Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have a chance to speak to Bill C-25, its inadequacies and the concerns that many of us continue to have here on this side of the House.
I have often referred to Bill C-25 as being nothing more than bread crumbs to a starving person because in reality that is all it is. I doubt very much that it would help very many Canadians. From everything I am hearing from the provinces and from other people who have looked into the issue, there would be big management fees and little help for people when it comes to serious pension reform. It would simply be a mechanism for those who have money to save for their own retirement. The government tries to call that its answer to pension reform. I am sure we will hear its solution to pension reform was PRPPs for the next five years or so, until it realizes that as Australia's plan failed, so would this one. While I have no difficulties with creating savings vehicles for Canadians, we must also work to help those without the means to save. That is what pension reform is really all about. Bill C-25 is not pension reform. Anyone who makes that claim is misleading the public.
Two years ago, I asked the government what it planned to do to protect and preserve pensions for all Canadians. The minister responded in this House by saying that pensions were provincial and should be left to provincial legislatures to deal with. He said pensions were not a federal problem. However, Canadians rightly found that notion to be wrong, short-sighted and clearly unacceptable. The Conservatives produced Bill C-25 which is a copy of an Australian proposal that, after 12 years, has been declared a failure. The government was sent into a scramble. It had to find something to satisfy the accusations that it was not doing anything so it came up with this idea.
I will cast my vote, as will my party, with very deep concern and caution because it is nothing more than bread crumbs to a starving person. However, it is that small tool in a toolbox. It is not the answer but we will support it because it is one small step in the advancement of talking and recognizing the need for pension reform in Canada.
In 1998, when the current Prime Minister was campaigning, he announced that he wanted to privatize the Canada pension plan. That is right, the Conservatives proposed the elimination of the public Canada pension plan. Just imagine where we would be today. Not only is the government talking about moving from age 65 to 67 in this current budget bill, and is clearly moving in that direction, imagine where Canadians would find themselves if we did not have the Canada pension plan or it had been privatized. All of a sudden their retirement plans would severely change.
Who knows if that is not the next shoe to drop in the big plans that the government has? Will the Conservatives decide they are going to privatize the CPP? I am not fear mongering, but who knows what is going to be next on the agenda of the government?
At the time, the government suggested that the CPP should be replaced with a super savings account that would allow Canadians to put all of their extra money into investments for their retirement. The government did not talk about the fact that most Canadians are not up to speed on how to invest in the stock market, that they can make poor choices and that their alternative would be to pay high management fees to people who have that expertise. This would be another way of discouraging Canadians from what they are trying to do. Canadians would have to become market experts. Their employer would be playing no administrative role in PRPPs. Canadians would have to bear 100% of that investment risk. A single market stumble could spell the end of any retirement hopes. We all know what happened with the investments a few years ago when the stock market crashed, and what happened to thousands of Canadians whose retirement income was lost.
The Conservatives talk about people working later. They are going to have to work later because they lost a tremendous amount of their retirement income. They do not have the expertise needed. They would need the expertise with PRPPs, to be able to manage a certain degree of their investments. Employers would be forced to create administrative systems to enrol members. If the provinces made them mandatory, and that is highly unlikely, Ontario, the province I represent, has already indicated it is not going to have anything to do with PRPPs. It does not believe this is the answer to the pension issue.
The proposal for an enhancement of the Canada pension plan, which is what we have been proposing, along with the supplementary Canada pension plan, which I will talk about a little further, are much more reasonable methods for most Canadians out there.
This PRPP will be of no help to homemakers unless they are contributing to employment income. One of the challenges facing many women today is that, when they are at home caring for children or elderly relatives, parents and so on, they are out of the workforce. When they are out of the workforce, they have a much more difficult time thinking about their pension and what will be in it for them. That is why unless they are in the workforce for 35 or 40 years, most women at 65, or 67 as the government is going to, end up with minimal income. They are living on $11,000 or $12,000. That is not the Canada I want to live in, and I do not think it is the Canada most people want to live in. Changing that age to 67 years old will certainly hurt a tremendous amount of people.
