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House of Commons Hansard #78 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was balance.

Topics

Copyright Modernization ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Copyright Modernization ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Accordingly, the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from November 21, 2011, consideration of the motion that Bill C-215, An Act to amend the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act (deletion of deduction from annuity), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Canadian Forces Superannuation ActPrivate Members' Business

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I stand today to speak to Bill C-215. It is a bill which we support in principle and we would like to see it go to committee. The Liberal Party has been fairly clear over the last couple of weeks, in terms of expressing how important pensions are to Canadians as a whole, and the action we need to take to improve the quality of retirement for all Canadians.

I approach this debate with a bit of a bias. I used to be a member of the Canadian Forces. I have had the opportunity to become friends with numerous individuals who have been able to benefit through retirement pensions and so forth. Having said that, I do not collect a Canadian Forces pension, nor will I collect a Canadian Forces pension, but I see the merit of what is actually being proposed in the legislation.

Taking into consideration the sacrifices that are made by our men and women in the forces, whether they are in the Canadian Forces or the RCMP, the bill has a great deal of merit. I am anxious to see how the government will respond to the legislation. At the very least, it would be beneficial to all Canadians to have this bill go to committee, where we might be able to receive presentations and get some perspective from Canadians, in particular, members from the forces.

I know first-hand that many people who join the forces do not join because they are thinking of their retirement or how much money they are going to make on an annual basis. Generally speaking, the annual income is not that great. Most people join the forces because they want to contribute to our country in terms of building it and making it a safe place to be. I have the deepest amount of respect for those men and women who have taken on the responsibility of joining the forces.

I see this bill as one of the ways in which we can acknowledge the sacrifices they make. I look forward to not only dealing with the pension for the forces and the RCMP, but also dealing with the broader pension issue as a whole.

The Liberal critic for seniors has talked at great length about pensions and the importance of our being able to develop an overall pension scheme that will satisfy the needs of people in their retirement years for generations to come.

Today, sadly, and this even applies to members of the forces who have retired, too many seniors, because of the limited income they receive, are having to decide between buying prescribed medication that they require or buying food or clothing they. We would all agree that food is absolutely critical. People have to have food. Often, that means it is the medications that will lose out or, as we are starting to see, more seniors will use food banks.

My assistant, Roldan Sevillano, placed a call and learned that approximately 7,000 seniors, 65 years and older, living in the province of Manitoba visit food banks. I can assure members that a good number of those individuals have retired from our forces.

I suspect that we will continue to see a growing dependency on our food banks. We need to look at ways in which we can improve the quality of life for all of our seniors who retire at age 65, and I say to my Conservative colleagues, age 65, not 67.

I hope and trust that the government will see the wisdom of rectifying the crisis and fear it has created for many individuals, including members of our armed forces, who are looking at retirement. When people take into consideration the applicable age for old age security increasing to 67 years, they put off their retirement plans. Even this legislation would be impacted by what the government is talking about.

I will take this opportunity to highlight what I think is important.

It was raised today in question period that when the Prime Minister was still dreaming of becoming the prime minister of Canada, he came up with what we thought was important to say to Canadians. In a speech he gave in Guelph back in December 2005, he made some fairly strong statements. I will quote a couple of them. He said, that a Conservative government will protect our public pension programs. He said, “My government will fully preserve the old age security, the guaranteed income supplement and the Canadian pension plan and all projected future increases to these programs. I will build on those commitments”.

That is what the Prime Minister was saying when he was telling Canadians that he wanted to be the prime minister of Canada. He has really fallen short.

I am unable to best describe what he has actually done for the simple reason that the words I would use would be unparliamentary. I am not allowed to talk of the Prime Minister's sense of commitment that he made to Canadians back then and his inability to fulfill that commitment.

As the debate taking place on the old age security would have an impact on the legislation before us today if it were to pass, there is some value in reminding the Prime Minister of his commitment. Canadians believed the Prime Minister when he said that he was going to maintain, preserve, expand and make better our public pension programs. I anxiously await the March budget to see what the Prime Minister's true intentions are. All we know for sure is that the government is going to be increasing the applicable age from 65 to 67 years.

Getting back to the bill at hand as it pertains to members of the forces and the RCMP, we need to take a look at the broader picture and all the different forms of pensions that are out there. As the bill attempts to deal with improving the quality of life for retiring individuals who are members of the forces and the RCMP, we need to take that same attitude and look at other ways to complement our current programs to enhance the retirement income for other seniors and individuals who are looking toward retirement. That is what is important.

