Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to address the motion before us today.
The hon. members of the House may differ on solutions, but I am sure we agree that we need to look, continuously, for ways to improve Canada's retirement income system. That does not just mean only looking at the government income system, but for ways, in general, that Canadians can have a comfortable and dignified retirement.
Canada's seniors deserve our gratitude and support. Our government recognizes they have worked hard to build a better country for future generations. Let me assure the hon. members that Canada's retirement system is one that has served Canadians well. Indeed, we have one of the strongest in the world.
Canada's retirement income system has been recognized by expert groups, like the OECD, as a model that succeeds in reducing poverty among Canadian seniors and provided high levels of income replacement to retired Canadians.
Taken together, our system is based on a balanced mix of public and private responsibility, as well as compulsory and voluntary vehicles that provide a basic minimum benefit for Canadians, ensure a basic level of earnings replacement for working Canadians and offer additional opportunities for voluntary retirement saving.
Our system both supports and draws upon the strength of our sound financial sector.
In fact, Canada's financial sector remains strong. The World Economic Forum has ranked our banking system as the soundest in the world for the sixth year in a row. In addition, Canada is rightfully recognized for the responsible management of our economic and financial sectors. It is therefore not surprising that Canada continues to have the highest credit ratings, with continued upside forecasts, according to all the main rating agencies. Canada is the only G7 country with that status. We are coming to grips with the debt and we are on track to balance the budget in 2015.
While the NDP and the Liberals continue to put forward dangerous spending plans, our government is reducing expenses and making the tough economic decisions that will contribute to Canada's long-term prosperity and economic growth. Even more importantly, our pension scheme is also one of our economic objectives for jobs and growth.
The success of this model rests on three solid pillars. The first comprises of old age security and guaranteed income supplement program which provide a basic minimum income for seniors. The second pillar is the Canada pension plan and the Quebec pension plan. The third pillar provides tax-assisted private savings opportunities to help and encourage Canadians to accumulate additional savings for retirement.
A couple of weeks ago I received a letter from a constituent who had just turned 65. She was unhappy about the state of retirement. Her request was not that we increase pension fees and government pension plans. She knew she could not turn back the clock, but said that if she could, she would have governments encourage people to take care of more of their retirement through private opportunities and would encourage us to encourage young people today to do that.
In the rest of my time today, I would like to concentrate on the strengths of the CPP and illustrate why the NDP plan to expand the CPP is just not in the best interests of Canadian workers or employers.
Let me begin with a look at our current situation. The CPP is a mandatory public defined benefit pension plan and provides a basic level of earnings replacement for all Canadian workers. It provides a defined benefit in retirement based on an individual's career earnings as well as ancillary benefits like survivor benefits. They are financed by employer and employee contributions, the contribution rate being 9.9% of earnings shared equally between employees and employers.
Operating at arm's-length from government, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board is responsible for prudently investing CPP contributions to serve the best interests of CPP contributors and beneficiaries.
The CPPIB is one of world's largest pension funds. On December 31, 2012, its net assets were $172.6 billion. With prudent management of the fund for the benefit of current and future members, the CPPIB invests around the world. Indeed, its mandate is to invest in the best interests of contributors and beneficiaries.
That is why it is important for the CPPIB to be diversified in its exposure to risk. This includes greater diversification worldwide, ensuring that the revenue from overseas investments comes back to Canada.
Our government is committed to the healthy management and sustainability of the Canada pension plan and to strengthen it as much as possible. For example, at the moment, only Canadians can sit on the CPPIB's 12-member board of directors. At this stage in its development, the board of directors would benefit from the contribution of foreign talent.
That is why economic action plan 2013 announced that our government would consult with provinces on permitting a limited number of qualified persons who are not resident in Canada to serve on the board of directors of the CPPIB. Permitting a limited number of qualified non-residents to sit on the board of directors would enable the board to provide the most effective oversight of the CPPIB's activities in the context of a rapidly changing global economy.
This makes sense when considering how important it is that the CPP be diversified in terms of risk exposure and not be exclusively localized to the Canadian economy. This is especially prudent in our current expansion into trade throughout the world.
Let me now turn to the ongoing issue of expanding the CPP to ensure its future sustainability.
To begin, any expansion would require the support of two-thirds of the provinces representing two-thirds of the Canadian population, as well as the federal government. Two-thirds of the provinces plus two-thirds of the Canadian population and the federal government all have to agree on the expansion.
At the meetings of the federal, provincial, and territorial finance ministers in December 2010, 2011, and again in 2012, there was no such agreement on a potential expansion. We could talk about it and we could pass a motion on it, but we would not be able to do it anyway if we do not get that support.
Indeed, a number of provinces expressed concerns about the prospective economic impact of higher payroll taxes on workers and their employers at a time when the global economy remains uncertain. Our government shares the concerns of small businesses, employees, and certain provinces over increasing costs during a fragile global recovery.
