Mr. Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to explain to the House and the people of Canada how our government's new low-cost and accessible pooled registered pension plan will help millions of Canadians save for retirement. More specific, I would like to touch on how pooled pensions will benefit small businesses, which are the backbone of the economy, not only in my riding of Niagara West—Glanbrook but across this great land.
As a former small business owner, I know first hand how difficult it is to save for retirement. There is simply so much else to focus on. Small business owners wear many hats and often the most menial tasks take priority over thinking of retirement or how to save for it. Therefore, by pooling pension plans together, small business owners can pass on the burden of planning for retirement to a qualified and reliable body, freeing them up to focus on improving other aspects of their business, such as improving customer service or, more important, ensuring their survival in the world of free enterprise.
As a small business owner, I was very committed to providing financial assistance to my employees. For my part-timers, I offered thousands of dollars in scholarships. However, for my full-time and my key employees, who had already graduated or were no longer interested in attending university, I had to find other incentives. Unfortunately, pooled pension plans were not available back then, which would have provided me and fellow small business owners the opportunity to provide our employees with a pension package comparable to any large corporation.
I looked for ways to try and incentivize my staff to try and keep them around, because small business is very competitive. The only thing I could come up with was registered retirement savings plans, which were not a bad thing. The challenge was that they were very complicated to set up. As members can imagine, with a small business owner, with only five or six employees, trying to meet with financial investors and setting them up with staff is not always the easiest thing to do. Therefore, as a business owner, I really would have appreciated having something like this to take away some of the burden on me by being able to lock these funds in for employees who would use them at a later point in time.
What I did was set up some registered retirement savings plans wherein I matched some of the dollars that my key employees put in. The challenge was that they were not locked in for pensions. The money could be taken out at any time. The second issue was it was difficult to manage. Members can imagine having 10, 20, 30 or 40 employees all trying to figure out, with a financial adviser, what was happening and trying to make their own decisions when, quite frankly, a pension plan or some kind of professional management would have been helpful. Therefore, from experience, I understand how important a plan like this would be.
Until Bill C-25 is passed, small business owners will continue to worry about the possibility of their employees being attracted to a larger corporation that offers a more attractive pension plan. This is worrisome to small business owners whose employees form the core of their small business, much more so than the case of large corporations. Small businesses of 5, 6 to 10 people cannot afford the costs of employee turnover. When they lose key employees, it hurts in a big way. In this regard, pooled pensions will benefit small business owners by increasing employee dependability, thereby decreasing the time, burden and costs associated with hiring.
Equally beneficial to small business, pooled pensions will allow millions of Canadians access to a workplace pension for the first time in their lives.
Pooled pensions will improve the range of retirement savings options to Canadians by allowing individuals who are not currently participating in a pension plan, such as the self-employed, to make use of this new type of pension plan. Pooled pensions will enable more people to benefit from the lower investment management costs that result from membership in a large pooled pension plan. Further, pooled pensions will allow for people's accumulated benefits to move with them from job to job, all the while ensuring that their funds are invested in the best interests of plan members.
With our baby-boomer generation nearing the age of retirement, coupled with the ongoing global financial crisis, our government has deemed this time appropriate for the development of pooled pensions. The issue of retirement income security is very important to our government. It is for this reason that the joint federal-provincial working group was established in May 2009 to undertake an in-depth examination of retirement income adequacy in Canada.
The working group found that overall the Canadian retirement income system was performing well and providing Canadians with an adequate standard of living upon retirement. However, some Canadian households, especially modest and middle-income households, were living with the risk of not saving enough for retirement.
After over a year of exhaustive research, led by our finance ministers, our government agreed to pursue a framework for pooled registered pension plans.
Pooled pensions are designed to address the lack of low-cost, large-scale retirement savings options available to many Canadians. Many Canadians continue to struggle taking advantage of the savings opportunities offered to them through individual structures like RRSPs. For example, the average Canadian has over $18,000 in unused RRSP room.
In addition, many Canadians can only access a workplace pension plan if their employer offers one. Many employers, especially small and medium-sized businesses, do not want the legal administrative burden of offering a pension plan. As a result, over 60% of Canadians do not have a workplace pension. There is not only the legal issues. The fact remains that it is almost impossible for small businesses to join a pension.
The design features of pooled pensions remove a lot of the traditional barriers that might have kept some employers from offering pension plans to their employees.
The design of these plans would be straightforward to allow for simple enrolment and management. A third-party pooled pension administrator will take on most of the responsibilities that employers bear in the existing pension plans, including the administrative and legal duties associated with administering a pension plan.
Pooled pensions will offer Canadians greater purchasing power, allowing them the opportunity to benefit from greater economies of scale. Achieving lower prices means that Canadians will benefit from greater returns on their savings and put more money in their pockets when they retire. Pooled pensions are intended to be largely harmonized from province to province, which also lowers administrative costs.
Pooled pensions will result in large pooled funds that will enable plan members to benefit from lower investment management cost associated with such funds. The design of these plans will be straightforward and are intended to be largely harmonized across jurisdictions, which would facilitate lower administrative costs.
Pooled pensions will assist Canadians in meeting their retirement savings objectives by providing access to the new low cost pension option. Through the pooled nature of pooled pension investments and the auto enrolment of employees, it is expected that members will be able to benefit from greater economies of scale and lower costs compared to small, singular employee group RRSPs. Since pooled pensions will be subject to pension standard rules, unlike group RRSPs, the management will be held to a higher standard.
Our government decided not to expand the Canadian pension plan because changes to the CPP would require the agreement of least two-thirds of the provinces with at least two-thirds of the population. Federal, provincial and territorial ministers have discussed a CPP expansion, but there has been no agreement. Our government understands that the fragile economic recovery is not the right time to increase CPP contributions, which would be required if CPP were expanded.
That being said, moving forward on pooled pensions does not preclude future changes to CPP.
Our government continues to improve Canada's retirement income system. Budget 2011 announced a new guaranteed income supplement top-up benefit for our valuable seniors. Seniors with low or no income other than the old age security and the GIS would receive additional annual benefits of up to $600 for single seniors and $840 for couples.
In particular, since 2006, our government has increased the age credit amount by $1,000 in 2006 and by another $1,000 in 2009. We have doubled the maximum amount of income eligible for the pension income credit to $2,000, introduced pension income splitting and increased the age limit for the maturing pensions in registered retirement savings plans to 71 from 69 years of age.
Overall, our government has provided about $2.3 billion in additional annual targeted tax relief to seniors and pensioners through measures such as pension income splitting, increases in the age credit amount and the doubling of the maximum amount of income eligible for the pension income credit.
In addition, budget 2008 introduced a tax-free savings account, which is of particular benefit to seniors because it helps them to meet their ongoing savings needs with a tax efficient way after they are no longer able to contribute to an RRSP.
We have also made several other important improvements to specific retirement income supports. Budget 2008 increased the amount that could be earned before the GIS would be reduced to $3,500, so GIS recipients would be able to keep more of their hard-earned money without any reduction in GIS benefits. Budget 2008 also increased flexibility for seniors and older workers with federally-regulated pension assets that were held in life income funds.
We all win if we make it easier to plan for our future. Pooled pensions would remove the barriers that make it impossible for my business and other small businesses like it to offer the ability to be part of the pension plan for their employees. This is a significant and timeless solution. I am proud of our government for taking steps to provide this opportunity for Canadians.