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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

9:05 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Chair, I think if we asked Canadians whether they would support the NDP approach, possibly supported by the government, to double the CPP, to take their CPP payments from $908 a month to $1,800 a month, phased in over 35 years, with a 2.5% increase on behalf of the employee and a 2.5% premium on behalf of the employer to pay for it, guaranteed, I think they would take that option over this Liberal approach .

The Liberal approach is a supplementary voluntary pension, which I believe has been around now for about six months and going nowhere. I do not think anybody is taking the idea seriously out there. How they expect a voluntary pension to provide equity over the long term is beyond me.

In making the plan voluntary, it tends to be the people with money, richer people, who can afford to get into it and benefit. The poorest people do not actually take advantage of it. So whatever program we have has to be a compulsory program.

I would like to know when the Liberal Party is going to see the light, get on board with the majority, and move together to improve the pension system in this country for the long-term benefit of the residents of Canada.

PensionsGovernment Orders

9:05 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Liberal Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Mr. Chair, I acknowledge the comments made by my colleague. Let me say at the outset that we support an expansion of the CPP.

The idea of the supplementary plan is to enable Canadians to make a contribution themselves, to be able to do so without the employer being involved. The employer can certainly make a contribution if they wish, but at the end of the day, Canadians should be able to contribute to a plan of their own making. That is what we are about here and that is the Liberal plan. It is to respond to the needs of Canadians, especially those who do not have a pension plan and would like to have the opportunity to be part of a pension plan that they have directed themselves.

PensionsGovernment Orders

9:05 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Chair, let me just elaborate a bit.

Women would benefit from a supplementary Canada pension plan. They are the ones who bear children and they are the ones who end up having to take time off work to raise their children. Women are predominantly the caregivers to parents, so they are the ones who have to leave their employment. Ultimately, when a woman gets into her own retirement years, she has nothing to depend on other than the current OAS or GIS and very little in the CPP.

Would the member like to elaborate on how she sees a supplementary plan benefiting women?

PensionsGovernment Orders

9:05 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Liberal Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Mr. Chair, in many cases, women stay at home to raise their families. In these cases, they are not able to contribute to a pension plan. They have no private pension plan to pay into.

A supplementary pension plan would provide Canadians, women in particular, with the opportunity to have income in their retirement years and not just CPP or GIS. They would have access to the kind of income that would enable them to live comfortably and to provide for themselves and not live in poverty. That is an issue certainly for all Canadians, and particularly for women, but for seniors overall.

No one wants to see a senior living in poverty. Today, by and large, with an annual income of $15,000, they are trying to make ends meet. They are trying to heat their homes and buy medication. That is impossible to do on an income of $15,000 and live comfortably as well.

In a lot of cases we are talking about seniors with an income of maybe $15,000 per person or $30,000 a couple. When one of those individuals dies, the spouse is left behind with all the expenses of running a home but with a much reduced income.

PensionsGovernment Orders

9:10 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Conservative Burlington, ON

Mr. Chair, it is my pleasure to be taking part in this take note debate this evening.

The Ontario Liberal finance minister was quoted as saying in May of this year, in the Hamilton Spectator, that Canada has one of the best post-retirement income systems in the world and a dramatic lowering of instances of old age poverty.

We are trying to learn from each other here tonight. I wonder if the member would agree that there is no easy solution to the pension issue. Would she agree that it is a very difficult issue?

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance has been working with all finance ministers across the country on this issue. There is no single, simple solution. What is important and tends to be forgotten here that we need to work together with the provinces. Rather than the Government of Canada running the show, in actual fact the government only controls about 10% of registered pensions. The rest are controlled at the provincial level.

What recommendations would the member make to involve the provinces, including the Liberal finance minister in the province of Ontario?

PensionsGovernment Orders

9:10 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Liberal Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Mr. Chair, l am a former provincial politician who served in a cabinet for eight years. I would be the last person to ignore provincial involvement in terms of dealing with this serious issue on behalf of Canadians.