I had a meeting in Kemptville last night. There were about 60 or 70 people. When I asked the people there, who were a non-partisan group, to raise their hand if they supported moving the age of retirement from 65 to 67, everyone in that room opposed the change, and there were many Conservatives in that room. They did not feel it was necessary, but that it was part of an ideology of the government or because the Conservatives are starving the government for revenue sources by removing the GST and lowering taxes. The government only has so much money. That is probably the real reason: they are starving the beast we call the government. They will not have the money to give people pensions at age 65, so they want to move it up and take $30,000 out of the pocket of every Canadian over that two-year period of time.
As I indicated, the management fees are a big problem on PRPPs. We know that Canada has an F rating, according to the OECD. It says Canadians already pay some of the highest management fees in the world on their mutual funds. That is exactly where we are going with PRPPs, creating more vehicles for people to be able to do this.
However, the government knows all of this. We raised all these issues at committee. Our Liberal finance critic moved a couple of amendments that would have strengthened and improved the PRPP, which went nowhere. The Conservative members put their heads in the sand and voted down the amendments rather than possibly thinking that maybe together, because we were prepared to work with the government on this, we could strengthen it and make it better, recognizing that we need some pension reform. However, the government members do not care what everybody else offers. If it is not their idea, it is not good enough.
It is the same if we talk about some of the things in the budget. Look at the changes to EI and what impact they will have on Canadians all across the land. Never mind talking about where they are putting money into pensions. Many of these people will be forced to move away from their families to go out west, which is clearly where the jobs will be, starving other parts of Canada. Again, that is not the way we are supposed to be going. Canada needs to be a land where everybody is treated fairly and with a bit of respect and understanding.
What happens to the seasonal workers who are being brought into the country? Many of those seasonal workers are the reason we have a thriving industry when it comes to fruits, vegetables and so on. Canadian employers need those temporary foreign workers to come over and be able to do those jobs. We should not kid ourselves. There are lots of Canadians who physically do not want to do those jobs. I think they are quite happy to see these temporary foreign workers come over and work for six months in the agriculture industry or other industries and then go back to their home countries with some very much needed money, because many of these people are coming from countries that are very poor. Will we deny them that opportunity, again with short-sightedness and some of those issues that are in the budget, in Bill C-38, that we will continue to deal with over these next few days that will hurt many Canadians and employers? It will hurt Canadians if that is the only work they have. It is not as if they do not want to work 12 months or 10 months of the year. They are seasonal workers. Who will be working the fisheries?
I remember the amount of people who told me they would love to work longer but the season is only so long, when I visited the east coast last year with one of my colleagues. Where are they supposed to go at the end of that particular point? They have to collect EI because they have no other options.
Some of the changes at second reading, which the Liberal caucus said it would have liked to put forward, were raised by many witnesses as additional ideas. However, when it comes to voting at the committee level, government members vote down anything anybody else suggests, no matter how good it is. The Liberal finance critic put a very good amendment forward on the issue of controlling high management fees, because that is a major concern for Liberals, one that would cap the management fees. There was a bit of discussion with government members, but it did not matter. They voted it down as they do everything else because it was not their idea.
Reducing government spending is a laudable goal, as we hear from the government. However, financial players offering PRPPs will need to offer annuities so that members may convert their accumulated balances into a stream of pension payments. Once that occurs, insurers are required by law to price in a profit margin and keep regulatory capital aside to underwrite those contracts. In simple language, this means that investors, the average Canadians the government is talking about, are legally required to pay fees that would guarantee a profit for the banks and insurance companies. This is a very inefficient way of delivering pensions, and once Canadians find out about all the small print, fewer and fewer of them and businesses will be interested in getting involved in all of this.
Those requirements are the cornerstones of the PRPP we are talking about. With this in mind, I am left to wonder how the PRPPs could possibly yield any results for Canadian pensioners. The simple answer is that they are not going to help the average Canadian prepare for retirement, just as millions of Canadians have not been able to max out their RRSPs either. It is just a locked-in RRSP. That is what the PRPP is. Forcing seniors to work longer and harder to save for retirement on top of asking them to pay for $6 billion in giveaways to the largest corporations, $13 billion for new megaprisons and $40 billion for untendered stealth fighter jet deals is not a plan for pensions. However, the government is certainly spending a lot of money and clearly it is looking to pay for all of these on the backs of Canada's seniors.