We have had great prime ministers who have provided us programs such as the CPP, old age security and the guaranteed income supplement. Those were bold initiatives. I believe that now is the time to look at ways to enhance our pension programs. Bill C-215 is one of the bills that could do just that. For that reason, we would like to see Bill C-215 go to committee.

Canadian Forces Superannuation ActPrivate Members' Business

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, this is essential legislation if we are going to treat our Canadian Forces and RCMP personnel with dignity and respect. My friend and colleague, the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore, has worked tirelessly on this issue over the years, so I am extra pleased today to speak to it.

Whether it is embarking on search and rescue missions, carrying out dangerous arrests on our streets or working alongside our international partners in peace building overseas, Canadian men and women in uniform make a tremendous sacrifice for our country every day. They often face dangerous conditions and extended family separations. Canadians and their families together make huge contributions, contributions that the rest of us can barely comprehend.

Sadly, the government is not prepared to make a similar contribution to the lives of men and women who serve our country. As it currently stands, as we have heard in the House, service pensions for retired Canadian Forces and RCMP personnel are significantly reduced at the age of 65 or when personnel begin to receive disability benefits. That is not just. Why would we reduce a veteran's pension at a time when he or she need it most? When veterans are grappling with permanent disabilities, visible, invisible or maybe with increased health risks because of old age, why would we not support them having a fair standard of living? Thousands of veteran Canadian Forces and RCMP personnel across this country want an answer, as do I.

In my riding of Halifax, the military is the largest employer. We have been a navy town since the beginning and we are proud of our military legacy, which began in the 18th century with the building of the dockyard. However, more than 300 years later, CFB Halifax is home to Canada's east coast naval base and the country's largest military base in terms of posted personnel, with more than 10,000 military and civilian employees. It is a major factor in the riding of Halifax.

Military personnel are actively engaged in my community. They enrich Halifax through their dedication to their work, their community and their volunteer work. They are involved in many different community partnerships, including the Military Family Resource Centre. However, like I said, too often many of the retired workers do not have an adequate standard of living. They do not enjoy the standard of living they deserve because of the current clawback to pensions.

The deduction that we are talking about was created nearly half a century ago and it is time for us to put this policy to an end. It hurts veterans, but, as I said, it also hurts their families. The Conservatives say that this is not a clawback. Maybe technically that is not the word that we should be using, but when money is missing from people's bank statements each month, that is a clawback and a clawback by any other name still stinks.

How does it work? I have an email from Leslie Sanders, who was impacted by this clawback. He did his deductions and talked about what he was getting before versus what he was getting now with this clawback and the difference was $130 a month. That is a lot of money for someone living on a pension. That is a couple of weeks of groceries. He told me that just because he had turned 65 did not mean that he needed less to live on than when I was 64. He wants an explanation of how this could happen. I think we would all appreciate that explanation.

It is not just service men and women. It is also their spouses that we need to think about. Due to the unique nature of life in uniform where families continuously move around this country and the world, CF and RCMP spouses often struggle to find and maintain employment. That makes it even more difficult for spouses to contribute to their own pension plans and support their families. We are seeing people left in the financial lurch yet again.

What is even more troubling is the unequal treatment of our troops. Currently, serving members of the Canadian Forces are able to draw their full salaries as well as disability pensions if they are injured, and rightly so, but discharged troops with a disability are not entitled to the same treatment. However, they have all made tremendous sacrifices so why would we not treat them the same?

Some of my colleagues across the way have expressed concerns about the financial implications of this legislation, but great credit should be given to my colleague from Sackville—Eastern Shore because he has outlined so many opportunities to keep the costs of implementing the bill at a minimum or revenue neutral.

We could try avenues like current payments to employment insurance, which CF and RCMP personnel pay into but cannot collect. We could use those contributions to offset these costs. Plus, members would likely receive less old age security and guaranteed income supplement payments.

This legislation is about more than the bottom line. I am almost reluctant to talk about those measures because it is really about providing a quality of life for Canadian Forces and RCMP personnel who go above and beyond for Canada every day. Supporting our troops is not just about wearing a yellow ribbon.