Of course, we all need to work together. We all need to make sure that we get the best possible deal when it comes to pensions for seniors and retirees.

I would just remind my colleague that the federal government regulates pensions. We need the government to be at the table. We do not need it dragging this out year after year. For two years the government has been saying that it is going to produce something, that it is going to bring something to the table. We are still waiting to see what that will be.

Pensioners do not have the luxury of time. They are living now in poverty. They cannot make ends meet. We really need the government to acknowledge this, to work with us, to work with the provinces and to put in place a pension scheme that is acceptable and workable for all seniors in our country.

PensionsGovernment Orders

9:10 p.m.

Conservative

Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Chair, as the member of Parliament for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke in the beautiful Ottawa valley, I am pleased to participate in this take note debate on pensions on behalf of the constituents in my riding and on behalf of all Canadians.

First I commend the hard work and countless hours of my fellow caucus colleagues, the Minister of Finance and the member for Macleod, for the thought and consideration they put into the pension file on behalf of Canadians. By working together, we can accomplish great things for all Canadians.

When I speak to residents in Arnprior, Barry's Bay, Laurentian Hills and all points in between, particularly seniors and those on fixed incomes, they share with me what many are feeling about their retirement. I asked to participate in this debate to let them know that I am listening, their government is listening and that we are engaged in providing the right response based on their needs.

Before I review the progress to date on pension reform, I want to say that less than 10% of pension plans are federally regulated. In other words, 90% of pension plans in the workplace in Canada are regulated by the provinces.

While my federal colleagues and I are prepared to show leadership in the area of pensions, when it comes to such things as tax assisted retirement savings, like RRSPs and our new tax free savings account, efforts to improve Canadians' retirement security requires provincial co-operation.

In May 2009, along with provincial and territorial governments, we conducted and completed a review of the Canada pension plan. Reforms to CPP to allow greater flexibility in how Canadians retire were unanimously agreed to by all governments as part of that review. These reforms include the removal of the requirement for individuals to stop working or reduce earnings for two months in order to take up CPP and permitting more low earning years to be excluded from the pension calculation.

As I stated earlier, less than 10% of pension plans are federally regulated. That is why we raised the issue at the annual meeting of federal, provincial and territorial finance ministers in late 2008 and, early in 2009, set up a joint federal-provincial research working group to conduct an in-depth examination of retirement income adequacy.

In October 2009, based on the tremendous feedback received, comprehensive regulatory changes to improve the federal pension framework were released.

In December 2009, we convened a summit of our provincial and territorial counterparts to discuss the important findings of this group.

Working together, governments agreed to move forward and study policy options to address the issues identified in that indepth research.

The tremendous feedback from Canadians informed discussions at the federal, provincial and territorial finance ministers meeting in June 2010. From that process, we came up with proposed targeted improvements for further discussion with provincial and territorial partners, such as: tax changes to allow multi-employer pensions; promoting financial literacy; and, a modest enhancement to the Canada pension plan defined benefits. These proposals will build on our system's strengths, which include a healthy balance between government and private sector involvement.

Our Conservative government has also introduced landmark changes to ease the tax burden on Canadian seniors since 2006. These measures will provide nearly $2 billion annually in tax relief to seniors and pensioners, including the tax fairness plan that introduced pension plan splitting for the 2007 and subsequent tax years and increased the age credit amount by $1,000 for 2006 and subsequent taxation years. Budget 2006 doubled the amount of income eligible for the pension income credit, from $1,000 to $2,000 as of 2006.

Budget 2008 announced significantly more flexibility for seniors and older workers with federally regulated pension assets that are held in life income funds to use their retirement savings when and how they require.

Clearly, our Conservative government is working to protect seniors and pensioners. While others play catch-up, we are delivering results.

