Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to this particular NDP motion.
In his recent speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the Prime Minister suggested that, as a broad part of the social transformation, the Canadian retirement system should undergo significant changes. Government documents distributed to the media suggested at that time the possibility of changing the eligibility to collect OAS from 65 years to 67 years.
Following the Prime Minister's speech, which set off alarm bells across the country, the government quickly started backtracking on its own materials. Out came the almost obligatory cover statement assuring Canadian seniors that there would be no changes to the present benefits currently received by Canadian seniors. In addition, the government also repeated that the Canada pension plan was fully funded and in need of no change.
All I can say is that this is a rather classic tried and true Conservative tactic, “Don't worry, seniors, we'll never sell you out. You'll be just fine. It is your kids and your grandkids, those generations behind you, who will have to face the burden of our cuts, but don't you worry. You're okay”.
Unfortunately for the Prime Minister and the government, Canadian seniors are not buying any of that. Conversations I have heard over the last few months, from government circles, from certain academia and from the mainstream media, seem to have been telling Canadians to prepare to work until 70 years of age.
These trial balloons remind me of a bully who, with a clenched fist, says that people will need to work until they are 70 years old. Then he smiles and says that they should not worry because he is just kidding. He tells them that they will only need to work until they are 67, and then, of course, people are supposed to feel relieved at that point. Somehow, Canadians are supposed to believe the government is doing them a favour. I can tell the House that the government will not do our seniors any favours when it comes to their pensions.
Instead of tearing down our cherished retirement security program, New Democrats have been working hard for three years putting together a retirement security program designed to ensure that all Canadians are able to retire with dignity. To that end, we propose the phase-in of a doubling of the CPP over an extended period of time so that generations to come will have more of a sense of a foundation on which to retire.
Part of our plan would eliminate poverty among seniors by increasing the guaranteed income supplement. New Democrats will also create a national pension insurance program to protect existing pensions paid for out of premiums from the plan's sponsors.
New Democrats want to further protect existing pensions by ensuring that pensioners are among the creditors who are paid out of a company's remaining assets when it goes bankrupt.
What do we get from the government? We get talk of forcing seniors to work longer, a pooled registered pension plan that provides no security and, worse, the PRPP would have Canadians investing their retirement savings in the very same marketplace that caused such catastrophic losses in the value of RRSPs and other pension funds.
Unlike the CPP or private savings, the OAS is a universal pension that does not depend on retirees' work history or their participation in a registered pension plan or other savings plan. OAS, along with the GIS, has, over the years, made impressive gains in lowering, although not eliminating, poverty among seniors. Full OAS is based on residency and is available to Canadians who have lived here a minimum of 40 years. Partial OAS pensions are pro-rated for Canadians who have spent less of their lives in Canada. For example, if a person has lived in Canada for only 20 years, he or she would receive half of the monthly benefits, or, if a person has lived in Canada for 10 years, he or she would receive a quarter of the monthly OAS benefits.
Unlike CPP, which is funded through equal contributions from employers and employees, OAS and GIS are paid directly from government general revenues. High income seniors must also pay back some or all of their OAS benefit. The guaranteed income supplement is entirely means-tested and available only to our poorer seniors.
I will now talk about our more vulnerable seniors for a moment. Economist, Andrew Jackson, and others have noted that raising the age of eligibility by two years would especially impact low-income older workers. Today, people whose income is in the bottom 20% of the workforce, and I hesitate at this, they tend to die earlier than those in the top 20% because of the lives they live. Half of all lower income men, on average, will collect OAS-GIS cheques for a meagre 10 years.
Raising the retirement eligibility by two years would also have a negative impact on persons aged 65 and closing in on 65 who are in poor health and have difficulty working. At what cost? The latest actuarial report on the OAS-GIS projects that the number of recipients will increase from 4.9 million today to 9.3 million in 2030. However, the increase in total cost that is projected is actually much more modest. Today's current level of 2.5% of GDP would become 3.5% in 2030. That is because our economy will continue to grow.
I would suggest that a cost of under 1% of GDP is a very small price to pay for maintaining basic retirement levels for all Canadians, especially the one in three seniors who have low incomes. Because many of these low income people are senior women who are not part of the paid labour force, the OAS and GIS are particularly important retirement instruments for them. Senior women are less likely than senior men to draw income from CPP, private pension plans, RRSPs or employment earnings. This makes universal programs like OAS-GIS particularly important to female seniors.
In 1927, when J.S. Woodsworth first envisioned OAS, he believed it was essential to have such a program to address seniors' poverty of the day. Today, we are being told by the government that the old age security program is unsustainable. Essentially, the government wants to restructure the entire Canadian retirement system because of what we see as a clearly affordable, short-run, short-term demographic change. This resulted from the gradual retirement of baby boomers, which actually started last year in 2011.
According to the government's own reports, the anticipated growth in cost is driven largely by the retirement of the baby boomers. Its own reports do not describe any longer term issues of sustainability. Therefore, in the long run, the current system is clearly affordable and will even be a smaller share of the budget than it is today following the decline in baby boomers. Simply put, in the medium run, this is a cost increase that Canadians can clearly afford.
While speaking at Davos, the Prime Minister scolded our European friends for their spending, so let us look at that for a moment. According to the OECD, total public social expenditures on pensions as a percentage of GDP is estimated at 4.7% in Canada. The equivalent average in OECD counties is more than 7%. Even crisis countries, such as Italy, pay 14%. Canada, in relation to that, pays one-third of what Italy pays. Australia, France and Greece spend roughly 12%. Germany, Poland and Portugal spend roughly 11%. Therefore, such comparisons to the troubled eurozone are simply not appropriate and are only used to create fear for our time-tested Canadian programs that they might be unsustainable.
In addition, it should also be noted that the Canadian public pensions, OAS, GIS and CPP, are not overly generous when compared to other OECD countries. In fact, a recent study ranks us 20th out of 30.
The Prime Minister's priority is to spend billions of dollars on corporate tax giveaways while cutting support to Canadian seniors, particularly women, and that is wrong. We should be taking practical, affordable measures to lift every senior out of poverty by expanding the GIS, not making it worse by slashing the eligibility to OAS. New Democrats have been meeting with seniors' groups to talk about how seniors will be affected and work on the best ways to oppose these reckless Conservative cuts. A better option for Canadians is to expand the CPP.
In closing, in response to the Prime Minister's triumphant speech, economist Jim Stanford asked, “If Canada has been so wonderfully successful, why must we take money away from Canadian pensioners?”