New Democrats are not alone in support of righting this wrong. More than 112,000 Canadians have signed a petition supporting this initiative, including many former colonels and generals. The Canadian Legion, the Army, Navy & Air Force Veterans in Canada Association and the national chairman of the Armed Forces Pensioners'/Annuitants' Association all back this proposal, as does Veterans ombudsman, Colonel Pat Stogran. He called it profoundly unfair.

In my home province of Nova Scotia. the clawback has become a concern for countless Nova Scotians. In 2006, our provincial government adopted a resolution urging:

...the Government of Canada to investigate this matter immediately and end the unfair policy of benefit reduction to our veterans of the military and the RCMP.

It is pretty profound when a provincial government would make a statement like that concerning a federal issue. I think we need to take that to heart.

Before I close, I would like to read part of a letter of support I received in response to Bill C-215 from a gentleman named Doug Grist, a retired RCMP officer. He is not from my riding but from the riding of South Shore—St. Margaret's, which is held currently by a Conservative MP. Mr. Grist said:

...there is more to recognizing all these brave men and women, who lay it all on the line both on foreign soil and here at home, than building monuments and holding an annual ceremony. These people provide us all with a secure, peaceful, enviable quality of life. They too deserve the same quality of life, not just while they serve but in their retirement.

I could not have put it more eloquently than Mr. Grist.

Throughout this debate I have been reminded of the old adage “no soldier left behind”. With the policy on service pensions in its current form, CF and RCMP personnel are being left behind. We need to ensure that this adage becomes a reality.

I urge members on all sides of the House to put down their partisan blinders, to go beyond our party affiliations and realize that this is the right thing to do. We need to stand up in the House and support the bill to ensure that none of them are left behind.

Canadian Forces Superannuation ActPrivate Members' Business

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, once again, as I did a few years ago, I stand in support of this legislation as it is very important and it is an issue that I get approached about a lot by the people in my riding. I have 195 communities in my riding and not many communities do not mention the issue of seniors, the amendments to be made to the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act, as well as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act.

I first heard about this when I was in the Gander Mall. I was called to a meeting at the Country Kitchen. I was with retired RCMP officers. To say that they put the issue to me is a mild understatement. I was sitting in a corner and, quite frankly, I was not quite sure if I would survive because they were very passionate about this issue. When I went into that room I was six-foot-two but when I walked out I was five-foot-four. That gives members an illustration of exactly how seriously they took this issue.

I say that in jest but this is an incredibly serious issue for the entire country, whether it be the people who have served us overseas or those who serve in our communities each and every day, officers in both the military and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. I, too, do a public service just like they do, but I can say that each and every day, despite how bad the debate gets here in the House, I do not put my life on the line like they do.

The boys at the Country Kitchen pointed out to me that I have the benefit of not having to go through this like they do. That is right. My pension does not go through this like their pensions do.

I want to thank the many people who have written or phoned me with respect to this debate for bringing this to the fore. What we have here is an essential benefit to allow these people to stack their pensions to the point where they would receive that better benefit. It comes down to the basic illustration of what they told me, which is that the ultimate example of an argument that works in this debate is simply this, “I worked for it. I earned it. Can I at least get it, all of it?” And why not? I get all of mine. The members across the way will get theirs provided they serve six years.

I ask the House to consider this legislation. If at some point members are not sure about this, maybe they think it is too expensive or that we cannot afford this right now in light of the economic situation, at the very least we could send this legislation to committee to be studied and have witnesses appear who can tell us their stories about how they deserve to stack their pensions so that they can receive full benefit. They can tell that better than I can. I would invite the committee to come to the Country Kitchen in Gander where it would get a real illustration of just how this legislation is the right one. That is for the members who are skeptical. I would tell those who are not skeptical to continue with their petitions and their support on this very basic issue.

My colleague from Sackville—Eastern Shore has an incredible amount of passion for this. This is where all of the partisanship sort of drifts away because I would like to talk about a member of Parliament who needs to be commended by someone from another party to say good for him for bringing this in. He has been very inspiring with respect to this. He has worked very hard on this since he arrived here. No matter where we sit, what corner, what colour, what stripe or what language we use, we certainly need to give that man his due as a parliamentarian. There are certain countries in the world where he would not get away with the way he speaks about it, but in this country he can. That says a lot about our country. So, good on him but, more important, good on us for what he is doing with this.