My riding of Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke is home to CFB Petawawa. Friends and family are welcoming home soldiers who are completing their current mission in Afghanistan. I welcome home all our returning soldiers from Afghanistan and I wish them all a Merry Christmas.

In addition to being home to CFB Petawawa, the upper Ottawa valley is the retirement home of choice for many of our military members who fell in love with the Ottawa valley while being posted here and now call the area their permanent home. I take a special interest in the women and men in uniform and an equally special interest in our military veterans.

It is important to bring to the attention of our women and men in uniform the work our government has undertaken to build on the pensions and income support our grateful nation provides to our veterans. Our government introduced the enhanced New Veterans Charter Act to address some of the deficiencies left over from the old government and its decade of darkness, a policy of ignoring the needs of soldiers and veterans.

Our goal in the enhanced New Veterans Charter act is to make changes to the New Veterans Charter to address concerns raised by stakeholders like veterans and their families. We listened and we have acted. The legislation would improve access to monthly benefits for seriously injured veterans up to $1,609 per month for life; would introduce a separate monthly $1,000 supplement for life to help our most seriously injured or ill veterans and provide flexible options for receiving a lump sum disability award; and giving veterans the choice on how they choose to receive the award by choosing either a lump sum payment, annual installments over a number of years or a combination of both.

Our government's efforts to promote financial knowledge are important, especially for our seniors, veterans and youth beginning their careers. I am pleased to assist constituents who require assistance to navigate through the many options and the array of services available to them. Having financial knowledge includes having the correct information.

As a member of the government, I am held accountable for what the government delivers and the costs to Canadians for the delivery of the services like pensions. Individuals who never had a chance to be in government are not accountable and will say and promise anything. It is particularly distressing for veterans to receive misinformation regarding something as serious as a person's means of support in retirement.

I have listened to members of the opposition confuse veterans about their pensions using terms like clawback, when in fact veterans are receiving every dollar they are entitled to. I am absolutely open to hear ways to improve pensions for everyone but it is not in anyone's interest to confuse a discussion on pensions with misinformation.

What is also important is to ensure that whatever is decided by Parliament about pensions is good public policy. A disturbing trend is the situation where Parliament will work to do its best to develop fair and equitable pension legislation only to see our hard work unravelled by a business with deep pockets. It can afford to hire some big Toronto law firm to find some loophole to not pay or reduce the pensions its employees worked hard for and thought they were entitled to.

The employees are hard-pressed to be able to afford to defend themselves from this form of what could be called legalized theft. The last thing workers want to do is spend their retirement fund defending the pension they thought was theirs. It is a sad state of affairs when a business would rather pay thousands of dollars to a Toronto law firm that profits from this practice than be concerned for the well-being of their employees when they retire. I oppose this practice and will not hesitate to defend workers from the erosion of their pensions by this means.

Pension rules are complicated.

PensionsGovernment Orders

9:20 p.m.

Liberal

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

Mr. Chair, the hon. member said that her government has acted and is prepared to act for seniors.

I have a very simple, straightforward question. Over the course of this evening, I have raised the serious state facing senior citizens as a result of the change the government implemented in May 2010 to amend, by order of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, the way the government handles voluntary withdrawals that senior citizens may make from registered retirement income funds, RRIFs, with respect to the way those withdrawals affect eligibility for the guaranteed income supplement.

I have explained in detail during the course of this evening how the government's decision will cost seniors tens of thousands of dollars as a result of that policy change. I have asked if the government would amend the policy to bring it back to the way it was prior to May 2010.

Will the hon. member commit on behalf of her government that it will see the error in its ways and bring the policy back to the way it was so that senior citizens do not lose their GIS if they have a medical catastrophe and need to make a voluntary withdrawal of their RRIF? Before, senior citizens could simply option that money but they no longer have that option. They will lose their GIS. That is not treating seniors fairly.

PensionsGovernment Orders

9:25 p.m.

