Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Vancouver East.
I am pleased to announce that in 2012, LaSalle is celebrating its centennial. This 100th anniversary is an opportunity to acknowledge the effort, determination and entrepreneurial spirit of our predecessors, both those who are retired and those who have passed on, who built this city in the southwestern part of the Island of Montreal. This is my opportunity to acknowledge the seniors who chose to live there, work there and raise children there, those who contributed to the success of the businesses and neighbourhoods of LaSalle and who gave their names to streets and neighbourhoods. We could not celebrate the 100th anniversary of LaSalle this year without honouring its elders. The debt we owe to the seniors and retirees of LaSalle is also owed to those of Ville-Émard, the rest of southwestern Montreal and all of Canada.
It is in acknowledging the debt we owe to previous generations that I feel morally obliged to defend the accomplishments of our elders. The right to a comfortable and secure retirement is the cornerstone of the contract that ties younger generations to previous generations. It is that contract that I want to defend today by opposing Bill C-25 on pooled registered pension plans and by speaking out against the government's abandonment of our seniors who have contributed so much to our society.
Pooled registered pension plans will create retirement savings plans for self-employed workers and people working for companies that do not offer their employees a retirement savings plan. This bill has the support of the private sector because it will save businesses money. I recognize that businesspeople, companies and self-employed workers face financial dilemmas, but this plan will do very little to address the crisis hanging over Canada's retirement system. Similar plans in place in Australia for the past 10 years have produced disappointing results. The Canada pension plan is based on stable investments, while the stock market has plummeted 10%. A group of pension experts has asked the Minister of Finance and his provincial counterparts to enhance the Canada pension plan, as recommended by the NDP.
Clearly, the government's current solution is not the right one. The crisis, however, is real. People are living longer and longer, and that is a good thing, but it means that the savings we build up during our working lives have to last much longer. In 2007, only one Canadian in three could count on the stability of a supplemental pension plan. Only two Canadians in five have RRSPs. According to the former chief statistician, Michael Wolfson, half of all middle-class baby boomers will see their quality of life decline in retirement.
Retirees depend on the old age security programs to complement their personal savings. The government says that the costs associated with OAS will be astronomical by 2030. The crisis is real, and we need a solution now. The point I want to make today is that the current crisis has nothing to do with federal revenue, as the Prime Minister suggested recently in Davos.
Canada is near the bottom of the list of OECD countries in terms of the percentage of GDP it spends on public pensions.
As Tommy Douglas said so eloquently, for a country as rich as ours, that there are seniors living in poverty is an absolute disgrace.
The true roots of this crisis can be found in the growing inequality within Canadian society over the past few decades. This crisis was caused by the stagnation of wages among Canada's middle class, while the salaries of the wealthiest Canadians continued to rise during the same period.
Now middle class families are being asked to save even more, but with salaries that have not increased for decades and have definitely not kept pace with the cost of living.
Canadian families would all like to put some money aside for their retirement, but how can they with a debt rate of nearly 160%? Families are going into debt for the same reason that they cannot save: because they simply have less money.
The retirement crisis is also a moral crisis, because the Conservatives' ideology rejects the contract that ties young generations to older generations. That is the real crisis—a moral crisis.
There are 70,000 seniors living in my riding and thousands more are approaching the age of retirement. According to Statistics Canada, more than 14% of senior women on their own are living in poverty according to the standard measure.
The sensible NDP proposal to increase the guaranteed income supplement is enough to eliminate poverty among seniors. The people of LaSalle—Émard demand to know, will the Prime Minister augment the age of retirement and ask Canadians in difficulty to wait still longer to get the income supplement they were promised a lifetime ago?
Friday morning one of my constituents wrote to my office. She agreed that I could read her letter. She told me that changing the minimum age from 65 to 67 would be unwise, because it would actually cost Canadians more since the change to the old age security would actually affect the poor rather than the rich. She said that the poor would not be able to take care of themselves properly, would cost more to the health system, would eat into their meagre investments, would get into welfare, and so on. She went on to say, “In the real world, not politics, have you tried to find a job at age 65, age 60, age 55, age 50? Are you aware of the reality of many people's situation as they get older? Take my case. At the age of 58 I have been struggling more than two years trying to find permanent employment, drifting from one job to another, training to improve my chances, and now I am stricken with cancer. If it was not for my 65-year-old husband to help out financially and emotionally, where would I be?”
That is what a constituent wrote to me. How is that for a dose of reality? I thank this fellow citizen for having the courage to speak out and for allowing me to share her concerns with Canadians.
The debate on retirement reform conceals another much more profound debate: the one between Conservative ideology and a New Democratic vision of a society in which young people honour their debt to their parents.
In Davos, the Prime Minister shared his vision of Canada for future generations. Canadians will have to tighten their belts further and continue making sacrifices. That is the Conservative vision of a competitive yet anorexic Canada, the vision of a population that is impoverished by stagnating salaries and debt, the vision of a society in which everyone is left behind, in which seniors and sick people are regarded as a burden, the vision of a country that believes that wealth is created by making other people poor and by cutting essential services. This is the Conservative Party vision: a middle class that must constantly adjust to the market economy, that must say goodbye to any hopes and dreams that the Conservatives consider unrealistic or too costly.
In contrast, the NDP is proposing a Canada in which younger generations acknowledge everything that the older generations have done for them—the sacrifices that have been made for them and the education and love that they have been given. The NDP believes in a Canada in which everyone has equal opportunities, in which we reach out to help those who have fallen, a society that shares the wealth. That is the Canada that was built by previous generations. That is the Canada that we in the NDP want to pass on to our children. Together, let us build such a future.