Mr. Speaker, before I begin, I would like to express heartfelt condolences from the Shory family and from the constituents of Calgary Northeast to the family and friends of Nelson Mandela and the nation of South Africa. Mandela's long walk to freedom left a lasting legacy for his people, leading to them to peace, not retribution.
Mandela once said:
When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace.
Indeed, he can rest in peace now.
Today, I appreciate the opportunity to respond to the hon. member's motion for debate on expanding the Canada pension plan. Let me be clear. Our Conservative government is focused on what matters to Canadians: growing the economy and helping to create jobs.
Since 2006, we have taken responsible actions to ensure that Canada's economy is well positioned for long-term prosperity. We are on the right track. Thanks to the economic action plan, we have created over one million net new jobs since the end of the recession, nearly 90% of which are full-time positions and more than 80% are in the private sector. This is the best job creation record in the G7 by far. What is more, Statistics Canada recently announced that 21,600 net new jobs were added in November, with the unemployment rate remaining at 6.9%. This is a record of which my constituents of Calgary Northeast and all Canadians can be proud.
However, we know that Canada is not immune to the challenges beyond its borders. The global economy remains fragile, especially in the U.S. and Europe, both among our largest trading partners. Indeed, the sovereign debt crisis in Europe continues to weigh on the confidence of consumers and businesses. Closer to home, a slow recovery in the U.S., as well as uncertainty surrounding the sustainability of its finances, poses the greatest risk to the Canadian economy.
In light of these factors, not surprisingly, the International Monetary Fund recently revised its outlook downward for the real GDP growth in both advanced and emerging economies. In fact, the IMF now projects that growth in advanced economies will average just 1.2% in 2013, down from its previous projection of 1.4%.
With significant risks still remaining in the global economy, Canada must remain well positioned to withstand any shocks arising from beyond its borders. However, for some reason, it is in this challenging economic environment that the NDP unilaterally demands that we expand the Canada pension plan.
While CPP reforms continue to be examined by ourselves and the provinces, we share the concerns of small businesses and their workers of increasing costs in a fragile global recovery. I would like to offer the House some examples of what people think about expanding the CPP at this time.
First, here is what the Canadian Federation of Independent Business had to say:
Small firms believe that the economy cannot manage a significant increase in payroll taxes...Thousands of workers could find themselves with reduced hours or out of a job as a result of employers having to react to higher payroll costs
Similarly, the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association had the following concern:
The restaurant industry is one of the country’s largest employers and the number one place where Canadians get their first-job experience. Increasing CPP premiums puts these opportunities at risk.
There is still more. Writing for Canadian Business magazine, here is what Larry MacDonald had to say:
There doesn't seem to be a real need for it...A jump in CPP premiums makes it more expensive for businesses to maintain a workforce and could lead to job losses.
I could go on and on. There is just so much opposition to this short-sighted NDP proposal to potentially double the CPP.
Why does the NDP want to increase payroll taxes on small businesses? Does the NDP not recognize the vital role that small businesses play in Canada's economy? Does the NDP not recognize that they are essential in creating jobs and economic growth?
Fortunately, our Conservative government understands that small businesses are the cornerstone of Canada's economy. Indeed, that is why since 2006 our government has lowered the small business tax bill by over $28,000. We have achieved this through such measures as reducing the small business tax rate from 12% to 11%, increasing the amount of income eligible to lower the small business tax rate from $300,000 to $500,000 and introducing the job-creating small business hiring tax credit. It is measures like these that have left Canada's entrepreneurs with more money to grow their businesses and create more jobs.
Indeed, we are taking further action to support Canada's job creators.
Through economic action plan 2013, we are extending and expanding the hiring credit for small businesses, which will benefit an estimated 560,000 employers and provide close to $225 million in tax relief in 2013. We are also freezing employment insurance premiums to provide predictability and stability for small businesses. This action will keep $660 million in the pockets of job creators in 2014 alone to be spent on hiring more employees, improving wages and growing their businesses. This is how a responsible government supports job creation. Unlike the opposition, we will not attack job creators with massive tax hikes.
Unfortunately, while we are supporting this vital sector of our economy, the NDP is putting forward proposals that will hurt small businesses. As if a $20 billion carbon tax was not enough, now the NDP is demanding that our government double the CPP, which is a proposal that would kill up to 70,000 Canadians jobs. Once more, the NDP plan would force contributions raised on average by over $1,600 per year. A family with two workers could be forced to pay as much as $2,600 every year. Where does the NDP want the family to find this money? I know that it does not grow on trees. Families may be forced to cut on rent payments, heating or grocery bills.
The NDP is out of touch with the concerns of Canadian families and it has not listened to the concerns of the provinces either.
The NDP claims that a CPP expansion has the support of the provinces. As hon. members should be aware, any expansion of the Canada pension plan would require the support of two-thirds of provinces representing two-thirds of the Canadian population. Had the member done his research, he would have learned that a number of provinces have clearly expressed concerns about the economic impact of higher payroll dedications on workers and their employers at a time when the global economy remains uncertain.
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall has already said that now is not the time for contribution changes or increases.
Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil has said, “some issues about what that will mean to small business owners in this province, and what is the impact on low-income Nova Scotians and Canadians”.
New Brunswick Finance Minister Blaine Higgs stated, “We don't think it's the right time to put on additional costs to business owners and employees”.
Talking for British Columbia, the finance department has said, “B.C. believes pension reforms should not be undertaken before the economy has recovered from the impacts of the recent recession”.
We share these concerns. Why do we share these basic concerns? Because the basic truth that the opposition does not understand is that for many Canadians there is no good retirement plan if they have no job.
That is not to say that the opposition motion is completely without merit. It is actually quite useful in offering us a prime example of how not to go about improving retirement security for Canadians.