Conservative

Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Chair, I understand the member opposite has asked that question five times in the last two and a half hours and has been promised a thoughtful response from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance.

Our government's regulatory reforms introduced late last year provide greater clarity for employees and employers, as well as increasing retirement security for many Canadians.

We took concrete steps to enhance protections for pension plan members, reduced the volatility of defined benefit plans and made it easier for participants to change their pension plan arrangements.

Our government's framework for resolving plan specific problems means fewer employees and employers will find themselves in court fighting with each other where nobody wins except the lawyers.

PensionsGovernment Orders

9:25 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Chair, I understand that the member for Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte is asking the question again because the government keeps sidestepping it. I will ask the Conservative member a simpler question about one aspect of the pension system for seniors: the guaranteed income supplement my colleague talked about.

Can she tell us why people who are entitled to this supplement, which the government is somewhat familiar with, are not receiving it? There are 108,000 such people in Canada and 42,000 in Quebec. Does she know why they are not getting the guaranteed income supplement?

PensionsGovernment Orders

9:25 p.m.

Conservative

Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Chair, for people to actually qualify for GIS, they first need to apply for it.

The reforms introduced by our government are comprehensive and they address many of the concerns raised by Canadians. Our government is committed to this.

I will vigorously monitor Canada's pension systems and make updates and reforms as new cases present themselves. Taken together, the consultations and reforms introduced thus far demonstrate our government's sustained commitment to improving Canadians' retirement security, a commitment to retirement security I am proud to share.

PensionsGovernment Orders

9:25 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Chair, we hear the government speak to us regularly about the fact that it only has jurisdiction over 10% of the pensions of our country. The government has legislative authority over the old age security, the guaranteed income supplement and CPP, just to be clear on what we are talking about here.

Recently, Professor Kesselman, a pension expert, agreed with the NDP's proposition to increase CPP with a goal of doubling it over 35 years. Professor Jack Mintz, who was part of the task force of the government, agreed with Mr. Kesselman.

Having that before us, I am just curious as to whether the member has any knowledge of how soon we can expect the government to start to move on this particular portion of the file.

PensionsGovernment Orders

9:30 p.m.

Conservative

Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Chair, I would like to start with the first part of the member's question. He correctly stated that the federal government is responsible for 10% of Canada's pensions. Federally regulated pensions are for companies such as Air Canada and other federally owned agencies. Aside from those, the provincial governments are responsible for regulating them.

PensionsGovernment Orders

9:30 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Conservative Burlington, ON

Mr. Chair, my colleague is absolutely right. One of the issues facing all Canadians, whether they are seniors or not, is financial literacy.

During the last break, there was a pre-retirement public meeting held in my riding and about 125 people came out. Service Canada gave a presentation and indicated that Canadians have to understand that they need to apply for certain things before they can get them, such as GIS. A person applies once and qualifies and it continues from there on in based on one's income every year.

When we look at all of the things that the government has done, from income splitting to doubling the age credit, to the change of age in converting RRSPs to RIFFs and what has been done with the tax-free savings account, a whole list of things has been done. What should an individual from her riding do to find out about the government programs that are in place today because of this government so they can access what is rightfully available to them if they qualify?

PensionsGovernment Orders

9:30 p.m.

Conservative

Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Chair, my constituents in Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke are concerned about their retirement and their concerns are always my concerns.

In answer to my colleague's question, I invite them to call or come to my office and I will ensure that they are receiving all the benefits they are qualified to receive. I must commend my hon. colleague on taking the initiative, being proactive and holding a group meeting to discuss these concerns so that people can better understand.

Our Conservative government is focused on meeting the needs of all Canadians, from their first job to when they are able to enjoy a well-deserved retirement with a good pension.

PensionsGovernment Orders

9:30 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Chair, I know the hon. member spends a lot of time working on these issues.

