Mr. Speaker, I rise today to debate Bill C-25, An Act relating to pooled registered pension plans and making related amendments to other Acts.
I am trying to bring a little balance to the debate today. I have listened to what the members of the NDP and Conservatives have said. I understand the government has realized that Canadians are worried about their retirement or realized, finally, that something has to be done.
I think it was two years ago that my friend, the Minister of State for Finance, travelled across the country, had consultations and came up with something called a pooled registered pension plan, which is an offshoot of the registered retirement savings plan. Now the government is making a big PR event out of it. Again, I agree with the member for Burlington, that it is an extra tool in the toolbox. That is why we support it. However, that is not the answer to the crisis we are having or the retirement savings and their future that people are worried about.
We have had six years of the Conservative government, with increases in hidden taxes. That has been part of the cause. Canadians have less money in their pockets to put toward retirement. We have had a lot of pressure on Canadians, whether they have lost their jobs or have had to take on other responsibilities. We have seen Canadians of all age groups having less money in their pockets, for various reasons. As I have said, most of this had led to some of the policies of the Conservative government.
Even those who do have savings are worried about retirement. We have seen rates of interest that have been the lowest ever in history. Therefore, even people who have money put away in a savings account are barely getting 1%. A lot of times it has been 0.5% or 0.25%. Canada savings bonds used to pay 10%. They are now paying less than 2% and 3%, if people are lucky because they have been holding on to the bonds for six or seven years. We expect these interest rates to continue to be low.
Canadians have taken risks. They may be retiring in a couple of years and need to get their retirement savings up. How do they do that? Maybe they take a gamble on something, but are they not sure what it will be. Some people have put it in the stock market.
We saw what happened a couple of years ago with the tech bubble where people put tons of money in companies like Nortel, which was supposed to be the most secure company around. It was an offshoot of Bell Canada. Some people got their shares for free, like my parents. They decided to keep them. The stock went up to $100 then $200 a share. They decided to buy some more because it was going to go to $400, trading in multiples based on sales never heard before. That was the way these tech stocks were evaluated. All of a sudden, overnight, stock portfolios of millions and millions of dollars went down to zero. We are still seeing lawyers making money from the Nortel bankruptcy. People who have disability plans and pension plans with Nortel cannot get their money out. They cannot get paid because the lawyers are holding up the distribution. The government is not willing to help these people. There is some money stuck out in some tax haven and the only people making money are the professionals, and people see this.
As recently as the bank crisis a couple of years ago, people thought it was secure to have stocks in the banks. They put their money in the banks thinking it was as secure as ever. Then we saw the bank closures in the states. We were lucky in Canada, but we cannot put all our eggs in one basket, as most personal investment advisers say. They will also advise to diversify. People who took the advice of professional advisers, they would have lost some money a couple of years ago by having their money in bank stocks.
Again, people are worried. People have invested money in resources. People have invested money in the past in metals such as gold. As recently as a few years ago, gold was at a couple of hundred bucks. Now, if one was lucky enough to have invested in gold, it is at $2,000 an ounce practically, but who can forecast those things?
Some people have their money invested in secure investments such as bonds, but countries have gone bankrupt and are unable to pay their bondholders. They are being renegotiated. Who is making the big money? It is the big players. I do not see how individuals who are busy trying to raise a family will make any more money than they can make today.
Again, some people are taking more risks, such as in real estate. We see what is happening in the real estate market across the country if one is fortunate enough to buy a condo. It seems like the condo market is fine. Those who live in a condo may buy another one to rent out to maybe make some money. However, as soon as the condo market collapses, as is predicted, they may have to take some money out of their retirement savings to supplement these real estate deals.
Therefore, I do not see how the government could think that people can easily put some money into a pooled savings plan that is administered by somebody we do not know and all of a sudden, miraculously, their retirement savings will be secure for a 5, 10, 15 or 25-year period.
For years, the Liberal Party has said that we should start with the Canada pension plan. In Quebec, it is the Quebec pension plan. It survived relatively well in comparison to many of the other private pension plans, so we should be working with that.