The NDP wants to derail our economic recovery, and it wants to raise payroll taxes. It could not care less about the concerns raised by the provinces and small businesses.
In addition, it ignores the fact that Canada's retirement system is already recognized as among the strongest in the world, thanks in large portion to the action plan taken by this Conservative government. Indeed, this is a record of which we are justifiably proud.
Our Conservative government has delivered positive results and offered innovative new options to Canadians working and planning for retirement as well as those who are already in retirement. Our actions have resulted in a very low rate of poverty among seniors.
I would like to take some time to highlight the three pillars of Canada's retirement income system and show the opposition how this system is helping Canadian seniors.
The first pillar, comprising old age security and the guaranteed income supplement program, provide a basic minimum income for seniors, which is funded out of the federal government's revenues. Indeed, the old age security and the guaranteed income supplement are important toward reducing poverty and ensuring basic income support in retirement. That is why our government implemented a new guaranteed income supplement top-up benefit for Canada's most vulnerable seniors. As a result of our changes, more than 680,000 low-income seniors are now receiving additional annual benefits of up to $620 for a single senior and $865 for couples.
Currently the federal government provides approximately $40 billion in OAS/GIS benefits per year to more than 5.2 million Canadians. Given the sheer size of this program and its importance to our retirement system, we recently took steps to ensure that OAS remains on a sustainable path over the long term. We did so because the OAS program was designed for a different time. In the 1970s, there were seven workers for every one person over the age 65; in 20 years, there will be only two. In 1970, life expectancy was age 69 for men and 76 for women; today, it is 79 for men and 83 for women. At the same time, Canada's birth rate is falling.
Canadians are living longer and healthier lives, which, of course, is a good thing. Our changes would ensure OAS is put on a sustainable path so it is there when the next generation of Canadians need it. That is responsible economic leadership.
The Canada pension plan is the second pillar in Canada's retirement income system. It is one where we have already made improvements. Working with the provinces, we modernized the Canada pension plan to make it more flexible for those transitioning out of the workforce, to better reflect the way Canadians currently live, work and retire.
The CPP and Quebec pension plan currently provide approximately $45 billion per year in benefits to about 6.6 million individuals, financed by contributions from workers and employers. I am happy to inform this House that the most recent actuarial report on the CPP by the Chief Actuary, tabled in Parliament on December 3, confirmed that the plan is sustainable at the current contribution rate of 9.9% of pensionable earnings for at least the next 75 years. In other words, the CPP is in good shape and has a great future.
I would like to turn now to the third and final pillar of Canada's retirement income system. The government has provided various tax-assisted private savings opportunities to help Canadians save for their retirement. These include registered pension plans and registered retirement savings plans.
Contributions to RPPs and RRSPs are deductible from income for tax purposes, and investment income earned in these plans is not subject to income tax. The federal tax cost associated with RPP and RRSP savings is significant and currently estimated at approximately $24 billion per year.
Given their importance, we have enhanced the incentives for private savings in a number of ways. In 2009, for example, we consulted Canadians from coast to coast to coast and introduced a number of changes to the framework for federally regulated registered pension plans.
These improvements require the plan sponsors to fund any deficiency that exists at the date the pension plan is terminated. They also provide sponsors of the defined benefit pension plans with more funding flexibility, making them less sensitive to market volatility.
In budget 2008, our government introduced the tax-free savings account, which became available in 2009. The TFSAs are flexible, general purpose, tax-assisted savings accounts that may be used for any purpose, including retirement savings. The TFSA provides greater savings incentives for low and modest income individuals, since neither TFSA investment income nor withdrawals affect eligibility for federal income tested benefits and credits, such as OAS and GIS benefits.
Initially allowing Canadians to save tax free on up to $5,000 each year, our government recently increased the amount by $500. As a result of this action, since 2013 Canadians have been able to benefit from an overall annual tax-free savings contribution limit of $5,500 from TFSAs.
That is not all. Our government has also taken concrete actions to help address what has been identified as a gap on the voluntary side of Canada's retirement income system. While participation in retirement savings vehicles like RPPs and RRSPs is reasonably high for middle and high income earners, some Canadians may not be taking full advantage of these personal retirement savings opportunities. In particular, research has shown that some modest and middle income households may not be saving enough for retirement.
Indeed, more than an estimated 60% of Canadians do not have access to a workplace pension plan. Our government does not believe this is right. This is precisely why we have introduced pooled registered pension plans, or PRPPs. PRPPs will significantly help small and medium-sized businesses and their employees, who until now have not had access to a large-scale, low-cost private pension option. PRPPs will be low cost. By pooling pension savings, the cost of administering these pension funds will be spread over a larger group of people. As a result, plan members will benefit from lower investment management costs.
I would like to remind my NDP friends that unlike CPP expansion, there was federal, provincial and territorial consensus to proceed with PRPPs. Despite this consensus, the NDP felt they did not want to work toward strengthening Canada's retirement income system and they voted against our government's legislation. This legislation ultimately established the federal framework for PRPPs.
In conclusion, our government will continue to work co-operatively with the provinces to explore potential reforms to CPP. That being said, we will not support any course of action that endangers Canadian jobs, including the NDP's risky and ill-advised proposal to double the CPP contributions. We know that the best retirement plan for tomorrow is a job today. The NDP may claim that that it is serous about job creation and economic growth, but it continues to push forward radical policies that Canadians cannot afford.
Indeed, when it comes managing the economy, Canadians can rest assured that our Conservative government will support initiatives that stimulate job creation and economic growth, not measures that will kill jobs and hurt our economy.
Unfortunately, today's motion from the hon. member for Victoria shows that the same cannot be said for the NDP.