We have certainly heard a lot about bankruptcy in the last two years. Thousands of people from Nortel and AbitibiBowater have complained, and rightfully so, about losing their pensions. As the member talks about championing so many other issues, what has she done within the confines of her own government to ask the government to respond and make some changes to the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act to help protect the very people who are about to be on the street?

PensionsGovernment Orders

9:30 p.m.

Conservative

Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Chair, there are a number of retired and former Nortel employees in my riding and we have been advocating on their behalf. Nortel is one of the 90% of companies in Canada whose pensions are provincially regulated. We need to find a solution together with our provincial partners to ensure this type of tragedy does not happen again.

PensionsGovernment Orders

November 23rd, 2010 / 9:30 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Chair, I feel it is important to take part in this take note debate on Canada's retirement income system, especially since workers in my riding and most members' ridings have been affected by a very unfortunate situation in recent years, especially the past three years.

It used to be that we were especially concerned about people who had no private pension coverage. When people without private pension coverage reached retirement age—65 for most people or 60 for people who qualified for the Quebec pension plan—they received public pension benefits, of necessity. But few of them had enough money to retire.

Two things happened. With the economic crisis, the economic structure or the problems experienced by companies weakened many pension funds. But they were also weakened when one of the major stakeholders was denied a role in managing pension funds. In the past 10 years, pensioners themselves have been excluded from managing many plans. When companies started tampering with pension plans to try to refloat them, if I can put it that way, by giving the employer a contribution holiday or restricting coverage, one stakeholder was missing every time. So when it became necessary to take measures, most of the time, they were taken and the people who were affected right away were those who were receiving private pension benefits.

This is a reflex that is relatively normal under the circumstances and abnormal in other situations. It is normal because we have a survival instinct. We tell ourselves that we will be retiring later, so we will have time to make up for the shortfall in the fund. We do not worry about the people who are receiving their pension when we make this decision.

I would like to remind members of two specific examples, Atlas Steels in Sorel and the Jeffrey mine in Asbestos. These people ended up in a situation in which the union and the employer agreed that the employer's contributions could be suspended or, in some cases, they agreed upon exceptional measures that meant that insufficient contributions were being made to the pension fund. At Atlas Steels, in Sorel, pensioners saw their pension benefits cut by 20%, 30%, 40%, 50% or 60%. That is huge. You are entitled to receive an amount every year because you and your employer contributed. But then all of a sudden your pension goes from $27,000 a year to $13,000 or $14,000 a year. That is terrible.

These situations happened—and this has not been brought up yet this evening—because a key player was disregarded, someone with an opinion on such situations and especially on the management of a pension fund.

We introduced Bill C-290 to partially fix this situation by creating a tax credit.

This tax credit would allow anyone whose benefits were cut to recover approximately 22% of the money they lost. That is not very much, but it is still a significant amount for people who do not earn much to begin with. But, contrary to expectations, some of the Liberals voted with the Conservatives to deny workers from Jeffrey mine in Asbestos and Atlas Steels in Sorel the right to this measure, which would have helped alleviate financial difficulties.

This evening we are debating measures to confront the new realities of pension plans. However, there is still some ambiguity because no action is coming out of all this talk.

I would like to give an example of the elements of the public pension system. There is old age security for seniors, which is their income security. For many of them, it is insufficient because it is their only income. So the guaranteed income supplement was created to give seniors a decent income on which to live. But then what happened? Some of the people who are eligible have been beaten up by life and a large number of them are marginalized. Some of them are isolated by poverty, others by their low level of education or training or simply because they do not know their rights or have communication problems.

In 2001, we learned that 183,000 people in Canada were in that situation, including 81,000 people in Quebec. Since then, the Bloc Québécois has been on the attack. Our colleague at the time, Marcel Gagnon from Shawinigan, the member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain, led a crusade that allowed us to find many of these people. However, 42,000 have not yet been reached. So they are the people we are talking about.

