase of 82% in one year.

Workplace pensions are nothing less than unpaid, deferred wages. Workers have a right to receive them.

Bill C-501 is currently before industry committee. I strongly urge support for the expedited completion of the review and a vote for it by all parties, including those in the other place.

In summary, the first step is to recognize the pension crisis. It was presumed that this occurred in the passage of last year's motion. The next step is for the government to take action on the many sensible measures put forward in this House. Canadians are still waiting.

PensionsGovernment Orders

11 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Conservative Burlington, ON

Mr. Chair, my colleague talked about a variety of options. New Democrats are offering one option, that CPP be doubled, which my colleague mentioned in her speech.

My colleague is talking about a crisis presently in the pension system. Would she not agree that a doubling of the CPP would take 20 to 30 years for true effect in terms of providing a stable pension income for Canadians? Would she not agree that the government needs to do things other than doubling it at this point, because it would not affect the immediate needs?

PensionsGovernment Orders

11 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Chair, it sounds as though there is some semblance of admission from the other side that in the future the doubling of CPP is actually necessary and that, by stalling, it will take a lot longer to benefit anyone.

Why does the government not step up and take the additional measures? It should stop further unnecessary deep cuts to large corporations' tax rates and take that money at least for the coming year and put it towards our seniors, who deserve it.

PensionsGovernment Orders

11 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Chair, at this time of night we are a bit shaky in our presentations.

I want to say to the member for Edmonton—Strathcona that on June 16, 2009, when we passed the NDP's opposition day motion on pensions, there was a unanimous vote in this place. Clearly, people realized it was time for a discussion on pensions.

So we began that national discussion and the parliamentary secretary was criss-crossing the country, as I was. I do not know whether I have ever related this story to the member or not, but when I came to the member's riding, a woman took me aside and told me that she makes about $1,160 a month and in Edmonton, to get by, she has to go to a food bank.

I have been trying strenuously in this place to get it across to the government that, yes, there is a place for the measures that the government has taken on TFSAs, income splitting and other things. Nobody is arguing that point. But the government has to take that lens and put it over on the people who are struggling.

The member for Burlington just talked about the timeframe it would take to increase the CPP. If we got our great wish and it was doubled, it would take 35 years. There is no doubt of that.

There has to be an immediate response to poverty among seniors, and that simply is infusing $700 million directly into the GIS right away.

PensionsGovernment Orders

11 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Chair, I would like to thank the hon. member, not only for his excellent question but for his undaunting efforts on behalf of seniors and retirees in Canada to bring them out of poverty and to give them the support that they duly deserve.

Absolutely we should be using every measure conceivable to improve the CPP, to improve the GIS. Frankly, this issue that has come up earlier this evening is to let people know the benefits they are entitled to. It is pretty astounding to discover how many people are suffering away in their homes and nobody has taken the time to actually tell them about the benefits, including a lot of the disability benefits.

I have to add, though, that I was stunned in this House to hear members on the other side actually stand and profess that by lowering corporate taxes they are actually going to benefit the seniors.

Are they suggesting that 80-year-old retired widows should apply for a job at one of these corporations because they are going to create more work? I am frankly just astounded at some of the replies that I have heard.

PensionsGovernment Orders

11:05 p.m.

Macleod Alberta

Conservative

Ted Menzies ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Chair, I cannot sit idly by and let a statement such as that last one go unanswered.

Does that hon. member not understand who holds pension funds, who contributes to pension funds, wherein pension funds are invested, where RRSPs gain their money from? That is an incredibly naive statement for that hon. member to make.

That is what fuels the economy in this country. That is what people's RRSPs are invested in: companies that make a profit. If we took the advice of the NDP and ran every company, every business, out of this country, the RRSPs would go with them. The RRSPs would be in the toilet. Then we would have the pension crisis that the hon. member refers to.

It is incredibly naive for any individual, some learned person who stands in this House and professes to understand the economy, to make such a statement that if we chase the companies away from this country, chase the job creators out of this country, we would have any pension fund left whatsoever, that we would have any bank that would want to fund RRSPs. We would then have a pension crisis.

I realize there is no question in that, just a clarification of fact or reality.

PensionsGovernment Orders

11:05 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Chair, I have to say that I am astounded by the member's comment, equally.

First, he is fearmongering. I do not see any major corporations running away from Canada when they already have the lowest corporate tax rate in the western world, already a lower corporate tax rate than the United States of America. This is complete balderdash.

The point that we have been trying to raise all evening is that those on the other side simply do not appear to understand that there is a rising percentage of Canadians who do not have the money to buy RRSPs. They seem to be completely unaware that in the crash of the economy under their watch, a large number of Canadians lost their life savings in these supposedly sound RRSPs, which is precisely why they are calling upon us to plead the case to double the CPP.

