Madam Speaker, as I said, the NDP official opposition has already forced two votes on this motion in the House. My colleague who just finished his speech said that it was sad that we opposed this. I want to be very clear that on behalf of our party, we are very proud of the fact that we have fought against this change, that we will fight against this change and that, when we take government after the next federal election, we will reverse this decision by the federal government.
When I first heard that the Prime Minister had been in Davos with his rich buddies trying to satisfy the international monetary community with this kind of an endeavour, it reminded me of a battle we fought within the labour movement through the 1960s and 1970s to try to lower the age when people in the auto manufacturing centres would be able to receive pensions at an earlier age than 65. There was a caption for it, “30-and-out”. No matter what age they started, after 30 years of work they would have a pension that was quite substantive enough for individuals to finish raising their families and live in significant dignity.
The push for that was this fact. Up until that point, people had to be 65 before they received any pension benefits from the auto manufacturers. The analysis the economists for the labour movement had done at that time was that the average labourers retiring in the auto sector at age 65 received pension for just slightly more than 12 months before they died. That image struck me very hard when again I heard the Prime Minister, outside the country, announcing this decision. That is still a factor we have to consider in raising the age of retirement.
It is National Nursing Week. Nurses work very hard from a physical labour standpoint. Yet we are saying to them that they will to have to wait two more years to receive this benefit, one that they have contributed to very clearly by the tax dollars they paid all of their careers. We have to recognize the forestry worker, the farmer, the fisher and all those people who work very hard lives, very difficult, back-bending, back-breaking labour for a great deal of their lives.
I hear this from the Jack Mintzes of the world and the economists. They have a picture of people perhaps like me. I have been a lawyer all my professional career and then a politician. I have not done that heavy labour work. However, that is the image the Conservative Party has, that it is not a big deal, that they can work a couple more years, and that is probably true. I think of me and most of the members of the House.
However, there are a lot of Canadians for whom that does not apply. Think of the waitress who spent her whole career working, slugging heavy trays. We can just go down the list of people. The majority of Canadians still work a physically demanding heavy workload and we are saying to them that they have to do it for two more years.
We can say they could have planned better and saved more, but we know that is not the reality of the Canadian economy.
We know that private pension plans have been a gross failure in terms of providing sufficient incomes for people to retire. If Canadians are to retire above the poverty line, they will need the OAS and a better CPP. We need massive reforms with respect to CPP. Again, my party has been the leader in pushing that issue in the country.
The previous speaker talked about how all these other countries have done it. If the government had done any kind of analysis, it would seen that in the vast majority of cases, those countries have also provided for alternative plans for people who cannot continue to work or who are at very marginal levels.
What is also interesting is that pension benefits in the vast majority of those other countries are substantially better than they are in Canada. The member was right when he said that we are 15 years behind, but not about raising the age; we are 15 years behind in providing pension benefits from public sources, not from private sources, that are adequate for the average Canadian to retire in dignity. We are way behind the rest of the developed world.
We are quite happy to support this kind of motion, even though it is coming from one of the other opposition parties. We are proud to continue this battle.
I see that I still have a couple more minutes. Let me go to the other reforms that we need to make.
We fought the government in advance of the last election. We had very concrete proposals as to how much we needed to increase the guaranteed income supplement. When the government implemented the measure, both before the election and subsequently, it did so at a level that was less than half of what was required to move people above the poverty line, or at least up to the poverty line. These were primarily elderly women, 65 years of age and older, who did not have any other pension benefits. In a lot of cases they did not qualify for the CPP. They only had the OAS and the GIS.
The government made this one increase, and of course the Conservatives tout it constantly all over the country and in the House, but the reality is that people who are only eligible for the OAS and GIS are living below the poverty line today in this country and will continue to do so as long as the figures remain at that level. There has to be a significant increase made by this country to honour our elderly citizens when they retire, to make sure that they can live above or at least at the poverty line.
Similarly, with respect to the proposal the Conservatives have coming with regard to this pooled pension fund, the RRSP has been a colossal failure in terms of providing personal private pensions to people who have adequate incomes. It simply has not worked. We can go through the figures of how few people have used it or used it to its maximum. Now they are talking about a collective one. The RRSP has failed in that regard, and a pooled pension plan will not do any better; in fact, it will probably do more poorly.
Reforms to our public pension plans are needed quite badly and are needed fairly soon. However, increasing the age of eligibility is simply a mechanism used by the government to continue to give tax breaks to the oil and gas industry, the big financial institutions and the very wealthy in this country. Increasing OAS non-payment by two years is taking money out of the hands and pockets of those who are really poor in this country and putting that burden on their backs.