Our Conservative colleague was saying earlier that seniors only have to apply once. However, in order to apply that first time, they need to know they are entitled to the supplement. The government, on the other hand, knows they are entitled to it, so why not just give it to them?

Over the years, the government has misappropriated a great deal of money, $3.3 million to be precise, that belongs to some of our most vulnerable seniors. That money belongs to them. We need to start with measures like that one. We also need to look at the possibilities being discussed right now in Quebec by unions and seniors' advocacy groups, which are proposing increasing the income provided by public pensions. In Quebec, some people have suggested doubling the Quebec Pension Plan with appropriate deductions and contributions to make that possible. This would give people who are working and do not have a private pension plan the opportunity to participate in a group plan that will guarantee them at least enough income to live with a little dignity when they retire.

This is what people should take away from this evening's debate: we need to take a close look at what we are doing wrong and remain open to what we can do better.

PensionsGovernment Orders

9:40 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Chair, let me congratulate my colleague on the issue. I would like to ask him a couple of questions.

Clearly, in the white paper that I recently issued, and I believe his party has a copy of it, with the 28 recommendations, we talk about the supplementary Canada pension plan. We also talk about how we support the expansion of the Canada pension plan. We also support the whole issue of people having a longer period of time to be able to collect their Canada pension plan if they are late collecting it.

Is the member aware that there is a group of people on long-term disability who are appearing before the Senate on Bill S-216? These people are former Nortel workers. Since Nortel has gone bankrupt, there is nobody left to pay their monthly disability benefit premiums to continue their long-term disability benefits. It is a very serious issue in Canada that I believe has been raised as a result of the unfortunate incident with Nortel.

I would like to hear what the member thinks of this. Of course this bill must be passed before the House rises in order to have any effect and help these poor disabled people. When the bill was at committee last week and ready to go to clause by clause, the Conservative senators adjourned the meeting and left these people high and dry there, trying to get a bill passed that could help them by paying their premiums as a result of the Nortel incident.

I wonder what the member thinks about those particular actions and about how the Conservative senators have just abandoned these people.

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9:45 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Chair, I would first like to thank and congratulate my fellow member for all of the time and effort she has put into addressing this issue. Like her, I was taken aback by the casual attitude toward a situation that I believe is urgent.

During the economic crisis in Canada, special, emergency measures were put in place to address issues related to municipal infrastructure and the automotive industry. Far fewer measures were taken with regard to the forestry industry. When people lose their jobs or retirement income, it constitutes a severe economic crisis for them that calls into question their ability to provide for themselves and their families.

When we fail to urgently and immediately resolve a problem that falls under our responsibility and to see what we can do to help these people and do right by them, we are not respecting our obligations. We are merely accentuating the effects of the economic crime to which they have fallen victim.

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9:45 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Chair, our pension critic, the member for Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, is fond of saying that we ensure our cars, so why can we not ensure our pension funds.

Actually, it is not as complicated as it sounds. In 1987, after two or three property and casuality insurance bankruptcies, the provinces across the country got together with the industry and set up a compensation fund. Right after that, the life insurance companies did the same thing. We have travel acts in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia, where if we do not get the trip we paid for, if the agency goes bankrupt, we are compensated. Canada has all sorts of examples of how we should be doing this.

We can insure our trips and we insure our cars and our houses. Why in the world can we not insure our pension plans?

I would like to ask the member. I am sure he agrees with the idea. Why is the government dragging its feet on this issue?

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9:45 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Chair, that is a very good question. Under the regulations, pension plans are required to have a compensation fund of 15% to 20%. I think the legislation did not allow compensation funds to exceed 20% of the plan requirements as such. We have to make sure that the rules governing these plans uphold this requirement at all times and that provisions are implemented to ensure compliance.

Any time the rules have been broken it has been because one of the two contributors—usually the employer—has been allowed to take a break from contributing. That should not happen. Other sources should be found to support the plan, especially when the employer is going bankrupt, if there is bankruptcy, to ensure that workers are the first creditors in line to receive all the money or assets left to hand out.

