Madam Speaker, it is my privilege to rise today to speak to Bill C-26, an act to amend the Canada Pension Plan, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board Act and the Income Tax Act. Bill C-26 would amend the Canada Pension Plan Act to incorporate the recent agreement reached between the provinces to enhance CPP benefits.
While better was possible, and the full effect of the changes will not be felt for another 49 years, this CPP expansion is an important first step in improving retirement security for young Canadians, and we congratulate everyone, especially labour, who worked so hard to lay the groundwork for this agreement.
We must now see immediate action to help those seniors and Canadians on the cusp of retirement who will not benefit from these changes. Government must build on the momentum of this agreement and take steps to improve long-term retirement security for today's workers.
Retirement insecurity is reaching a crisis level in Canada, as many Canadians do not have adequate savings to maintain their lifestyle upon retirement. A large part of this problem is fuelled by the erosion of workplace pension plans, to the point that six in 10 working Canadians have no workplace pension.
During election 2015, the Liberals promised to enhance the CPP. Once elected, the Minister of Finance was directed in his mandate letter to:
Meet with your provincial and territorial colleagues at your earliest opportunity to begin a process to enhance the Canada Pension Plan to provide more income security to Canadians when they retire.
The Minister of Finance met with his provincial and territorial counterparts in June 2016 and on June 20 announced an agreement in principle on CPP enhancements.
On October 4, 2016, British Columbia was the final province, besides Quebec, to officially endorse this agreement. Bill C-26 was introduced on October 6. Quebec did not sign the agreement but promised to apply some of the changes to the Quebec pension plan, which is similar to the CPP but is managed independently.
The NDP will support the bill at this time, but we feel that the bill does not live up to the expectations Canadians had for CPP reform.
Changes to the plan have been a long time in the making. The last time the CPP was altered was in 1997, although those changes were largely administrative. The most significant change in the 1997 amendments was to move the plan from a pay-as-you-go system to fully funded. This change was done to help protect the financial viability of the plan, and a recent report by the Chief Actuary of Canada shows a healthy fund that will be solvent for at least the next 75 years.
However, during a time when workplace pensions cover fewer and fewer Canadians, when Canadians have been finding it harder and harder to put away money for retirement, and when the rates of seniors living in poverty have steadily increased, there have been no increases in benefits under the Canada pension plan.
Many Canadians held out great hope that the government would make substantial changes to the CPP. Sadly, as with many Liberal promises, we are offered a loaf of bread but receive only half a loaf.
Ken Neumann, national director of the Canadian Steelworkers, summed it up very well when he said that the Liberal government's plan for a modest CPP expansion falls well short of the doubling of CPP benefits advocated for by the United Steelworkers and the Canadian labour movement. The USW is nonetheless pleased that the provinces and the federal government have agreed to a universal expansion of the CPP that will help all workers, and it will continue to push for full doubling of CPP benefits.
New Democrats, along with many in the labour movement and groups working for the rights of seniors and retirees, have long advocated that benefits be increased from replacing 25% of a worker's pre-retirement income to 50% of pre-retirement income, but no, this legislation has offered up a very modest increase, from 25% to 33% of pre-retirement income.
Although we like to see an increase, we feel that the amount is wholly inadequate, especially in terms of ensuring that our seniors do not have to live in poverty and can retire with the dignity and quality of life they deserve.
While many would be happy to finally see some changes to the plan and some increases in benefits, there are many who will be very unhappy. Those are the people who will see very little or no benefit from the changes presented in this bill.
More and more, I am hearing a lot of confusion and misunderstanding concerning who would benefit from the changes being proposed. A recent Ipsos poll found that over 25% of those who are already retired believe they would see bigger CPP cheques as a result of the deal, and more than 70% of Canadians do not realize that current retirees get nothing from this CPP expansion. These findings are totally consistent with what I have been hearing. Many retirees in my riding have asked me when they will be receiving their increased benefits. I have to break the bad news to them that this new legislation will do nothing for current or soon-to-be retirees.
The enhanced expanded CPP is a plan that would benefit a new generation of workers entering the workforce, but does little to alleviate the retirement income crisis for those approaching retirement. Those who would be the first to benefit from the fully enhanced benefits under this plan are now 16 years old. It will take 49 years for this plan to fully kick in. After the increase in premiums are fully phased in, in 2025, a person would have to pay the increased premiums for 40 more years to be fully eligible for the new maximum benefits. Increased benefits will be prorated for those 40 years as people pay the increased premium, but any significant increase for retirees is years away.
Let me take some time to talk a bit more about the specifics of the plan. Currently, the CPP covers earnings up to a cap of $54,900. For earnings up to the cap, the CPP aims to replace about 25% of that income. The maximum pension comes in at about $1,092 a month, or $13,100 per year. Contributions are 4.9% each for the employer and employee, up to the same cap.
The expanded CPP is a new separate tier. This new tier is added on top of the existing CPP. The new CPP tier does two things, phased in over the next nine years to 2025. First, it takes the replacement rate of up to 33.3% from the current 25%; and, second, it expands the upper earnings cap from today's $54,900 up to $82,700.
