Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Bill C-36, An Act to amend the Canada Pension Plan and the Old Age Security Act. I am also very happy to have the opportunity to rise in the House on the first day we are back. I hope all of my colleagues had an enjoyable holiday season. I look forward to catching up with them over the coming days.
I look forward to continuing my work on behalf of the riding of Oak Ridges—Markham. Last year I raised several of my riding's concerns on the floor of the House and I continue to work with my caucus colleagues on such important subjects as the environment, the Kelowna accord and criminal justice issues.
The bill before us today aims to make a number of changes to the Canada pension plan and Old Age Security Act. The bill will implement the existing full funding provision for new benefits and benefit enhancements. It also provides for public reporting of costs and integration of those costs into the process for setting the contribution rate. Any new benefits or enhancements to existing ones will have to be met with an appropriate increase in premiums.
Bill C-36 changes the contributory requirements for disability benefits under the Canada pension plan for contributors with 25 or more years of contributions to the plan to require contributions in only three of the last six years in the contributory period. In addition, this enactment amends the Old Age Security Act to authorize the governor in council to make regulations respecting the payment of interest on amounts owing. The enactment also eliminates the ability of estates or successions to apply for income tested benefits and ensures that sponsored immigrants are treated the same for the purpose of determining entitlements to income tested benefits.
On the whole, this is a bill that I will be able to support. I welcome the increase in accessibility to disability benefits as stipulated in this bill. I am pleased that sponsored immigrants will be treated the same for the determination of benefits.
A rich industrialized country like ours must ensure excellent standards of living for senior Canadians so that they can live out their golden years in dignity and comfort. Seniors in Canada have worked all of their lives and they should not have to worry about financial issues when they retire.
The Liberal Party is the party of the Canada pension plan and old age security. Our party continues to recognize the duty we owe to those Canadians who have worked for so many years and made so many valuable contributions to our communities.
Liberal policies in the 1990s returned the Canada pension plan funds to stability and ensured a reliable public pension system for 75 years to come, the longest we can possibly forecast. The Canada pension plan fund currently stands at over $100 billion. It is safe for generations to come. This is no small feat as just a few years ago many were predicting its demise. Due to good management by the previous government, future generations of Canadians can depend on the Canada pension plan as previous generations have for four decades.
As a member of Parliament I often meet with seniors in my riding. Seniors in Oak Ridges—Markham are worried about their pensions, savings, health care and day to day living issues. Unfortunately, many seniors in Canada are nervous about the policies of the Conservative government. I wish to explore these areas of concern.
The first is an issue with which the House is very familiar and that is rural mail delivery. In October the House unanimously supported my motion to have rural mail delivery restored. Losing one's mailbox delivery is inconvenient for anyone, but it is especially hard on the elderly. Elderly Canadians rely on mail delivery for communicating with friends and family and for receiving their pension cheques and other important material. Elderly Canadians were disproportionately affected by the cessation of rural mail delivery.
I am pleased that the government has directed Canada Post to reinstate this unique mode of delivery. The minister has set a timeline of an additional 18 months before delivery is back. It has already been 12 months since my constituents lost rural mailbox delivery. This is much too long a period for elderly Canadians to wait.
The second matter I wish to raise this afternoon that has greatly concerned seniors is the government's income trust decision on October 31. The decision to tax income trusts wiped out more than $25 billion in savings overnight and reversed a key Conservative campaign promise. Many seniors invested their money based on this promise and their faith in the Conservatives cost them thousands of dollars of their hard-earned savings. This kind of move really hurt the trust and confidence seniors have in the government. Many do not believe that the government has their interests at heart.
The third Conservative policy that is of concern regards what this bill fundamentally involves and that is the Canada pension plan. The Conservatives cannot claim to be the defenders of a sound public pension system. The Minister of Finance launched an attack on vital Canada pension plan funds with his net debt goal announced last fall. It is unwise and potentially dangerous to tie the Canada pension plan account to the national debt.
I fully support reducing Canada's national debt. Reducing the debt frees up interest payments and allows us to make important investments in Canada's social safety net and to decrease taxes and to make sure that Canadians are able to enjoy more of their hard-earned dollars. That being said, I do not believe that Canada pension plan funds should be used to lower the national debt.
The net debt announcement attaches Canada pension plan funds, the contributions of taxpayers, to our national debt to artificially balance the books. This is another attack on the security of pensioners. That money is not for debt repayment or future collateral to borrow funds. It is for pension payments. Future payments from the Canada pension plan fund represent a massive liability on the fund, a liability that was not considered by the minister in his net debt policy move.
The previous Liberal government reduced the debt, lowered taxes and ensured the long term sustainability of the Canada pension plan. Why is the Minister of Finance so determined to attack the Canada pension plan? Why does he want to use it for ends for which it was not intended? A balanced approach ensures the survival and sustainability of taxpayers' pensions while reducing taxes and investing in the priorities of Canadians.
I am pleased that we have Bill C-36 in front of us. It allows us an opportunity to debate and to discuss the overall theme of pensions. I welcome what the government intends to do in this bill, but it must remain mindful of its responsibilities toward Canadian seniors. This means ensuring they have a decent quality of life, have access to sound investments over which promises are not broken, and can fully depend on all pension plans.
I look forward to hearing the comments of my colleagues and following this bill as it makes its way through Parliament.