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9:50 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Chair, the member from the Bloc raised earlier the issue of the guaranteed income supplement.

The government knows the people's age and it knows how much money they make. Would it not be nice if the bottom of the assessment said that in the future they may qualify for this and they should check it out, or something to that effect? It should be that simple because it is an entitlement really.

We heard the member for York West talk earlier about the Nortel situation with the LTD workers. The LTD workers at Nortel had a problem because, instead of premiums being paid to an insurance company, the company was self-insured. That is why when the assets went down there was a problem.

We have talked in the House under one of the bills I proposed, Bill C-476 and now C-501, about protecting workers' assets in their pension funds at the time of bankruptcy and insolvency or the CCAA because corporations are hiding behind CCAA, in particular, to get out of their responsibilities to the pensioners.

I am very curious. Would the Bloc be supportive of Bill C-50l, which was before committee today?

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9:50 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Chair, given the number of bills, I am trying to recall it. I probably know it, but with only the number to go on I am having difficulty.

However, we will support any measure that could counter this flaw that has been introduced along the way and that has weakened pension plans.

As I said a little earlier, there is supposed to be oversight, but it is not respected, just as there is no respect for the guaranteed income supplement. The government knows who is entitled to it, but it does not give it to them. If a disabled person falls out of his wheelchair, he is unable to get back up even though he has his wheelchair. Will we leave him there? Common sense dictates that we will not. We will support him and help him up.

Some people do not know that they are entitled to the guaranteed income supplement. However, the government knows. These people live in poverty. They do not have enough to eat because they spend all their income on rent. This is a fact. Why do we not do the same thing? Why do we not go out and help them? They must be told that they are entitled to it. We must tell them it is theirs, and give it to them. If there are doubts, we can write to them. If we have doubts, we can ask them if that is their situation. Most of the time, there is no question about it. We know it, just as the government knows that it misappropriated $3.3 billion, which came from the pockets of these people.

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9:50 p.m.

Halton Ontario

Conservative

Lisa Raitt ConservativeMinister of Labour

Mr. Chair, today I rise to speak on a subject that is personally important to me and equally important to all Canadians, which is their retirement. After many years spent in the Canadian workforce building the Canada that we have today and caring for their families, Canadian seniors deserve to have the benefit of a top notch retirement system that will support them through their retirement. One of the best ways to support our seniors is by cutting taxes and leaving money in their pockets. I am proud to say that our Conservative government has delivered on lowering taxes.

Now there are many examples that I can provide on what this government has accomplished for retirees over the past four years. We have increased the age credit amount by $2,000, saving seniors hundreds of dollars. We doubled the pension income credit, the first time it was ever increased. We increased the age limit for maturing pensions and RRSPs from age 69 to 71, allowing seniors to save longer for their retirement. We introduced the tax-free savings account, the most important savings tool to be introduced since the RRSP. Seniors benefit immensely from this account. It provides them with a savings vehicle after they must withdraw their money from their RRSPs and RRIFs.

Finally and perhaps most importantly, we introduced pension income splitting, one of the most important tax changes for seniors ever instituted and one that seniors of Halton indicate to me over and over again has been incredibly important to them, because for many seniors this means thousands of dollars off their taxes every year. Clearly, we are getting things done for seniors, and the seniors in my region of Halton, as I indicated, are telling me this.

Our Conservative government also has a strong record when it comes to retirement income. The global recession exacerbated the fears of many Canadians about the adequacy of their retirement savings. As markets plummeted around the world, so did the savings of many Canadians. But our government listened to the concerns of Canadians and we granted special one-time relief to help them get through this time. We reduced the mandatory minimum RRIF withdrawal by 25% so that Canadians could hold onto their savings for better times.

