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.