Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour, as always, to stand and represent the people of Timmins--James Bay.
The voices of the people of Timmins—James Bay are once again being shut down by a government that is afraid to deal with the pension crisis that it is creating. The government has shut down debate on an issue that is fundamental to the future of Canadians, their pensions. The government shows amazing contempt for the democratic process.
However, I think the government really wants to get the pension issue off the table as fast as possible. When people look at this so-called pension plan, the average Canadian knows this is a scam and it is not going to fly.
Pensions were the first thing I learned about in politics. My granny Angus lived in a little room upstairs in our townhouse. She was a mining widow. Every month when that Canada pension cheque came in, she would come downstairs, hold up that cheque and say, “The NDP fought for this.” I used to think my grandmother was a little crazy. I would say, “Nanny, there has always been a pension.” She would say, “No, there wasn't always a pension. People fought for that pension.”
My grandfather, Charlie Angus, worked 38 years at the largest gold mine in North America. Those men had no pensions because it was expected that they were going to die young. They were going to die from silicosis, emphysema or heart failure in their early forties. That is what happened to all the immigrant miners. They were going die in a run of muck or a rock blast. They did not have to worry about pensions. However, if they lived long enough, they were stuck. Charlie Angus went to work and died on the shop floor at the Hollinger mine when he was 68 years old. The miners worked until they died. That was the way it was when I was born.
Sixty-eight years old. I was thinking about what a different world that was, when my grandfather had to be at the mine at 68. Just a few months ago, at a Tim Hortons in Timmins, a guy came up to me and said, “I can't live on my CPP. I worked my whole life as a contract miner. I'm going back underground.” I said, “How old are you, sir?” He said, “I'm 68 years old.”
The pension crisis that exists in our country is not this fabricated crisis that the Prime Minister told the millionaires about in Davos. The pension crisis in this country is that we have a system that works but that citizens are not able to pay enough into it. The CPP is an excellent, well funded system. It is the simplest and the lowest cost. It guarantees people the chance to retire in dignity. So, in my riding 68-year-olds would not have to go back to work.
When the Prime Minister spoke to millionaires in Switzerland, the message he delivered to them was that our senior citizens are living too high off the hog. He did not have the guts to come back to tell senior citizens in this country what he was going to do.
We have been trying to get a straight answer from this attack on old age security. Old age security represents the poorest people. It delivers the most basic pension. Pension plans are built over 30 years. Over the last 30 years, we have had maybe 15 years of Liberal and 15 years of Conservative governments. Did they not see the demographic crisis that now, suddenly, the Prime Minister has become aware of? Did they not see that these senior citizens were getting too much? We are trying to get an answer as to how this could be.
The human resources minister said today that we have to worry about future invasions of our country. Is this conspiracy stuff? It has been 150 years since the Fenians came over the border at Buffalo and fired off a few muskets. Are the Conservatives saying that our senior citizens should not be getting old age security because the human resources minister is worried about future invasions?
The Prime Minister has floated the trial balloon and has now gone to ground. He sent out my favourite conspiracy theorist, the Ron Paul guy, the parliamentary secretary, who told us today that one of the companies that is behind the Keystone development has money in pensions. If we increase pensions it is going to cost that company money; he considers this another attack by the NDP on the Keystone pipeline. I was thinking, is this crackpot bizarre republicanism or is this just the normal course for the Conservatives?
Is this man anywhere close to reality? I do not think he has ever had a real job. He has always lived within this Conservative attack bubble. However, my people back home do have real jobs.
I hear Conservative backbenchers saying that the problem with RRSPs is that people have unused capacity. I was a contract worker. I raised three children on various jobs. I was never able to save enough money for RRSPs so my capacity was “taken up”. When people go from contract to contract, which goes for most in my generation, in between the contracts they use up their savings. That is the reality. I am now 50 years old. I am almost there, but people can see from my grey hair that I am older than a lot of the demographic. In my generation, people have not paid into a pension plan. They have been trying to save in RRSPs.
Now people are being told the government is going to change the name of the RRSP and the best thing is, the employer might contribute. It is not that the employer will contribute. The government will just change the name. If RRSPs worked, it would be sufficient, but they have not worked. I am sure my colleagues have friends with private sector savings who, like many of my friends, lost 40% of the value of those savings in 2008 when the recession hit. We are possibly going into years of negative real growth. Yet we are being told to tell people to put more money into the RRSP system and that the system will deal with it.
Meanwhile, we have a system that works. We have the CPP. When talking to pension experts, the one thing they say is that the CPP works and we should allow workers to contribute more to the CPP. That is a reasonable solution. However, that is a public solution. The government does not believe in the things that have made this country work. We put our resources together and created a public pension plan that is sustainable and doable. CPP has protected Canadians for 40 years. Pension experts say that is where we need to go, but that is where the government does not want to go.
What have the Conservatives done? They have come up with this glorified RRSP program, but they do not want to debate it. They do not want Canadians to hear about it. It is our job as members of Parliament to stand in the House and represent the concerns of our people. The Conservatives do not seem to like it; it might bother the attack message crew around the Prime Minister. However, that is the parliamentary Westminster tradition. Canadians can hear the debates and judge whether they make sense. Yet forcing through a fundamental change on pensions within 24 hours of introducing this bill would be denying Canadians a perspective on a bill that is going to affect their future.
I would say that the Conservatives know this plan does not hold water. They know Canadians are not stupid and are concerned about their future. When I go back to Timmins—James Bay, I hear more and more about financial insecurity. People do not have what they need. These are people who have done it right, but despite having been careful their whole lives, it is just not there for them. We have a chance to fix this for the next generation, but instead we are seeing a destabilization of old age security. We are seeing an attempt to create this supposed private solution where nobody really has to contribute, nobody really has to participate. It is there to help people add to their savings.
CPP has lots of unused capacity, if we are going to use Conservative terms. In fact, if we compare with the United States, the senior benefit there is $30,000 per year while the maximum in Canada is $12,000. People cannot live on $12,000 a year. They cannot pay their rent on $12,000 a year. Even if we add old age security to that, which is a maximum of less than $7,000 a year, it is still far below. We already have a system that works. It is low cost. It does not create any hassle for the employers because the contribution is already being deducted.
If we allow working people and the self-employed, the contract workers, to make contributions to the CPP, a publicly pooled pension plan, there will be the level of security that a previous generation of Parliament sought for this generation. It will continue to the next generation. However, if we continue to shut down the ability of Parliament to do its work, we are going to get shoddy work. That is what we are seeing from the government.