Mr. Speaker, I always find it ironic listening to members opposite.
Despite all the heckling, and I am not speaking entirely from personal memory, but I can tell the Canadian people that the Conservative Party voted against the introduction of the old age pension in 1927. The Conservative Party was opposed to the original Canada pension plan.
The leader of the Conservative Party, in his then job as the president of the National Citizens Coalition, was opposed to the improvements in the Canada pension plan that led to its sustainability, for which he took credit at Davos in his speech last week. That required an act of contortion that one could not even find in a circus. Now members of the Conservative Party turn around and say that they are the ones who are going to protect the Canadian pension system.
We cannot trust those wolves to protect the Canadian pension system. It requires the determination of this House to really understand where we are going and how we need to go forward in order for us to get to where we need to get to.
The subject of the conversation today is with respect to the pooled pension plan, which I will come to in a moment, but first we need to understand the context in which we are working and living.
The Canadian pension system over time has evolved with the thought that fundamentally Canadians would be able to save at their workplace, that they would also receive a Canada pension plan and, if necessary, old age pension and a guaranteed income supplement as a way of sustaining them through old age. I might add that the guaranteed income supplement was also something that was brought in by the Liberal Party when it was in government.
We need to understand that the dramatic changes that have taken place in the Canadian economy, in the Canadian workforce and in the makeup of the Canadian workforce has meant that private company pension plans can no longer be relied upon to provide security for most workers. The Canada pension plan, as improved as it is, is still not a sufficient source of support for people as they get older. The old age pension is a very necessary part of retirement for people who are over the age of 65 and the guaranteed income supplement is essential for those low income Canadians who have no other source of income in their years of retirement.
Therefore, we need to understand the way in which the Prime Minister has attempted to frame this debate and the way in which the Conservatives, even in their speeches today, have attempted to frame this debate.
The Conservative Party specializes in attack politics and politics that try to put a spin on the issue. It says there is a crisis with regard to the sustainability of the system because in 2030 there will be more seniors and the cost of the system might increase by roughly 2% to 3%. Good grief, that is hardly a crisis.
Who is receiving this pension? Probably no one on that side or on this side will be affected by these changes. Even those who listened to the speech in Davos, in the Swiss Alps, will not be affected by the Prime Minister's decision. The Prime Minister himself will not be affected. People who earn less than $30,000 are the ones who will be affected, and that is what bothers me.
Is there a problem for the aging population? Indeed, there is, but the problem of the plan's sustainability concerns not only public finances, but also the finances of every family in the country.
What we find is a situation where more and more Canadians are borrowing in order to sustain themselves. We know that people who are older are even borrowing through their mortgages and so on in order to sustain themselves.
Mr. Speaker, I do not want to embarrass you personally, but I suspect you were one of the people on the platform talking to your fellow voters. I am sure if you were quoting from the Conservative Party election platform, you were saying that it would not touch transfers to health care, education and seniors. That is what the Conservative Party promised in the last election. That was the Prime Minister's promise.
Imagine our surprise when we saw the Prime Minister's grand plan on the front page of the Globe and Mail. Obviously, it was not a complete surprise to the Globe and Mail. These things do not appear with any spontaneity.
Quoting of the Globe and Mail, the grand plan of the Prime Minister is a plan that was never discussed with the people of Canada in the last election. It was not presented to the Canadian people in the last election. It was a grand plan that was worthy of his Alpine perch, but it was not worthy of a discussion on the factory floor and on the doorsteps and porches of the people of Canada. That is the problem we have.
If the Prime Minister thinks for a moment that he will be able to create this kind of evasive activity, avoiding the question of what is central to the issue of the people of our country, he is sadly mistaken.
The member for Oshawa who just spoke used the same words again, that the Conservative Party had received a mandate, blah, blah, blah. I can tell the members of the Conservative Party that the Liberal Party has received its own mandate. That mandate is very clear. That mandate is to hold the government to account. That mandate is to say to the people of Canada to call a spade a spade. When the Prime Minister of Canada does not disclose to the Canadian people what his real plan is, when he has to go to Switzerland to disclose what his real plan is, we will disclose that fact to the people of Canada very clearly.
