Mr. Speaker, it is certainly my pleasure to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-25, Pooled Registered Pension Plans Act. This legislation is the result of some three years of careful preparation and consultation on the part of our government in partnership with the provinces, territories and other stakeholders. As a result, we are now in a position to pass legislation that will help millions of Canadians, who do not have access to a pension plan, to prepare for their retirement.
I would like to begin by taking a moment to reflect on why the legislation is so important and what prompted its creation.
First, governments have known for a number of years that a demographic shift is taking place in Canada. In spite of immigration and the growth of certain sectors of the Canadian population such as among first nations, the overall demographic trend is toward the growing number of Canadians reaching retirement age. This is due not only to the retirement of the baby boomer generation, but also to the fact that more Canadian seniors are living longer.
The challenge this creates for us as the government and for Canada as a society is how we can contribute to a basic quality of life for our aging population in the face of increased strain on our retirement income system. This challenge is made all the more poignant by the immense contributions that our retirees have made to the growth and prosperity of our country. Our seniors deserve dignified retirement. That is why in recent years our government has taken action through a range of measures to support elements of our retirement income system that have a proven record of success.
For example, we built on the framework for federally regulated registered pension plans and took steps to ensure that employers fully funded benefits if the pension plan was terminated. Working with the provinces, we also modernized the CPP making it more flexible for those transitioning out of the workforce.
In budget 2011 we introduced a new guaranteed supplement top-up benefit for Canada's most vulnerable seniors. I would like to note that the opposition voted against that important increase in GIS for seniors. As a result, more than 680,000 low-income seniors now receive additional benefits of up to $600 for a single and $680 for a couple. In addition, we have provided some $2.3 billion in additional annual targeted tax relief to seniors and pensioners through measures such as pension income splitting, increases in the age credit amount and the doubling of the maximum amount of income eligible for the pension income credit.
Although all of these measures are intended to provide greater flexibility and security to our retirement income system, additional measures are required to safeguard Canadians as they reach retirement age. That is why in May 2009, as the world reacted to the global financial crisis, the federal-provincial-territorial finance ministers met and agreed to form the working group on retirement income adequacy.
After months of consultation, the working group concluded that while our Canadian retirement system was on the whole performing well, some Canadian households were at risk of not saving enough for retirement. A gap identified by the working group was the large number of Canadians, 60% in fact, who had no access to a workplace pension plan.
In December 2010 the finance ministers from across the country agreed that a defined contribution pension plan could be made available to 60% of Canadians and they agreed to pursue a framework for pooled registered pension plans.
Members of the opposition have repeatedly stood in this place during the debate on the bill and have argued against the position of our finance ministers from across the country. They suggest that the key to retirement security is simply to expand Canada pension plan benefits. We know that changes to the CPP would require the agreement of at least two-thirds of the provinces with at least two-thirds of the population. The federal-provincial-territorial ministers of finance have discussed this very notion of a CPP expansion, but there has been no agreement.
Beyond that, if the CPP were to be expanded, Canadians could count on increases to their CPP contributions as a result. Surely a fragile economic recovery is not the right time to increase the amount Canadians have to pay on their CPP contributions.
That being said, moving forward on a PRPP does not preclude some future change to the CPP. The opposition needs to understand that this government is not closing the door on CPP. Rather we are opening the door to a new low-cost and accessible option that will help Canadians meet their retirement goals.
This is especially important for those working for small businesses and the self-employed. Currently, owners of small businesses who might want to create a pension plan for their employees but lack the resources and expertise to do so, or for those in companies that do not have pension plans or are self-employed and want to have access, they are not able to under our current system.
PRPPs would be administered by a financially regulated institution thereby decreasing the cost and complexity for small business owners in setting up such a plan. PRPPs would be accessible to those without an employer-employee relationship, allowing the self-employed to benefit from the advantages of PRPPs, including the lower costs that would result from the pooled funds.
Currently some Canadians may be failing to take advantage of the saving opportunities offered to them through individual structures like RRSPs. In fact, on average, each Canadian has over $18,000 in unused RSP room. Even among those who do make a concerted effort to maximized their retirement income through voluntary contribution structures, a PRPP could provide avid stability.
For example, I will touch on a story of one self-employed Canadian's retirement savings experience. This gentleman worked as a self-employed stone mason prior to retirement and his main form of retirement savings was through RRSPs. Particularly in the last years of his career, he increasingly worked toward maximizing his RRSP contributions and ensured that they were invested reasonably securely, but nevertheless provided some return on investment. Today he is able to live on the retirement income he was able to provide for himself, but only after a lot of hard work on his part to educate himself on RRSPs and investment. In his own words: “It takes years to develop a way of investing that is wise”.
While it is a stated goal of our government to improve financial literacy, we are also aware that many Canadians may not have the time, opportunity or the desire to study investing and not everyone has access to a broker or financial adviser. This is where PRPPs would provide a great benefit because the responsibility for implementing the pension plan would be taken on by the third-party administrator.
The administrator will be responsible for the management of the pension fund and the day-to-day administration of the pension plan. This will include ensuring that the money being contributed into the plan is being managed prudently, that appropriate investments and options are offered and that plan members are informed with up-to-date plan information. Additionally, because PRPP investments are pooled, it is expected that members will be able to benefit from greater economies of scale and lower costs compared to RRSPs.
Another major benefit of the PRPP is its universality and portability. In my own riding of Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo many people rely on seasonal work for employment, which is a fact of life for many rural Canadians across the country.
For example, let us say that a constituent of mine named John works at the ski resort of Sun Peaks during the winter, but during the summer must find work at a local ranch. Under our current system, John would be left to his own initiative to invest in RRSPs or contribute to his tax-free savings account. Now, thanks to the portability of the PRPP, John can contribute to the same pension plan, regardless of which employer he happens to be working for.
Providing a new, accessible, straightforward and administratively low-cost retirement saving option will allow more Canadians to benefit from secure retirement savings. I am therefore proud to support the government's move to implement PRPPs and hope, with the support of the provinces and territories, that we may speedily implement this important reform for our retirement system.