Elderly Canadians are not the only ones who are beginning to worry. As I have said before, we have young people who are worried about their future. We see Quebeckers who are going to the streets based on the fact that their tuition fees and cost of living are going up. They see a crisis developing in the next while. That all means they know their retirement will be affected because the Conservative government has told them they will not be able to retire until the age of 67.
This is nothing new. We have had crises, whether it be over pensions or other issues. In the 1990s, the Liberal government recognized that the Canada pension plan was not sustainable and action had to be taken. What did we do? We consulted with individuals and stakeholders, not just our friends. We met with the provinces. We looked at how we could secure the CPP in the long term and we did not just issue talking points.
We realized there was a problem, and we did not turn to private institutions to solve it. We negotiated truly, we invoked thought-provoking discussions and, miraculously, we came to an agreement with all of the provinces. It was not self-imposed. It was not dictated to them, as the current government likes to do. We recently saw that with the health accord. The previous Liberal government sat down with all the provinces and discussed the issues and the needs, came to an agreement and signed a 10-year health accord. The Conservative government has said that it does not need to discuss anything with the provinces. It will give them some money and increase it at a certain level. After that, it is their problem, even though it knows that the cost of health care will increase within five to ten years.
Coming back to the bill, the government says that it will secure people's pensions. In actual fact, the only thing we think it will do is make the banks and insurance companies happy by allowing them to offer pooled registered pension plans to employers and the self-employed in federal jurisdictions. It would also provide a framework for provinces to pass similar legislation.
The budget tabled recently in the Quebec National Assembly provides for companies to offer this pooled registered pension plan to their employees, which we have not seen in the other provinces.
I do not believe the province of Ontario passed it in the last budget and there has not been any movement with the other provinces. I am sure somebody on the other side will correct me.
We also think it is great that the administrators of the plans will be regulated. Financial institutions need a special licence from the Superintendent of Financial Institutions, and we have no problem with that.
The only problem is that most individuals already have trouble saving. A lot of them are working in low-paying jobs. Many of them work for small companies, which do not have the time, energy, resources or ability to set up these plans no matter how easy it is. It will be very difficult to see any of these smaller companies implement a registered pension plan. As an accountant by trade, I just do not see it.
A lot of employers would not want to make RRSP contributions, even for employees who want to have them deducted from their pay cheques and put aside. They do not want to take on that responsibility. There would have to be separate accounting, extra cheques would be involved, for example, and administration. They would have to hold the money in an account, ensure there is enough money in that account a month later to make the remittance, and then ensure the amounts are deposited into the correct employees' accounts. I could go on and on. I do not see why we would not use the tool available to us, which would be the CPP or the QPP.
Companies would have the option of rolling into a plan. If it is not made mandatory and companies would have an option, I am not so sure how many companies would take us up on that, unless of course they have a dedicated payroll resource person and they really need to keep these employees and the employees all agree they need to have this plan.
Again, we are not asking the employer to contribute, and we are not asking all the employees of a certain company to opt in. They have the option of opting out. A company may only have 10 or 20 employees. If only 2%, 3%, or less than 50% of them opt in, I do not see why that company would go to the trouble of setting up a pooled registered pension plan.
Also, the troubling part is that this new option is another private registered savings vehicle, which more than likely would help the financial institutions. I think it was a member from the Conservative Party who stated Canadians, on average, have $80,000 of unused RRSP contributions. If there were an urgency because Canadians have totally utilized all their RRSP room, I would understand the purpose of coming up with something like this.
Right now, the only people I am aware of who are using their RRSP to the maximum, again, using my background as an accountant and speaking to my accounting friends and bankers, are people who can afford it. That means it is the higher-income people. I do not see the necessity to start a program just for these people.
The Liberals believe the solution is that we do not need to look any further than working with the Canada pension plan and the QPP to help people save for retirement. The CPP and QPP have proven track records. They have been stable and secure. Even through these economic downturns, they have been quite strong.
We see it in Quebec. The QPP has rebounded in the last two years, with rates of return close to 10%. There was a bit of a crisis about three years ago where it lost tons of money in certain investments in the banking sector. It changed its management. It changed its direction. It made recent statements that it is going to change direction again. It will be looking at making investments in infrastructure and other areas that would require a lot of money that individuals do not have in their RRSPs.
