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.