When the plan is fully phased in, in 2065, a worker who earns $54,900 would receive a maximum annual pension of about $18,117 by the time he or she retires. For a worker at an $82,700 income level, CPP benefits would rise to a maximum of $20,352 a year. Once the phase-in period is reached in 2025, it would take 40 years for a person to receive the fully enhanced benefit. Therefore, the first worker who will be eligible for full benefits is currently 16 years old. A person who is 59 in 2019, pays six years of the enhanced premiums, and retires in 2025 at the age of 65, would receive no additional benefit, or maybe a dollar or two.
It is important to note that much of the discussion about pension benefits relates to maximum benefits, yet only 11.4% will actually receive the maximum CPP benefits. The average benefit announced as of July 2016 was $550. In order to pay for the increase in benefits, contributions from employees and employers will increase. This increase would be phased in between 2019 and 2025. There will be two tiers to the increase. Between 2019 and 2025, those earnings which are less than the yearly pensionable maximum earnings, currently $54,900, would see their premiums slowly rise to an additional 1%. Those workers and employers would then be paying at a rate of 5.9%, up from 4.9%. In real numbers, this means that a person whose rate is set at the maximum would pay an additional $43 per month, as would his or her employer.
The second tier increase would be phased in over two years, starting in 2024. For anyone earning above the yearly pensionable maximum, theirs and their employer's contributions will rise by 4% above the current.
I know this is all very confusing, and it is going to take some time for Canadians to understand the complexities.
The bill also would make some changes to the Income Tax Act, which is supposed to help minimize the impact of the premium increases on Canadians. The CPP premiums that a worker currently pays are treated as a tax credit. An individual is able to claim a percentage of premiums paid as a non-refundable tax, which is then deducted from total federal tax payable. This would not change. These contributions would now be considered as base contributions but will still be treated the same for income tax purposes.
The increased benefits that a worker would be paying in 2019 and thereafter will be considered as additional contributions and will be treated differently for tax purposes. A worker will be able to deduct the amount of the additional contribution directly off their taxable income instead of applying for it as a credit.
The government has also included changes to the Income Tax Act in the bill that would increase the working tax benefit by 14%. The intention is to minimize the impact of increased CPP premiums on low income workers. Employers would be able to write off the increases on the CPP as a business expense, as they do now with the base contributions.
Now I would like to talk briefly about Canada's retirement income system, which is based on three pillars. These pillars are also supposed to interact or work together and are intended to enable seniors to maintain a reasonable standard of living in retirement. The first pillar includes standardized and universal public benefits, such as old age security and the guaranteed income supplement.
The second pillar includes mandatory public workplace coverage, the Canada pension plan and the Quebec pension plan. Almost all working Canadians over the age of 18, earning more than the minimum amount of $3,500 per year, must pay into this. It is mandatory for employees and employers, as deemed by legislation. Contributions are split evenly between the employee and the employer, or borne fully by someone who is self-employed. The amount depends on a person's income.
The third pillar consists of an employer or a union-sponsored plan, known as the registered retirement plan. They are registered with the Canadian Revenue Agency and one of the pension's regulatory authorities, because they are subject to government support in the form of special tax measures and regulatory oversight. This pillar also includes registered retirement savings plans and other personal savings.
The problem for today's seniors is that these pillars are falling behind in terms of enabling seniors to maintain an adequate standard of living. Dramatic increases in the costs of things like electricity and housing are causing great strain on seniors' fixed incomes. Failing to take action now will have a great social cost, forcing many seniors into poverty. The number of seniors being forced to use food banks will rise dramatically.
Studies point to a looming crisis in the retirement income security of Canadians. A recent study by Richard Shillington, done for the Broadbent Institute, shows a large percentage of older working Canadians are heading into retirement without adequate savings to keep them out of poverty. The report goes on to say that half of Canadian couples between 55 and 64 have no employer pension plan between them. Of those, less than 20% of middle-income families have saved enough to adequately supplement government benefits and the Canada or Quebec pension plan. Income trends suggest that the percentage of Canadian seniors living in poverty will increase in the coming years, especially for single women who already face a higher than average rate. The poverty rate for seniors will climb at the same time as a sharply rising number of Canadians hit retirement in the next two decades. More than 20% of the population will be older than 65 within 10 years.
When releasing the report for the Broadbent Institute, Rick Smith, executive director said, “This new data on retirement savings and gaps in support makes one thing perfectly clear - we have a retirement income crisis on our hands that requires requires urgent government action now..”.
Increases in the guaranteed income supplement and these eventual increases in CPP benefits will certainly help, but much more needs to be done to help our seniors live with the dignity they deserve.
The high cost of housing and drugs, the clawback of the GIS, and the indexing of pensions are just a few immediate issues. The government needs to keep its promise to introduce a new seniors price index to make sure that the old age security and the guaranteed income supplement keep up with rising costs.
The NDP will fight for further increases to the GIS and the OAS, a national pharmacare program, and, as well, programs to enhance home care and palliative care. Much work needs to be done to ensure that workers can retire with adequate incomes and access to the services they need to meet their quality of life.
The NDP will continue to work with our labour allies, and others, to improve the lives of Canadian seniors and retirees.