Mr. Speaker, it is my honour to speak to Bill C-25. I welcome everyone back in the new year and I welcome those who are watching at home. It is hard to believe that people do watch the debates at home but I have two grandmothers who actually watch so I want to say hello to my grandmothers and wish them a happy new year if they happen to be watching today.
I want to talk a bit about how we got here today and why Bill C-25, the pooled registered pension plan, is important. I had the opportunity, as a Conservative member on the finance committee over the last five years in the previous Parliaments, to be part of finance and we did an extensive study on pensions. It took a number of months and, out of that study, came a number of issues, one of which was a pooled registered pension plan. Business, labour and individual business owners were coming to our committee and asking us to look at the possibility of being part of that group of those who were eligible for pensions. As has been previously mentioned, about 60% of people do not have access to pensions. They were looking for an opportunity to have access to a pension plan.
Out of that, we recognized the issue that pensions play, not just currently but in the future. The Prime Minister had the foresight to take the parliamentary secretary at the time and make him a Minister of State for Finance with a focus on pensions. We are the only government in Canada's history that has a focused ministry on that particular item. We care about our seniors, our future seniors and where this country is going in terms of the demographic. We need to be on top of the pension plans and retirement issues that are facing this country, which is why the Prime Minister has dedicated a ministry to that effect. So that is how we got here today.
Who asked for it? Members have heard over and over again from my colleagues on this side of the House about the small business organizations that have come to see us to talk about why they need access to a pension plan. One reason is that it is good for their employees. There is no doubt that having access to a pension plan and having some planning in terms of eventual retirement are important. However, as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Revenue previously said, it is also important for retention and attraction of employees. It is very difficult for small and medium size businesses to compete with large businesses that have pension plans and other benefit programs to attract high-quality employees. One of the things small business representatives told us at committee was that they needed a pension plan that would help them, not only retain their great employees but to help them attract new employees to their industry or business. A pooled registered pension plan would allow that to happen.
I want to remind members of the House and those watching that we are at second reading. What we are trying to do today is move this from the House to committee. With the three days that we have allocated for second reading, we have 42 speakers in 42 time slots. The bill then goes to committee so we can discuss the individual issues. We can have witnesses come to talk to us about what components are working, what needs to be changed and what can be improved. That is what we are doing today.
However, let us look at the components. One is the low cost. I have heard my colleagues across the way ask how we can guarantee it would be low cost. I am a member of OMERS as I used to be a municipal employee. OMERS now has the ability to allow me to have my own independent investments through RRSP managed by it. Why does it tell me it is a good idea? First, it is a good investor. It has a good group of people managing it as a third party and they are smarter than me on the investment piece.
Second, because of the numbers OMERS has, there are lower costs than for me to invest individually in RRSPs. It is a pooled system that OMERS is offering to members for other investments that it will manage at a lower cost. This is exactly what the pooled registered pension plans would do. It is large pools of revenue that it is able to invest at a lower cost because it has a larger pool to deal from. it knows that is coming.
Another piece that is vitally important here and that people seem to be missing the point on is this. They are saying that it is just another RRSP. However, people voluntarily put money into an RRSP, whereas if a company has a pooled retirement pension plan, people are automatically enrolled in it. They would have to withdraw from that plan. It is just like the CPP, in which people are automatically enrolled. Someone has to make a personal investment decision as an individual employee to withdraw, otherwise that person is in the plan.
Frankly, I think it is a better way to go to have people automatically enrolled in the program. Then they at least have to look at their investment plan and make a decision on their own. For lots of people, my neighbours and I included, making investment plans and decisions can be difficult. It is often much more practical, efficient and appropriate to leave it to a third party to do. People will be enrolled in this plan and will be saving for their retirement. Someone would have to decide not to save for their retirement to get out of a pooled retirement pension plan. That is a fundamental difference with an RRSP, which we have heard lots about.
Portability is another important issue I want to talk about. In a pooled retirement pension plan, if someone leaves a company to go to another one, that person can continue to have those retirement benefits in the pooled plan.
Let us be honest, if they leave one company to go another and do not contribute to the plan as a new employee, the company will lose that employee's contribution. That is true, and that is a choice people will make when they change jobs. They will have to look at the benefits they are going to get, including the opportunity for retirement, all of which will be part of that pension plan decision and the reasons they might move. At least it is portable and people will not lose those benefits, as they can move from one company to another.
The final thing I want to talk about is that it would effectively be available to everyone. Right now large corporations have some sort of contribution plan. Some have a defined pension plan, which I know is becoming increasingly rare. However, larger firms seem to be able to have contribution plans, as they can afford the management costs and they have HR departments to look after those types of things.
The largest employer in my riding of Burlington employs 600 people. The vast majority of the thousands of people who work in my riding work in small- and medium-sized businesses or sole proprietorships. All three will now have the ability to join a pooled registered pension plan, an option not available now.
Finally, I want to say this. We have heard lots about the government not boosting the CPP. The parliamentary secretary who spoke before me talked about it. Let us deal with the facts: the facts are that we need the agreement of two-thirds of the provinces, with two-thirds of the population, to actually make a change. We cannot disrespect the provinces and premiers. If they do not want to move on the CPP issue, we do not have the right or legislative ability to override their decision.
However, we do have agreement to move forward with a pooled registered pension plan program. All the provinces, at different levels, will have to have their own legislation. We have been clear about that. We will have to have legislation here, and the provinces will have to have legislation. We have commitments for that to happen. That is why we are moving forward.
We can talk about CPP, as we have as a government with our counterparts at the provincial level, until we are blue in the face, and I do not mean Tory blue, but mean regular blue. However, it will not happen without the provinces' agreement. We will continue those discussions because CPP is an important pillar, an important tool, for the retirement of everyone who is working.
Nonetheless, we need to find other tools. This is one that we have agreement on, and this is one that the business community is interested in. I even had 50 people at my house on Friday night discussing pooled retirement pension plans. These people were asking if they would qualify.
This is something we need to do. We have 42 time slots for discussion. Let us get the bill to committee. If members have problems with this legislation, they can bring their issues forward there. Let us move forward and do something for Canadians, as our NDP friends claim they like to do but never do. We are doing it.