I want to talk about some of the facts he raised. He said that this would affect 96,000 people. What this would do is very simple. In light of the conversation we are having now, the national debate is around old age security and raising the age from 65 to 67.

The people who call in are very passionate, and to say that when I take the phone the person on the other end is very angry is an understatement. It is unbelievable the anger that has been sparked by this conversation and the prospect of increasing that age.

The argument on the other side is that we need to do something to protect the system that we have and cherish so much. Now we have experts who are basically saying that the sky is not falling, that the program is essentially sound and that what we are doing is raising the flag for no apparent reason.

This is about old age security and the guaranteed income supplement. I cannot think of a greater poverty-fighter in this country than the pension system we currently hold dear, which I believe is the best in the world. It is a pension system that we work towards, we earn and we get unless we are a retired Mountie or a retired officer.

Now let us get back to that one. The integration of the systems pulls back the benefits that someone has accrued, the benefits due to them through the Canada pension plan. How about that? People work all these years in a job where they risked their life and are entitled to a defined benefit every month, only to have their Canada pension plan taken away from them despite having contributed to it.

Essentially, with this clawback, we need to work towards stacking these pensions so that people get the full benefit of what they deserve.

Certainly I do believe that the input across the country has been great. Again, I go back to what the member mentioned about EI deductions, because that is one of the ways to get around this. It is one of the ways we can fix this with some positive comment in committee.

I certainly do believe that the people involved here should receive their benefits, because when it comes to the Canada pension plan, they do deserve it. They paid in, just like any other Canadian has done, and in addition have risked their lives.

Regarding the superannuation, unfortunately, because of all these plans they have invested in, the clawback is insulting. Maybe that is a harsh word, but let us face it: it is an insult.

I do not get a clawback. I will not get one at 55.

Canadian Forces Superannuation ActPrivate Members' Business

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Conservative Edmonton Centre, AB

Because you did not get a bridge benefit.

Canadian Forces Superannuation ActPrivate Members' Business

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

No, but I do get the benefit of working for six years here in the House of Commons and the benefit of receiving a pension that I believe I worked for. At the same time, it is certainly a lot more generous than what people who worked in the Canadian Forces or as a Mountie all their lives will receive.

Therefore, I would say to those who are casting doubt across the way that at the very least, the responsibility is on them to send this to committee if they feel their argument is a sound one.

Let us talk about the bridge. Today in this debate, how many Conservatives have spoken on this bill? Zero. How many will we see? Probably zero. I would suggest to them that at the very least, if they are not going to engage in an honest debate about this, they could bring this to committee.

It is a piece of legislation that affects 96,000 people across this country, people who gleefully pay into any pension plan they want to receive benefits from. In this particular case, it is the Royal Canadian Mounted Police superannuation, as well as the Forces' superannuation.

In light of what may come in the budget to increase the age requirement from 65 to 67, this is an excellent time to be talking about this piece of legislation. I say this because in committee, we can also find out what the effects of any change in old age security will mean to people in the Forces or the mounted police.

I thank my colleague, the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore, and this House and the hundreds if not thousands of people across this country who provided their input.

Canadian Forces Superannuation ActPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member who just spoke in this House raised a very relevant and pertinent question. Where are the Conservatives who are speaking on this bill? If they do not agree with it, at least they could participate and tell us what is wrong with this bill and why they cannot support it in principle, because that is what we are debating today, whether or not this bill should be supported in principle so that it can go to committee. That is a very good question and maybe we will see a few Conservatives get up now and speak to the bill.

First, I want to express gratitude to the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore because, as the previous members and others have said, he has worked diligently and with great honour and integrity on these issues affecting veterans. I know that since he was elected in this House in 1997, he has brought this file forward and exposed the inequalities and issues and grievances that exist within Veterans Affairs Canada and for all of the pensioners across the country who receive these pensions. It is a real testament to what an individual member can do with a private member's bill, and also beyond, working within the community. As we have heard today, there are over 100,000 people who have signed a petition supporting this bill. That is an enormous number of people. It is quite incredible. All of us would love to have a petition of 100,000 people, the result of years of work on this bill and reaching out and hearing from people about their legitimate concerns.

Bill C-215 is very straightforward. It deals with an injustice. It deals with an inequity in our system. When people look at this issue, the first thing they would ask is why people who have served in the Canadian armed forces or the RCMP would lose a portion of their service pension when they reach age 65 and get their CPP or their CPP disability pension. They earned that service pension.