Our government continues to listen to the concerns of seniors and Canadians across this country. As Canada's labour minister, I am concerned as well with the aging workforce in Canada, so I am listening to older workers who are calling for elimination of the mandatory retirement age. These are issues that are of concern to Canadians. As an elected official and a minister of the Crown, I also regard them as a concern.

Seniors make up nearly 15% of the population of Canada. Canadians are living longer, and increasingly they are becoming more concerned about their retirement incomes and their financial stability past the age of 60 or 65. Not only is an aging workforce concerned with pension but workers are also asking to continue in the workforce longer and employers are benefiting from the years of experience and the knowledge that these older workers bring to the table. These are all important issues for me as Minister of Labour and as well for this government on the whole.

That is why this government is also working toward providing a more permanent solution to the retirement income system, and we begin this by doing what our government has always done. We listen. I know some opposition parties want us to act recklessly and without the proper research, but our government is not going to make changes that will affect generations of Canadians without careful consideration and thorough review. The file is too important to too many Canadians to do otherwise.

In that vein, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance criss-crossed this country and listened to the concerns of pensioners and consulted widely on the proposed solutions to federally regulated pensions. Based on what he heard from Canadians of all walks of life, our government came up with new regulations for federally regulated pensions last October. These regulations and these reforms struck an important balance. They provide the necessary improvements while not harming the current system.

Specifically, our government put in place a regulatory framework to enhance the protections for plan members, to reduce that funding volatility for defined benefit plans, make it easier for participants to negotiate changes to their pension arrangements, improve the framework for defined and negotiated contribution plans and modernize the rules for investments.

These reforms were well received by seniors across Canada. In fact, Susan Eng from Canada's Association for the 50Plus praised them and said, “I'm happy...when you look at something like this you see a lot of positives... we're looking at some of the changes that they've proposed, they sound great”.

The National Association of Federal Retirees said they were “pleased to hear that the Government of Canada is taking action to strengthen the pension framework and enhance benefit security for some workers and retirees”.

Dan Braniff of the Common Front for Retirement Security joined the choir and said, “I wish to congratulate... [your government] for the proposed reforms to the Canada Pension Act. This is an important milestone for creating greater security for many pensioners and plan members...We also wish to show our appreciation for the excellent work of your [Parliamentary Secretary]...who travelled across Canada and obviously listened to the voices of pensioners... Thank you for taking this very important step for better retirement security at this very critical time”.

I know everyone in the House joins Dan Braniff and others in their praise for the parliamentary secretary who, quite frankly, did an amazing job on behalf of all Canadians.

Our government also acknowledges the fact that less than 10% of Canadian pension plans are regulated by the federal government. This is clearly an area of joint responsibility that requires the support, consideration and co-operation of the other provinces. This is a fact that opposition members should keep in mind when they propose measures. We need to support the engagement of the provinces. Indeed, our Conservative government is working collaboratively with the provinces to bring forward realistic and effective solutions.

The first thing we did was put together a joint federal-provincial-territorial working group on pensions to examine the issues. To ensure we got expert advice, we created a research working group with the well-respected academic, Jack Mintz, as chair. After reviewing the research, all federal and provincial governments agreed to examine options to improve Canada's retirement system.

Our government and provincial governments across Canada consulted with Canadians on ways to improve our pan-Canadian retirement income system. Last June we met with Canadians and brought forward innovative proposals for our indepth review. We continue to work with the provinces with these proposals collaboratively. Let me be clear. We will not impose unilateral solutions on the provinces.

Our Conservative government has accomplished much on the pension front. We reduced taxes for seniors and pensioners. We performed the first review of federally-regulated pensions since 1985. We have smart solutions to strengthen our federal pension framework.

Instead of resting on our laurels, we are actively and constructively working with the provinces to propose pan-Canadian solutions. Going forward, we will continue to work with the provinces to move forward on pension reform.

Canadians can rest assured that we will continue to work in their best interest to improve our retirement income system.