PensionsGovernment Orders

11:05 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Chair, I am a bit disappointed in the government for not moving quickly enough to establish an insurance scheme to insure pension funds.

Property and casualty insurance companies across Canada could form a fund back in 1986 or 1987 to take care of any bankruptcies in the property and casualty insurance business. If houses burn down and a company goes bankrupt, the rest of the companies in the country get together to resolve the situation, pay the claims and bail the company out. That same situation happens with life insurance companies. It is about time the government looked at that as an option.

I would like to ask the member if she would agree with that analysis and whether we could collectively encourage the government to look into that as an option.

PensionsGovernment Orders

11:05 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Chair, I concur, of course, with the member's analysis. However, I would like to digress and go in another direction.

We have a lot of people who are having to rely on their retirement incomes because they are losing their jobs.

The government is failing in its watch in a number of areas that are seriously affecting people's retirement income, and that includes the matter of foreign investment.

When corporations come to this country from another nation and sign on to so-called agreements that the government puts forward, either the terms are not strict enough or the government is not bothering to watchdog those agreements. A lot of Canadians are losing their jobs and this is part of the crisis.

We need much broader action by the government to protect the income of Canadians, protect the jobs of Canadians and protect their future retirement earnings.

PensionsGovernment Orders

11:10 p.m.

Liberal

Gerry Byrne Liberal Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte, NL

Mr. Chair, I encourage the hon. members opposite to stick around. They will learn something here tonight. This will be my seventh try at getting some bits of information into these guys heads, so here goes.

Canada introduced registered retirement savings plans in 1957 and, ever since then, we have been encouraging Canadians to try to invest in registered retirement savings plans for their own retirement. We told our seniors of today, when they were making these investments yesterday, that this was an investment that the government would never mess with. We promised tax savings and other advantages to those who proactively plan for their own retirement by investing in RRSPs.

In May, however, that message fundamentally changed when the government secretly, without any notice, implemented changes to the old age security and guaranteed income supplement programs by the policies guiding each respectively, by way of what is known as functional guidance and procedures amendments to staff.

Whenever staff were dealing with registered retirement income funds for the purposes of guaranteed income supplement, allowance for the spouse and allowance for the widow or widower, the Conservative government's orders were that Human Resources and Skills Development Canada staff were to include the withdrawals of RRIF income when calculating GIS eligibility. In other words, the Conservatives were either knowingly or negligently wiping out tens of thousands of dollars in benefits formerly available under the rules as they applied to RRSPs and RRIFs.

In so doing, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada staff did not even bother to inform seniors before these changes were made, and to this day, even in the debate in the House tonight, they are still denying they did it. Specifically, the changes to the old age security and guaranteed income supplement programs policy no longer allow for the discretionary or emergency spending of these investments by way of lump sum withdrawals from RRSPs or RRIFs without consequence to eligibility for the GIS.

Let me take a moment to explain this so the government gets it and understands what it did.

When a person has invested in an RRSP, at the age of 72 he or she must convert those funds into an RRIF. Under the rules of calculating whether or not a citizen is eligible for the guaranteed income supplement, which is income-tested, they take all the money that they made from various pension sources, not including OAS, old age security. What they did is they took those rules and said, “Listen, we never used to calculate”. When someone took a lump sum from the RRIF to pay for cancer treatment or medical costs related to a heart condition, or if they needed to make an emergency investment in a car to be able to care for a fellow family member, they could option that money out. In other words, they could ask the government, when it was making the calculation of the GIS, to take that RRIF lump sum withdrawal that they made and, because it was a one-time-only withdrawal, to calculate their eligibility for the GIS as if they never made it.

For years and years, the government allowed that to occur, but in May it said, “We are not going to do that anymore. If people make a lump sum withdrawal from their RRIF, they are now going to lose their GIS”.

Here is what that means. In a court case, if the government is taking any comfort from a court case, here is what a judge said:

I do not wish to leave this matter, however, without expressing the hope that the government might give consideration to proposing an amendment to the Act that would give some relief to persons in the Appellant's position. There are occasions when recipients of the guaranteed income supplement find it necessary to withdraw funds from a registered plan to meet an urgent need for cash—

PensionsGovernment Orders

11:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Andrew Scheer

I know the member is going to be terribly disappointed, and unfortunately we cannot even seek unanimous consent to go for another four hours, because of an order made earlier, but it being 11:15, pursuant to Standing Order 53.1, the committee will rise and I will leave the chair.

(Government Business No. 8 reported)

PensionsGovernment Orders

11:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Accordingly, this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 2 p.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 11:15 p.m.)