In British Columbia, where we also have a superannuation plan, I am not aware of any deductions being made. Through their service, people earn their superannuation, which stands on its own. Yet here, federally, we have a clawback where people forfeit one side of their contribution when another contribution kicks in. That seems to me to be fundamentally unfair.

I am very glad that the member has brought this forward and has tried repeatedly to get this bill through the House of Commons. This bill was first brought forward in 2005. It actually did pass the House of Commons at second reading at one point and went to committee. However, the government has always foiled attempts to rectify this injustice. We have another opportunity here today with this bill to do the right thing, and if there are procedural matters around a royal recommendation, as the member for Halifax just pointed out, there are remedies for that too. There has been a lot of homework done on this bill to show that it can meet the rules and the procedures around private members' bills.

The most important thing to note is that the government at any point or on any day it wanted to correct this issue could do so by introducing its own bill. Despite all the effort that has gone toward this private member's bill, let us not forget that the government itself has the mandate and authority to come forward with a bill to ensure that these seniors and pensioners do not lose out on their hard-earned money. Let us not forget that those pensioners had to work 20 years and that they made these contributions to the plan. This is not a go home free day, but a contribution that has been earned as a result of work service. As my colleagues have pointed out, these particular members of society have provided a service that is sometimes risky and very challenging in the Canadian armed forces and the RCMP.

This is a significant issue and it relates to the bigger issue of fundamental fairness. We have had debates in this House and in question period day after day about what is happening to the old age security system.

There are so many people across the country asking what is going to happen to their pensions, if this is going to be taken away from them because of the plans that have been announced by the government.

The Prime Minister did it in such a wonderful way in announcing it in Davos, Switzerland. Maybe he was hoping we would not notice it here in Canada. However, once that message gets through to seniors in this country, a lot of organization starts to happen. We are beginning to see it with the sit-ins at the Conservative members' offices, and I am sure we are going to see more of that.

This is taking place within a bigger environment of growing inequality in our country. One of the things I find surprising is that we are always told it will cost too much, that this bill is something we cannot really afford. Let us look at the bigger picture. We will have had about $60 billion in corporate tax cuts. We have a public revenue pie and a government that has been hell bent on slashing away while providing tax cuts for profitable corporations. Just look at the six big banks and the billions of dollars in profits they made last year. These corporations can afford to pay their fair share. That is all we are asking for, a fair share, so that the public revenue pie can be properly divided to ensure that essential programs, like pension programs and supports for seniors, veterans, and people with disabilities, can actually go ahead.

The issue here is not affordability but the income inequality that has clearly been chosen by public policy decisions of this Conservative government, and governments previous to it as well. However, I am glad to see the Liberals are supporting this bill today. However, let us get the big picture right and recognize that what we are talking about here is not minor. In the big picture, this is something that is entirely supportable, defensible and doable, and it is the right thing to do.

I would echo others who have said in the House today that we should put aside some of the partisan feelings and instead focus on the merits of this bill and recognize that these members of the Canadian Forces and RCMP deserve to have their superannuation contributions recognized and upheld.

I want to make one last point. This does not only affect those individuals who worked and who made contributions, but also their spouses. We should acknowledge that many spouses of military members have difficulty finding and retaining employment because of their frequent moves and postings. That is something we can understand and relate to because they are moving around so much. Therefore, it is very difficult for them to contribute to their own pension plan. That is all the more reason to approve this bill, because we would be assisting the spouses of military and RCMP members and increasing their income level as a result.

There are too many people falling below the poverty line. There are too many people being left behind. We in the NDP have a pretty good track record of bringing forward economically sound proposals, whether on the CPP, OAS, employment insurance, child care or housing. We try to create a better balance on income inequality.

Here is another really fine example of what we can do in the House if we vote for this bill. We can make sure that this injustice is corrected and that those receiving these service pensions are allowed to keep 100% of what they contributed and earned through their work.

Canadian Forces Superannuation ActPrivate Members' Business

1:55 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is truly a pleasure to stand and support this fine piece of work drafted by my colleague from Sackville—Eastern Shore. It is a piece of legislation that every member in this chamber should be proud to support. It is the epitome of good, sound policy work that can be done by members of the House. I want to speak for a few moments about my colleague from Sackville--Eastern Shore.

