Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise and speak to this very important topic. I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to the opposition motion on pension and retirement income issues. As we know, our government's top priority remains jobs and the economy. Certainly, this is a priority for many retirees and retirement savers.
Today, I would like to speak to what our Conservative government has accomplished in the area of retirement income security. However, before getting into the details, I will touch on what our government has done for the overall economy.
In 2008 Canada was faced with the worst global recession since the 1930s. Our government acted quickly and decisively. Through Canada's economic action plan, we delivered extraordinary support for jobs and growth during a turbulent global economic period, and it worked. With the creation of almost 600,000 net new jobs since July 2009, Canada has more than recovered all of the jobs lost during the recession. It has posted the strongest employment growth among the G7 countries.
Canada has also maintained the best fiscal position among the G7 with the lowest net debt and among the lowest deficits in the G7 as well. Even better, the IMF and the OECD both project Canada to be among the strongest in growth in the G7 and, for the fourth straight year, the World Economic Forum rated our banking system the world's best. Undoubtedly, Canada has an enviable position relative to our G7 counterparts.
Along with our strong fiscal position, solid financial system, and our low tax approach to encourage investment, we are helping to ensure that Canada is well positioned to address any challenge ahead.
As prosperity ties into savings and ultimately retirement, I will move from the topic of overall economy and back to pensions. In so doing, let me begin by saying that our government shares the deep-rooted concerns of many Canadians about their retirement security. We understand the importance of a secure and dignified retirement, especially after a lifetime spent building a better Canada through hard work.
For that reason we have been aggressively working and focusing on improving our retirement income system. Indeed, we have already taken major action to strengthen Canada's retirement income system.
What have we done? First, in recognition of their life-long contributions to the country and our government's core belief that Canadians should keep more of their hard-earned tax money, we dramatically lowered the federal tax bill for seniors and pensioners.
Since forming government in 2006, our enviable record includes more than $2.3 billion in annual targeted tax relief such as increasing the age credit amount by $2,000; doubling the amount the of income eligibility for pension income credit; and increasing the age limit for maturing pensions and registered retirement savings plans to 71.
We have introduced the tax free savings account, particularly beneficial to seniors as it helps them meet their ongoing savings needs on a tax efficient basis after they are no longer able to contribute to an RRSP.
Jonathan Chevreau, a noted financial commentator, has declared, “TFSA is also a welcome tax shelter for Canadian seniors”. On pension income splitting for 2007 and subsequent taxation years, Jamie Golombek, a financial commentator, has noted that, “Pension splitting is probably one of the biggest tax changes in decades, in terms of the amount of tax savings this can mean for pensioners”.
Furthermore, our record also includes important improvements to several specific retirement income supports. We have dramatically increased the amount working seniors can earn before facing a clawback under their guaranteed income supplement, GIS, allowing them to keep more of their hard-earned money.
We have enhanced the guaranteed income supplement, GIS, for those seniors who rely almost exclusively on their old age security and GIS, and may therefore be at risk of experiencing financial difficulties. This measure will provide a new top-up benefit of up to $600 annually for single seniors and $840 for couples. This measure will improve the financial security of more than 680,000 seniors across Canada.
Finally, we increased flexibility for seniors and older workers with federally regulated pension assets that are held in life income funds.
Second, we took major steps to reform the legislative and regulatory framework respecting federally regulated private pension plans. Indeed, these steps represented the most significant reforms in nearly 25 years.
Announced in October 2009 after extensive cross-county and online public consultations held in the months beforehand, the reforms include enhancing protections for plan members, allowing sponsors to better manage their funding obligations, making it easier for participants to negotiate changes to their pension arrangements, improving the framework for defined contribution and negotiated contribution plans, and modernizing the investment rules.
These key reforms are warmly applauded across Canada. A diverse and broad group of public interest groups ranging through the National Association of Federal Retirees; the Association of Canadian Pension Management; the Canadian Institute of Actuaries; CARP, Canada's association for the 50-plus; the Common Front for Retirement Security; the Bell Pensioners Group; the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association; and even the Canadian Labour Congress welcomed and expressed their pleasure with it.
A Globe and Mail editorial heralded the reforms as a good step. John Manley, a former Liberal Party of Canada member of Parliament, finance minister and deputy prime minister of Canada, declared them significant reforms that will enhance protection for plan members.
However, those reforms to federally regulated private pension plans were only one step in a much larger process. This leads to the third and final area of our focus on improving retirement security and pensions in Canada, wherein we are working with our provincial and territorial partners.
While many Canadians may not realize it, the vast majority of pension plans, approximately 90% in Canada, are provincially regulated. In other words, the federal government only has the constitutional authority to make laws related to the private pension plans of federally regulated employers, such as airlines, chartered banks and others, which employ fewer one than one in ten of all workers in Canada.
That is why, to address larger pan-Canadian concerns about pensions, we have been examining the relevant issues with our provincial and territorial counterparts in a co-operative and constructive manner.
We have demonstrated this by establishing a joint research working group on retirement income adequacy and by holding numerous federal-provincial-territorial summits on the issue.
We also fundamentally believe that the Canadian public had a fundamental right to be involved in and at the centre of this debate. That is why we have ensured that Canadians from coast to coast to coast have had the opportunity to have their voices heard in person and online.
From March to May 2010, we invited public input through round table discussions, expert conferences, online consultations and public town hall meetings to gather feedback directly from Canadians.
Even labour organizations like CUPE, typically not supporters of our government, were forced to begrudgingly admit we had conducted a serious public policy discussion.
Following these extensive and necessary consultations, the findings strongly suggested we explore opportunities to build further on the strength of Canada's retirement income system. As a result, we agreed, along with the provincial and territorial governments, to explore a set of innovative improvements.
Indeed, it is one of those innovative improvements I would like to talk about for the remainder of my speech: pooled registered pension plans.
These pooled registered pension plans, PRPPs, available to employers, employees and the self-employed, will provide Canadians with a new low-cost accessible vehicle to meet their retirement objectives.
Once implemented, PRPPs will play a critical role in improving the retirement options available to Canadians, providing a low retirement savings option. Indeed, PRPPs will be a new savings option for the millions of Canadians who have never had a private pension before.
As Rob Brown, a former professor at the University of Waterloo and past president of the Canadian Institute of Actuaries recently stated, “Pooled Retirement Pension Plans could be a big step towards the redesigning the retirement income security systems required for Canadians for the 21st century. Pooled Retirement Pension Plans are a good idea; one clearly worthy of pursuing. Furthermore, PRPPs will be especially important to small businesses and their employees who will now have access to a low-cost private pension plan for the very first time. As many small business employees and employers will pool their pensions, a lower management cost will be achieved, meaning many new savers and Canadians will be buying retirement savings in bulk”.
As a small business owner Ingrid Laderach Steven from Toronto Swiss-Master Chocolatier knows firsthand, after meeting with the Minister of State for Finance about PRPPs, and here is what she had to say--