This bill would amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Canada Labour Code to eliminate the provisions that allow federally regulated employers to set a mandatory retirement age as an exception to the general rule prohibiting discrimination on the basis of age.
I am happy to say that I am in favour of doing away with mandatory retirement. However, for the reasons I will mention in my speech, I believe that this bill, as it currently stands, is much too broad.
However, I would first like to talk about our commitment to supporting Canadian seniors. As members already know, our government is working very hard to improve the lives of seniors in many ways. We created the position of minister of state for seniors. This is to bring the concerns of older Canadians to the cabinet table and to stand on their behalf. In 2007, we created the National Seniors Council to provide advice to the federal government on matters related to the well-being and quality of life of seniors. This year, one of the priorities of the National Seniors Council is labour force participation among seniors and near seniors.
More recently, we increased funding for the targeted initiative for older workers to assist unemployed older workers in vulnerable communities to retrain. This is a five-year, $220 million cost-shared initiative with the provincial and territorial governments. This shows our government's desire to encourage older workers to continue to contribute to the Canadian economy.
The legislative provisions allowing for mandatory retirement policies, which this bill would repeal, were written more than 30 years ago, at a time when mandatory retirement was both routine and part of our economic reality. In addition to many other stereotypes that have now been eliminated, there were often stereotypes about older workers. Thirty years ago, some people assumed that older workers could not do the job, that they were closed to new ideas or that they were not motivated to work because of their pension. It was assumed that younger workers should take their place.
Times have clearly changed. Today, average life expectancy is six years more than it was in 1977. Some people feel that they should be in the workforce longer and save more because they will be retired longer than they would have been in the past. Some people also want the freedom to take time off work or put their career on hold to raise children or take care of other family members. These people may want to retire later in life so that they can save more or acquire more pensionable years of service. And, despite progress in this area, women are largely affected by this issue.
Many people are staying in school longer than they were 30 years ago; as a result, they may join the labour force later. These people may also want to delay retirement.
We need to recognize that many people enjoy their work and gain a sense of personal satisfaction from it. Some people may want to retire early for any number of reasons; others do not. People should be able to choose when they want to retire based on their lifestyle, finances, health and priorities, as long as there are no compelling reasons to keep them from doing so.
At the same time, there are some real concerns that we need to consider if we intend to change the law. In some cases, employers may be completely justified in having a mandatory retirement policy, and the law should allow them to do so.
As written, the bill would repeal paragraph 15(1)(b) of the Canadian Human Rights Act, which authorizes mandatory retirement once an individual reaches the maximum age provided for by law or regulation. The bill goes a little too far. There may be cases in which it is necessary to pass a bill or regulations to set a maximum retirement age. One example that comes to mind is the Canadian Forces.
For a number of reasons, the Canadian Forces are a unique employer.
First, the Canadian Forces have to respect the principle of universality of service. Every time the Canadian Forces take part in international or national operations, including armed conflict, each member of the Canadian Forces must at all times and under any circumstances perform any functions that they may be required to perform other than the duties of their occupational specification. This includes the obligation to carry out military duties, such as combat, under extremely dangerous circumstances. Other federal government employees or members of the general public are not required to carry out this important duty.
This unique characteristic of the Canadian Forces requires a special approach to human resource management. To maintain a homogeneous and effective combat force, the Canadian Forces must have a mandatory retirement age to ensure a steady supply of personnel with the knowledge and experience required at each level. Fighter pilots, submariners and tank commanders cannot just be hired overnight. These people must devote many years to mastering their occupations within the Canadian Forces structure. These are the men and women we are counting on to become the future leaders of our Canadian Forces.
The Canadian Forces cannot maintain their international reputation for skills and excellence unless they continue receiving training that surpasses the minimum standard.
The Canadian Forces are a small force whose numbers are subject to a finite limit. Our armed forces cannot afford the luxury of maintaining individuals on active duty until their voluntary release, which would be decided by each member. This would lead directly to stagnation and have an impact on the effectiveness of the Canadian Forces in protecting Canada, its values and its interests.
If the Canadian Forces cannot maintain a mandatory retirement age, they could face serious financial and operational difficulties.
The Canadian Forces are unique in that they pay for all medical care for their personnel directly out of the departmental budget. An aging workforce within the Canadian Forces would increase the demands on available resources, which would in turn leave fewer funds available to properly carry out the forces' operational responsibilities.
That is why it is very important to ensure that the retirement age may be fixed by regulation under the authority of paragraph 15(1)(b).
This authority could also be useful in other cases, particularly in industries that are subject to international rules governing the maximum age for carrying out certain duties.
Furthermore, these policies are often negotiated as part of collective agreements and are sometimes linked to pension arrangements. Employers and unions will need some time to renegotiate these provisions and to make the appropriate changes to pension plans. Some employers will need time to determine whether they have sufficient information to impose a mandatory retirement age as a bona fide occupational requirement.
That is why it is very important to establish coming into force provisions; otherwise, making such a significant change without allowing employers and unions enough time to adjust could create some undesirable situations.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for allowing me the opportunity to speak to this matter. The question of mandatory retirement is both important and complex. I am proud of the work our government has done to support older Canadians.