The member has been elected six times to this chamber. I do not think there is any higher recommendation or expression of confidence that voters can give in a democracy than to send a person back to represent them half a dozen times. One of the reasons for that is because the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore is one of the finest, hardest working, most compassionate and most reasonable members in the House. He has demonstrated that time and time again. This piece of legislation before the House is a classic example of that fine work.

Many Canadians wonder what impact an individual member of Parliament can have on not only the House of Commons, but on our country. When done properly, when adequately researched, well thought-out and well consulted, a member of Parliament can bring an excellent idea to this chamber that can change the lives of many people. In this case, hundreds of thousands of people across this country would have their lives improved by this piece of work.

For Canadians watching, the bill has a big title, An Act to amend the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act (deletion of deduction from annuity). That is a complex title for what is really a simple concept. That concept is essentially this: that the way our pension system is set up for members in our armed forces and the RCMP, it requires those members to make contributions to the Canada pension plan throughout their working careers. At the same time, those same members have to make contributions to a separate pension plan that is contributed to partially by them and partially by their employer.

When they reach retirement age of 65, one would expect they would then start receiving the dividends from the payments that were made, but that is not the case. At age 65, because of the way the legislation is set up, the amount of Canada pension plan that they would receive is deducted from the pension that they receive through their own contribution and that of their employer. In effect, the Canada pension plan portion of their pension is clawed back from their total pension receipts.

I think any fair-minded Canadian who hears that would be wondering why is that the case? What possible policy reason would there be for such an obvious inequity? Canadians would also ask themselves how is that fair? How is it that we expect people to make contributions through their working lives toward a pension that ultimately gets clawed back when it comes time to retire? That is the ultimate question that the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore set out to try to solve. This piece of legislation does exactly that.

I want to talk about pensions in this country. Before I was elected to the House, I was a pension trustee for seven years on a joint employer union pension fund in British Columbia and Yukon. In fact, it became a national plan. In those seven years, in which I was very honoured to occupy that role, which was a volunteer role by the way, it became extremely apparent to me what a critical part retirement plays in the lives of every Canadian.

Every Canadian wants to obtain an education. Every Canadian wants to have a fulfilling, satisfying, rewarding career. But a very pivotal part of every Canadian's dream, of what makes a good Canadian life, is the opportunity at some point to put down their tools, to retire and spend time with their families, to spend time in their community, and to have the time where they can actually pursue hobbies and interests and to give back to this country. Often when we work we do not have as much time for that as we would like.

It is part of every Canadian's dream to have sufficient income to retire with dignity. Canadians do not want to live a life of exorbitance. They are not looking for extreme wealth in retirement. They just want enough to have a secure retirement, enough that they can pay their accommodation, feed their families, take care of their families, do a bit of travel and live the rest of their lives in the secure comfort and knowledge that they do not have to worry about poverty or financial pressure.

The bill would go some way to making that dream a reality for some of the most important people in our society, members of the armed forces and members of the RCMP.

A very important point that I do not think has been expressed enough in the House is that, unlike other Canadians in this country, members of the armed forces and the RCMP do not have the legal ability to organize themselves into a union. They do not have the ability to take their concerns and sit down at a bargaining table with their employer and negotiate the terms and conditions of their work. Because they are deprived of that ability, they just have whatever remuneration package is determined for them thrust upon them. It is doubly incumbent upon us as parliamentarians to supervise that remuneration package and make sure it is fair.

To claw back Canada pension plan benefits from men and women in our armed forces and RCMP who paid for those benefits, is simply unfair. It should be changed, and the bill would change it.

I want to talk for a moment about pensions in general, because of course that has been raised very much in the House by the clear direction of the government to raise the retirement age for old age security from 65 to 67. Day after day, week after week, the Conservatives in this House keeping say they just want to strengthen the plan, that they will not do it for anybody who is currently retired or near retirement. They will not say on whom they will impose this rule. Yet they will impose this rule on Canadians. It will be Canadians in their twenties, their thirties or their forties.

I have heard government members talk about what a wonderful job they have done managing the economy, how strong our economy is and how we are growing. Yet they are asking Canadians to take less. I am not exactly sure where all this largesse and all the benefit of the economy are going. They are certainly not going to our retirees. Retirees' lives in this country, according to the government's plan, will get worse. We just do not know when, whether it is next year, 10 years from now or 20 years from now. However, it is guaranteed they will get worse.