PRPPs will not work for those who need them the most. Instead of copying the failed work of others, why did the Prime Minister not seek to lift seniors out of poverty? The supplemental Canada pension plan already proposed by the Liberals would provide the best of both worlds. It would create a new retirement savings vehicle for Canadians who need it, while delivering the low overhead cost structure of the Canada pension plan.
The supplementary Canada pension plan is a simple and cost-effective solution to the pension question. It is a defined benefit pension for everyone who has a social insurance number, even those who have left the workforce during their lives for child rearing, illness, seasonal employment and educational advancement. It would use proven and existing resources to give every Canadian man, woman and child a reliable and stable investment vehicle for the future.
The supplementary Canada pension plan is a plan for real pension reform, and I offer it to the government at any time because it would benefit Canadians all across the board, no matter what their occupation. Even if they are home and not able to work, they could still contribute to the Canada pension plan. I could contribute to the supplementary plan. However, by steadfastly following their PRPP plan, by ignoring Liberal calls to improve the CPP, moving to slash the old age pension, slashing EI, cutting people off, making it difficult for farmers to be able to employ temporary foreign workers and all that goes with it, the Conservatives are really showing their true colours. Balancing the budget on the backs of seniors is nothing short of waging a war on the poor. It is unacceptable, and the government should be ashamed of that direction.
The Prime Minister, who is the sixth highest paid political leader in the world, earning an annual salary of $296,000 U.S., is telling Canadians to put their extra money into the bank for their retirement, but he seems to forget that not everybody has extra money. What about the seniors who pay their taxes, raise their families and work hard but still do not have extra money to invest?
Let me tell members about a woman named Mary, who I met last night. She is a single woman who talked to me about income splitting. Yes, the income splitting idea is a good idea for all those who have money and who have a partner, but for single men or women who do not have anyone to share their pension income with, what help is it to them? Mary has to take the hit for the taxes that others get to save. She asked me why the government would do that when it is clearly unfair. I said she would just have to look around and judge for herself. Government is all about choices.
As a government, one makes choices every day and decides what is important and what is not. Clearly, this government's choices are far more interested in helping the rich and much less interested in helping the low-income or middle class Canadians, or in helping to build the Canada, Mr. Speaker, that you and I believe in.
The Prime Minister is the same man who said that the Canada pension plan should be scrapped in 1998, which I referred to earlier, and that government involvement in the financial security of Canadians runs counter to the Conservative ideology of fending for oneself. If one cannot fend for oneself, there is no room in the Conservatives' Canada.
That is very different from the Canada I want to live in. I believe we have an opportunity for a hand up, not a hand out. We can create an atmosphere where Canadians can thrive and do well. Canadians are a very independent, tough bunch of people. We are used to standing on our own feet, and we take great pride in that. I do not believe there are a whole lot of Canadians who are interested in living off the purse of the government.
Given the fact that the Prime Minister has made the kind of comments he has made, I have to wonder if these changes are not the first bricks in the long-desired firewall that the Prime Minister indicated he wanted to create.
I am very glad to have had the opportunity to speak for a bit today. The changes that are coming forward, both in Bill C-25, the PRPP legislation, and in Bill C-38, and all the things the government is moving are going in this direction, which is not an area to which I think we should be going.
We need to be making some changes as well to the Bankruptcy Act. We all know about Nortel and what happened to the thousands of people who were working for Nortel and in other companies that go bankrupt where individuals lose their pension funds.
There is no change. With all of the multitude of things in the omnibus Bill C-38, there is nothing in there about how to protect people's pensions when it comes to bankruptcy, how to better protect Canadians. It is all about creating crisis management and making people think that the country is in a major crisis situation when it is not, whether or not we are talking about immigration issues and creating a crisis, in order to justify the means at the end.
It is unacceptable for us and it is unacceptable for Canadians.