Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour.
I believe we are at a watershed moment in our new 41st Parliament. We have now experienced the first of what I am fearful, and we talk about fear a fair bit, will be one of the many hidden agenda items of the Conservative government.
There was never any discussion in any of the past election campaigns about the need to raise the age at which people receive old age security. If there is a problem, and we do not believe there is, there has never been any discussion among the Canadian people about this problem. Baby boomers, of which I am a member, have been around since I was born in 1952, which, coincidentally, was the year the old age security system actually started.
We all know we will retire and now the Conservatives have created a crisis in order to achieve a different agenda, in order to start rolling back the social safety net of Canada. This is the first step and it is a dangerous first step. We will see more of this in the future I am afraid.
As a wag in Halifax has said, the Prime Minister opened a can of worms with a Swiss army knife and once again the most vulnerable members of society must pay for the excesses of the government. Seniors are just one of a long list of members of our society who, according to the Prime Minister, must accept less from government and should not expect to keep a reasonable standard of living when they reach retirement.
This crisis has been created as a result of a temporary blip caused by baby boomers. It is temporary, so why not find a temporary fix, like perhaps rescinding the corporate tax cuts that have taken so much out of the government treasury?
The government came to office with an enormous structural surplus and it is gone. Not only is it gone but, in their term in office, the Conservatives have created the biggest deficit ever in Canadian history. Now they are saying that the cupboard is bare and that seniors will need e to pay for it. That is not what the NDP believes. We do not believe in going backward. We believe in moving Canada forward, and this is moving backward.
The Prime Minister and the government also tell us not to worry because the Canada pension plan is solvent and that it will not be touched. What they have forgotten to tell us is that Canada pension is inexorably intertwined with the old age security system, as are all the pension plans in this country, private and public. They all have what is called a normal retirement date and they all require that there be some other form of assistance for the poorest of Canadians and the middle class of Canadians, that being old age security at age 65.
Once we step into the 67 world, as the Prime Minister appears willing to do, all of those systems must move to age 67. It will not just be old age security, because that would leave an enormous gap between what all of the other pension, retirement and income systems in Canada already have. All pension plans are based on a normal retirement age and almost, without exception, they are all at age 65, not 66 or 67. Moving away from that would put enormous pressure on other plans to move in lockstep.
Many employees have planned their careers around retirement at age 65. For those whose total pension income pays less than $16,000, they count on the guaranteed income supplement to top-up their pension to a reasonable amount. For seniors who have only the old age security to count on, most of them women, it is the difference between abject poverty and living at the poverty line. However, the government is telling them to suck it up buttercup, that they should either continue working past retirement age or go on welfare for the next two years.
We do not agree that we should drag this country backward when we have worked so hard to protect the systems and security measures that are in place now.
What if those individuals were not able work another two years, as the Prime Minister suggests? Both the federal government and the Government of New Brunswick allow forced retirement at age 65. All provinces allow forced retirement in jobs that require large physical or safety requirements, such as firefighters. Employers can fire people for being too old. How would people be able to work past the age of 65 when several levels of government suggest that they can be fired at age 65? Many employers work very hard to discourage people from working past 65.
I am aware of that from my career as a union rep. As soon as the Province of Ontario eliminated forced retirement at age 65, employers went through hoops to make it difficult for people to stay on past the age of 65. They changed benefit plans, income plans and tried to make people work for less, all to try to force them to leave or quit at age 65. Why? Because the kid coming out of school will work for a lot less. That is the kind of Canada the Conservatives are building.
The Prime Minister's proposal largely affects lower and middle income Canadians. This does not bother the famous 1%. They have other income beyond CPP and OAS. Their OAS is clawed back and they never qualify for GIS, so they would not be affected by the Prime Minister's proposals.
As for the guaranteed income supplement, it is not paid to those who already have reasonable pensions. The GIS goes to the 1.7 million seniors today who otherwise would live in abject poverty. That is one in three seniors in Canada. The fastest and easiest way to cut government spending on items like the GIS is to raise the minimum pensions. If Canada pension goes up, the GIS bill goes down. There is no need to raise the retirement age to 67 if the Canada pension plan can pick up the slack and, surprise, surprise, there would be no cost to the treasury.
There are significant impacts on the provinces that no one is talking about. Welfare stops at age 65. What happens between ages 65 and 67? Provincial long-term disability is not paid past age 65. Provincial workers' compensation and WSIB is not paid past age 65. This unilateral proposal by the Prime Minister to raise the retirement age to 67 would create significant holes in provincial social assistance programs, costing millions of dollars.
Further, most private pension plans take into account OAS payments. They are interdependent. Many of them have what they call the level income option where individuals can opt for a different retirement age based on the knowledge that they will get OAS. All of those deals would be gone.
Those holes in the private sector plans would create significant costs for employers and force extra costs on the provinces. All private benefit plans depend on retirement at age 65. Private long-term disability plans all end at age 65. There would be enormous costs to employers to do this.
Has anybody talked about the domino effect of what you are proposing? What you are proposing would actually cause an enormous cascade of costs on employers, on governments and on individuals. It is not just future seniors. I know you are musing, “This is only those younger people who don't really think about retirement right now. Don't worry, we won't touch it for several years yet”.