We all know old age security is a pay-as-we-go plan. There is not a segregated account into which we put money to pay for our old age security. It comes out of general revenues. The government is saying that we have a demographic challenge coming, the baby boom is coming and this plan will be unsustainable.

I ask, did the Conservatives not see this coming? Did the baby boom sneak up on us? We have only seen that coming for 40 years. How is it that successive Conservative and Liberal governments have not seen this coming?

Over the last 30 years, from 1982 until now, the Conservative and Liberal governments have been in power exactly the same amount of time, 15 years each. For the last 30 years Canadians have listened to these parties say they are the best fiscal managers. Yet they could not even arrange to make sure that Canadians could have $6,500 in retirement when they turn 65. That is a shame.

At the same time, if it is a revenue problem, the Conservative government cut the GST by 2% and took $12 billion of revenue out of the federal government coffers. Just the last corporate tax cut, from 19% to 16.5%, took another $10 billion out of the government's coffers. That is $26 billion just on those two items alone that has come out of federal government revenue. Then the government says that it does not have enough money to pay for old age security.

Why did the Conservatives make those revenue cuts? What were they thinking two years ago? In terms of democracy, when the Conservatives say they have a strong mandate from the Canadian people, and we hear this repeated ad nauseam, why did they not get a mandate from the Canadian people eight months ago to raise the old age security levels from 65 to 67? Why did they not have the courage to tell Canadians that is what they would do? They must have known it, because the demographic bulge was there for everybody to see for decades.

I speak highly in favour of the bill. Let us make sure every Canadian can have a secure retirement. Let us start with members of our armed forces and our RCMP officers and correct this longstanding inequity.

Canadian Forces Superannuation ActPrivate Members' Business

2:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Before I give the floor to the hon. member for Pontiac, I must inform him that I will have to interrupt him at 2:12 p.m., in order to allow time for the right of reply.

The hon. member for Pontiac.

Canadian Forces Superannuation ActPrivate Members' Business

2:05 p.m.

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat NDP Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise here in the House today to take part in the debate on Bill C-215.

I wish to congratulate my hon. colleague from Sackville—Eastern Shore on his excellent work on this bill. I commend him for always caring so much about the interests of our heroes, our soldiers and our RCMP officers. I share his opinion that we need to do more for our veterans. They have given so much to our country, and we need to recognize this, not only with kind words and nice ceremonies, but also with concrete gestures that will improve their lives and make a difference.

That is why I wholeheartedly support this bill. It represents a real, important gesture to help veterans and their families. I am sure most Canadians will be shocked to learn, as I was when I was elected to this House, that many veterans of the Canadian Forces and the RCMP are living in poverty. I was also shocked to learn that many of them suffer from chronic illnesses and mental health problems and have no access to the medical services they need.

Now I know, because I have had the privilege of meeting a number of these heroes in my office or at the legions in my riding. They are usually stoic and not in the habit of complaining. Consider what it must have taken for a courageous veteran to end up in a constituency office to complain about his financial situation. The situation for veterans 65 and over is getting worse. Our government should be ashamed of the economic situation of so many veterans. We have to do more; it is the honourable thing to do.

It is unacceptable that the pensions of Canadian Forces and RCMP retirees are considerably reduced when the retirees begin to draw benefits from the Canada pension plan at age 65 or when they draw Canada pension plan disability benefits. They already have so little, and taking away some of their pension makes absolutely no sense. Even more unfair is that when this decision was made, the members of these forces had no say in how they wanted to make their mandatory contributions. It is unbelievable.

Yes. The unilateral decision was made, once again without consultation, to integrate the CFSA and CPP contributions, rather than stack the plan or increase their CFSA contributions. At the time, members did not realize that their retirement pensions would be reduced when they began collecting their CPP benefits, just when they needed them. It is possible to remedy this situation today. Eliminating the clawback provision with respect to members of the Canadian Forces and the RCMP, as proposed by this bill, would be a way to straighten things out and to recognize the special and important contribution that these individuals make to our country. Members of the Canadian Forces and the RCMP have roles and a lifestyle distinct from the general community. During their working years, they face dangerous conditions.

