Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-574, a retirement income bill of rights.
As reform to Canada's retirement system is a key principle to which the NDP is dedicated, I was pleased to hear that my Liberal colleague from York West had tabled a bill relating to pension reform. I guess in my haste, I thought it might be something around the Nortel situation, especially with the long-term disabilities. In fact, when the member spoke earlier today, she mentioned it. Therefore, I was a little surprised with the bill.
However, upon reading the bill, I came away concerned as to what the goal of the bill was.
The bill purports to create a retirement bill of rights within the authority of the Parliament of Canada, which sounds, in principle at least, like something both myself and my party, the NDP, would be pleased to support wholeheartedly. In fact, we proposed, and the House passed previously, a seniors' charter in this place, yet the government has not implemented that.
The provisions of Bill C-574 would apply to retirement plans established by employers that were federally regulated. We heard the Bloc's concerns regarding provincial jurisdiction and companies such as Air Canada, the Canadian National Railways and Bell Canada.
The bill seeks to create a number of individual rights related to pension income and retirement, such as the right to accumulate sufficient pension income for retirement, the right to determine how and when pension income should be accumulated, the right to the full, accurate and timely disclosure of the risks, which is a very important part of the bill. However, I hear people in this place saying that these things already exist.
In principle, this sounds very good. Let us ensure that there is protection for seniors when they do make their investments. However, does this raise one nickel extra in pension value for seniors? I do not think so.
The clauses of the bill that brought about my concern, or kind of a wonderment if anything, are not so much to do with the bill's stated principles, but its lack of execution. As I read the bill, it seemed it must have been hastily put together, as if the drafters ran out of time and had to turn to an earlier draft.
Most of the bill's provisions are declaratory. For instance, it declares rights, but fails to amend appropriate legislation in order to establish them.
The bill calls for increased transparency with respect to the management of pension funds, even though most of these funds, again as the Bloc has indicated, are provincially regulated. It is a good thing again, certainly in principle, but Bill C-574 proposes no amendments to the Pension Benefits Standards Act, or to any other acts that would require amendment in order for the bill to accomplish its stated goals, such as the Canada pension plan, the Old Age Security Act or the Income Tax Act.
Members will know that the Pension Benefits Standards Act currently applies to pension plans of employees working for federally-regulated employers or businesses. Bill C-574 does not give any information nor clarifies how the rights created under the bill would apply to employers or employees regulated under the Pension Benefits Standards Act. The bill also does not propose any amendments to the Pension Benefits Standards Act.
Clause 4 of the bill states that every individual Canadian has the right to accumulate sufficient pension income in a retirement income plan, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by a federal law. That is in place now. These reasonable restrictions are not elaborated on nor the federal statutes that contain a number of the restrictions. Therefore, we are left to wonder just how these changes are purported to take place.
The bill is silent on defining what sufficient pension income means.
In the presentation of the bill, the member for York West talked about a goal of 70% of income, which is a goal that is lauded around the world, but very few countries, if any, reach that goal. However, what percentage of pre-retirement income do the Liberals feel is sufficient for Canadians to live a dignified retirement? Is it 60% Is it 50%? The bill does not tell us.
In addition, it seems the bill does not amend or refer to the Canada pension plan, the Old Age Security Act or the Income Tax Act, which also provide for pensions or contain provisions that regulate the amount an individual can transfer into a pension plan. One can only then assume, for example, that the maximum amount a person could transfer into an RRSP or the maximum contributions a Canadian could make to the Canada pension plan would not be changed by reason of Bill C-574.
Moreover the bill also would impose certain obligations on professionals in the financial services field who would administer retirement income plans or who would provide financial advice on retirement plans. Knowing that the financial services sector apart from banking is largely subject to provincial regulation, consequently it is not clear how this Parliament, through Bill C-574, could possibly regulate the financial service sectors.
For these reasons, it is difficult to understand the exact purpose of the bill and especially its financial implications when put into practice. For example, Air Canada has a retirement plan for its employees. If an individual decides to go to work for Air Canada, he or she would accept the work conditions and the benefits established under the collective agreement. It is not clear where the provisions of Bill C-574 would come into effect. Would the bill allow an individual to contribute more to Air Canada's retirement plan than what would have been provided under the employment contract or collective agreement? We do not know. It is difficult to understand how this could be done in a practical fashion.
In short, it seems to me that Bill C-574 should have been a motion. Nevertheless the NDP wants to encourage the other parties to work toward real reform on retirement income systems. In that spirit the, New Democrats will support Bill C-574 going to committee so we can take a closer look at actually what can be done with the bill.
In the meantime I would like to put forward some of the concrete proposals that we have put forward over the last two years such as eliminating seniors' poverty. The member for York West spoke of seniors' poverty. The poverty gap is about $700 million and that could be put forward by the government by increasing GIS to close that gap.
We have talked about strengthening CPP/QPP. Ninety-three per cent of Canadians are already members of CPP/QPP. We want to phase in a doubling of it.
A national system of workplace pension insurance would be self-financing. It would be a mandatory insurance system funded by the plan's sponsors with a payout of up to $2,500 a month.
Let us ensure that the companies in bankruptcies make good on the pensions they owe the workers. Today when companies go bankrupt, the shortfall in the workplace pension plan, which is called an unfunded liability, does not receive priority as a creditor. Workplace pensions are nothing less than unpaid deferred wages. Workers should have the right to receive these wages, especially when the company goes under.
Our Nortel act would put workplace pension plans in the same creditor category as bondholders and other investors.
In bankruptcies workplace pension plans may be wound up and converted into low interest annuities. Pensioners would often be better off if those plans lived on as “going concerns”. We suggested creating a facility adjacent or part of the CPP, which could manage it, to adopt these pension plans.
I have heard the Liberals of late talking about the orphan plans, so I am glad to hear they have been listening to us.
It is time for the government to acknowledge that pensions are deferred wages. These wages should be there in their entirety when an employee retires. They are not bonuses paid to the workers at the end of their working lives. They are part of an agreed upon compensation package for hours worked.
Retirement security has long been a priority of the NDP. In fact, we heard members talk a few minutes ago about 1966. In 1927 the Independent Labour Party, a precursor to the NDP, proposed the first old age pension.
People who have been in this place for a few years will remember that it was the NDP's Stanley Knowles who fought for the Canada pension plan, and it was a minority Liberal government that put that in. If I recall correctly, that was in 1966.
Our party members will continue to use our leverage in this place until such time as all seniors are able to live out their retirement years with the dignity they deserve, that they have earned as part of helping Canada grow to be the great place it is today.
I do not want to totally fault what is coming forward because the words in the bill are good. It is just the actions that are required to implement it. How do we get to the place where we can actually increase the living standard of seniors today, right now. In my mind that is an increased old age security and GIS to deal with the ones below the poverty line of which close to 300,000, or over 60%, are single women. For me, that has always been a national disgrace.