Even if we wanted to take the example of these pooled registered pension plans, there would not be enough money in these pooled plans to be able to diversify risk, as the CPP and the QPP are doing today. Supplementary CPPs could allow those who want to investment more in a secure retirement vehicle to do so.
Again, we are not sure about the fees. I know we are very worried about the fees. Even if these registered pooled pension plans start with low management fees, it would be a matter of time before the banks and insurance companies get a hold of people's accounts and hold them hostage. If the funds do a good job and the return is high, we know what would happen. All of a sudden, the fees will go up. If there is no return, the fees will stay the same. I do not see how we are going to win with this.
Again, we would be adding another level of complexity to people's options for savings, such as deciding what to do their money when they change employers: “Do I keep it in this pooled retirement savings plan? Do I keep it with the bank? Do I move it to an insurance company. What point am I at in my life? Am I going to be retiring in five years, ten years, fifteen years?
The administration of what an individual is to do with the money in that pooled registered pension plan would be a headache for unsophisticated investors, and the areas they would want to invest in would add another level of complexity.
We could look at options for opening it up further. One of the options would be for government to look at options to help those who are in the low-paid workforce. These are people who are moving from job to job, and they are the people who need the most help with their retirement savings.
In making these decisions, we need to look at the evidence. Policy decisions, such as retirement savings plans for Canadians, were not made on a whim but rather based on solid evidence.
Somebody also stated that Australia implemented a similar program to the pooled registered pension plans. After 10 years, it was obvious that the only ones making money were the financial institutions. In Australia, $161 billion of investments were made in pooled pension plans versus $105 billion in fees that were taken out of these plans. It is not dollar for dollar, but 80¢ was charged for every dollar that was put into the pooled pension plan.
A recent study by the Rotman International Journal of Pension Management found that despite the presumed role of competition, the investment performance of the system continued to be restrained, again by high fees and costs. We think this could be averted by using the CPP or QPP as the supplementary retirement investment tool.
As parliamentarians, we should also be concerned by all of this and perhaps look at how we could improve the pooled registered pension plan, or look at other options. The other option is easily the CPP, QPP.
However, we have seen that the Conservatives have already made up their minds. Like many other things, they will not listen to anyone else's opinion, or reason. They will not even look at evidence on a lot of issues. They will blindly follow this approach and put their hands over their ears and march on.
As we have seen today, the Conservatives have moved time allocation so we can no longer debate this issue. The very reason each and every one of us is elected to this House is for debate, but they decided they have heard enough, or they have pretended they have heard, and have imposed time allocation on this particular bill. This is one of many bills on which they have imposed time allocation. In Parliament, they have imposed time allocation over 60 times, and if we include committees, we are almost at the 300-point mark.
It is important to talk about how we got to a point where we suddenly have to rush through the bill. The minister of state consulted on this for about two years, and then all of a sudden there seems to be a rush to get the bill through. There have been concerns about retirement security for some time, while the Canada pension plan, and I repeat, the Canada pension plan has been secure for at least 75 years. It is not just the CPP that has been secure, but also QPP.
Canadians also need to save more for retirement to live comfortably. We all agree with that.
It was in 2009 that the Conservatives announced the consultation on pension reform. Now, all of a sudden, as I said, it has been a rush. In December 2010, the Conservatives announced this program, I will not call it a scheme, but a program.
I will wrap it up. I have a lot more notes that I could go through.
Retirement income for Canadians is important. Pensions all of a sudden have become an issue. It has always been an issue, but as we get older it becomes a greater issue.
The government has created a crisis by changing the age of retirement for being able to collect OAS. I am in favour of the flexibility the OAS will provide, but I am not in favour of changing the age from 65 to 67. One of the first people it would affect would be me. The government will be taking about $12,000 out of my pocket, and I have not even got there yet.
I do not see how Canadians could be happy with that. I do not need the money, but imagine how Canadians my age, who are relying on this money, feel about $12,000 being thrown away overnight like that.