My belief in this bill is so strong that, even if it were going to cost money, I would support it. The reality is that it will cost nothing. The lack of cost is yet another good reason to support this bill. All that is left for me to do is to invite and encourage the members of all parties to do something concrete for all our heroes and support this bill with the same enthusiasm as the hon. member for Sackville—Eastern Shore.

Canadian Forces Superannuation ActPrivate Members' Business

2:10 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleagues in the NDP, my Liberal and Bloc colleagues, and those people who have spoken in favour of the bill over the last six years.

I personally want to thank John Labelle, Roger Boutin and Mel Pittman, three veterans and heroes of our country who raised this issue with me. I was ignorant of the facts. I did not know that this was happening to the heroes of our country.

I analyzed the information. I checked it out. I thoroughly argued it. This legislation has been voted on twice in the House. It has twice been supported by the majority of the House. The Prime Minister said that when a majority of the elected members of Parliament vote for something and it passes, the government should honour that result. The government has reversed its word twice and thus we are here debating the legislation one more time.

I want to make it clear that while it is called a benefit annuity reduction, but if it looks like a clawback, smells like a clawback, tastes like a clawback, I can assure the House that it is a clawback. It is as simple as that.

I would like anyone on the Conservative side to tell me why veteran Leslie Sanders of Trenton, Ontario, would lose $130 a month because he turned 65. His greatest sin was getting a year older. Why would he lose that money?

I am not saying that what the government did in the past was illegal, but it was highly immoral.

Members of the armed forces and the RCMP never had an opportunity to debate the so-called blended system to the stacked system. They were ordered to do this. Many of them did not know what was going to happen. They received what is called the dreaded letter informing them that they would lose a whole whack of money.

What is worse than having a pension clawed back at age 65 is what happens to those who are disabled.

A 52-year-old RCMP officer in my riding is permanently disabled. His superannuation is approximately $3,000 a month. He was told to go on CPP disability which gave him over $800 a month. He agreed because he felt he would be okay. However, he was told that is not how the game is played. He would get his $800 disability payment but it was deducted dollar for dollar from his superannuation. Nobody told him that at the age of 65 disability payments would stop. His CPP would be reduced, which would be further reduced from his superannuation. That is how he is treated after 32 years of wearing the red serge in service to his country. It is simply unfair. It is simply wrong.

We are talking about the heroes of our country, the men and women who wear their uniform with unlimited liability. It does not matter on what side of the House members sit, we all have the ultimate responsibility to ensure that their needs and the needs of their families are taken care of. That includes headstones.

We should not be using outdated legislation that was passed almost 50 years ago to claw back money from the pension benefits of these men and women.

We have explained in previous debates how we could pay for it. We have explained in previous debates why it is important to allow these men and women financial dignity when they retire or become disabled. We have explained very clearly that many of these men and women move many times, in some cases 22 times, across the country and around the world, thereby denying their spouses the opportunity to put money into their own pension plans, thus further prohibiting their ability to live in financial dignity when they retire. It is fundamentally unfair.

We must bear in mind that this happens to all federal public servants in the country, with the exception of members of Parliament, senators and judges.

We are doing this for members of the RCMP and the military because they do not have unions and associations to argue at a bargaining table for them. We are doing it for them because they lay their lives on the line so we can stand in the House and debate important issues.

I hear a lot of rhetoric from the Conservative Party. We will have a chance next week to see where those members stand. We will have a chance to see if their vote matches their words.

I encourage Conservative members who say they support the men and women of the RCMP and the military to stand up and vote for this legislation. I ask them to allow once and for all those men and women who serve our country to have the financial dignity and support they so rightfully deserve.

Canadian Forces Superannuation ActPrivate Members' Business

2:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

It being 2:17 p.m., the time provided for debate has expired. Accordingly, the question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Canadian Forces Superannuation ActPrivate Members' Business

2:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Canadian Forces Superannuation ActPrivate Members' Business

2:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Canadian Forces Superannuation ActPrivate Members' Business

2:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Canadian Forces Superannuation ActPrivate Members' Business

2:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

All those opposed will please say nay.

Canadian Forces Superannuation ActPrivate Members' Business

2:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Canadian Forces Superannuation ActPrivate Members' Business

2:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 93, the division stands deferred until Wednesday, February 15, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

It being 2:18 p.m., this House stands adjourned until next Monday at 11 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1). May I wish everyone a grand weekend.

(The House adjourned at 2:18 p.m.)