The government's proposal with respect to the pooled pension issue is an attempt to deal with a serious issue that is facing the country. I say it is an attempt. We have to understand exactly what that serious issue is.
About 60% of Canadian workers, 11 million out of nearly 19 million, have no pension plan other than the Canada pension plan and the OAS. Also, 30% of workers have no RRSP savings and have no company pension.
In the meantime, we have to acknowledge that only 6 million people have contributed to current retirement savings plans.
There is definitely a problem, but the question is whether the government's response is adequate. That is the question. We are clearly saying it is not adequate because it does not meet the real needs of the public and it does not address the real problem.
We have to acknowledge that the majority of workers do not have a private plan and that the majority of people have not contributed to a registered retirement savings plan. That is the problem.
However, we have to look and see where we are with respect to what has been proposed. What has been proposed is the kind of lowest common denominator that the government says it was able to get consensus on with the provinces. It essentially means that we are now going to cover the next small tranche of people. We will see how big it is, we will see how major it is and we will see what the take-up rate is. A very small group of people is going to be covered by what is called the pooled pension plans, which would be run by the private sector.
What we also know is that the fees charged by the private sector in Canada to people who decide to save with the private sector are among the highest fees in the OECD. Why are they so high? Because there is not (a) effective regulation and (b) effective competition. That is why the Liberal Party, and my colleague from York West has been leading this fight very effectively, has proposed that we should grant to the Canada pension plan the opportunity to compete with the private plans for the voluntary approach that is being followed by the government. If we do not have the competition from the public sector to compete with the private sector for these savings, we will continue to see fees being charged that are completely out of line because of the structure of the Canadian financial industry.
This is a serious problem. I know the minister, with whom I have talked about this issue, says that he thinks the problem is solved and that it can be rectified. He does not think it is going to be a big deal. I can only say for the minister that I think our experiences speak long and loud to that. The experience in Australia speaks long and loud to that. We have to recognize that in what is being proposed by the government today there is still a serious problem and a serious inadequacy in dealing with the general challenge facing the people of Canada.
I was asked today by the CBC if I agreed with the Prime Minister that there was a crisis of sustainability in our system. I said, “I suppose if you ask the question, you could ask if there a crisis of sustainability with respect to public broadcasting”. If we listen to the way the Conservatives frame the argument, everything the government has ever done is under a crisis of sustainability, whether it is health care, pensions, education, just name it, and the answer is to get rid of it, shut it down, hand it over to the private sector and let some guy run it, but do not let the government take an interest.
We have to understand that there is a crisis of social justice in our country. There is a crisis of what is fair and right in our country. There is a growing gap between rich and poor in our country, as there is around the world. In fact, this was even the theme of the Davos conference. The theme was the contradiction between a system which produces prosperity and the fact that it does not produce prosperity for everyone and that prosperity is not being shared.
Yes, there is a crisis. The Prime Minister's answer to that crisis is to make the rich richer and make the poor poorer. Conservatives have no problem saying that they will split incomes for middle-class families. They have no problem granting a significant advantage to people by doing that income splitting, but they have a serious problem with respect to the social justice of the people who are making less than $30,000 or $40,000 a year. That is the problem they have and that is where we have to say, yes, everyone wants prosperity, but we want prosperity to be shared. We want the prosperity to be sustainable, but we want that sustainability not to be applied and supplied on a selective basis.
We do not want a woman on provincial welfare waiting for her pension and her application for the guaranteed income supplement to be told, “Sorry, you have to wait for another year”. That is going to cost her $10,000, $12,000, $15,000, $20,000 a year. That is the difference for the person, only that person in the Conservative world will be invisible. Conservatives will not worry about her because her problem is one of sustainability. There is a crisis of credibility here.
When the Prime Minister of Canada stands up during an election debate and says, “I promise you”, looking right into that camera, “I will not cut transfers to the provinces for health care. I will not cut transfers for education and I will not cut transfers for individuals”, meaning seniors, and when he says something else in Switzerland and something else in the law that is coming in March or April, we have a serious problem, and the Liberal Party will be fighting that all the way.