The decision as to whether to expand the CPP must be made with Canada's economic situation and the best interests of Canadian workers and employers kept in mind. The motion that is being proposed by the hon. member for Victoria does not meet this threshold. Indeed, despite the fact that Canada's economic recovery remains fragile, the NDP continues to call for a radical plan to increase payroll tax, which would stunt our economic growth and kill up to 70,000 jobs. Clearly, now is not the time for such an expansion to the CPP. To be frank, this plan would be too risky.
However, if members do not believe me, we can listen to advice from those who would be directly affected by the CPP expansion.
Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, puts forth the following, which the NDP might find interesting:
CFIB's research found that earlier proposals to increase CPP/QPP premiums would kill between 700,000 and 1.2 million person years of employment. ... Small firms believe that the economy cannot manage a significant increase in payroll taxes.
It does not make sense to want to add to the tax burden of employers and employees. It seems clear that we need to do more to properly study the impact of a CPP expansion and determine if that would be appropriate, considering the repercussions this would have on families, businesses and communities.
I would remind the hon. member that the idea of a CPP expansion is not a new one. However, not everyone agrees on this idea.
Let me make it clear again that consensus is critical before moving forward with CPP expansion. While analysis is important, expansion at this time does not have agreement from the majority of provinces. Allow me to provide hon. members with what provinces from across the country are saying on the issue of increasing CPP contribution rates at this time.
Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil has said:
We have 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.
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall noted that the CPP expansion would not be something they would support at this time, saying, “We're 'No for now'. ... Now's not the time for contribution changes or increases”.
There is more. The British Columbia finance department spokesperson, Jamie Edwardson, said: “B.C. believes pension reforms should not be undertaken before the economy has recovered from the impacts of the recent recession”.
Our government shares these concerns. We believe that before new spending initiatives are contemplated, the provincial, territorial, and federal governments should get their respective fiscal situations in order. Rather than supporting an initiative that does not have the necessary support to proceed, the NDP should support the PRPPs, something all provinces have committed to implement.
While the NDP has been focusing on expanding the CPP, it may not have noticed that an estimated 60% of Canadians do not have access to a workplace pension plan. This is precisely why Canada's finance ministers decided to prioritize the PRPP framework over other options, such as expanding the CPP. It was because it was considered the most effective and targeted way to address the lack of retirement savings among modest- and middle-income individuals, who make up the vast majority of the population of the country.
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. By pooling pension savings, these new plans will be low cost, as the administration costs will be spread over a large group of people.
Despite the consensus among provincial finance ministers, the NDP did not support these private retirement pension plans. Despite what it wants Canadians to believe, it clearly does not support actual measures that will strengthen Canada's retirement income system. Indeed, when given the chance to support PRPPs, New Democrats voted against our government's legislation, the very legislation that established the federal framework for PRPPs. Rather than support actual reform, they are content to advance proposals that pose risks to Canadians and to Canada's economic recovery.
As Laura Jones of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business points out:
A mandatory CPP increase...is a bad idea. An increase in the CPP tax takes more money out of employees' and employers' pockets. Where will the money come from? Employees may be tempted to lower contributions to their RRSPs, or reduce their mortgage payments. ... Worse still, small businesses report that a mandatory CPP increase would force many to lower wages and even reduce their workforce.
That is the ultimate problem, not just with this suggestion but with a lot of the economic suggestions from the NDP. It fails to take into account that all money has to come from somewhere. We would like to promise everyone a loaf of bread, but if the bakers are standing in line for their free loaf, we might have some empty shelves.
At the end of the day, we have to find a way to pay for all these things, and right now we believe that the more money in Canadians' pockets, the better. More money in employees' pockets and more money in employers' pockets ultimately will not just help the economy today, but will help the economy in the future, including our future retirement.
Clearly, Canadian families cannot afford a drastic expansion of CPP, which would cost them even more. They cannot afford that, nor can small business owners, who could be faced with increased payroll taxes.
As a prudent and responsible government, we share the concerns of small business owners and employees who simply cannot afford such a proposal.
Our government has gone to great lengths to ensure that Canada is in an enviable fiscal position. However, as we have said repeatedly, we are not out of the woods yet. Global demand has softened, and the prices of many Canadian exports, particularly resources, are down. Furthermore, the sovereign debt crisis in the euro area continues to weigh on consumer and business confidence, and south of the border, a slow recovery poses a significant threat to the Canadian economy.
While gains in jobs are being made, they are modest, and there are still too many Canadians who are unemployed. That is why our government will remain squarely focused on job creation and economic growth. That will remain our priority.
We all want a stronger retirement system. However, we must not make changes that could have detrimental effects on our fragile economy today and thereby a devastating impact on today's retirement system and the retirement system of the future. There is no retirement plan if there is no job.
Our economic action plan is working. The unemployment level is at the lowest level since December 2008, and just last week it was announced that 21,600 net new jobs were created in the month of November. That is well over a million new jobs since the lowest level of the recession in December 2008. How are we doing this? It is by keeping taxes low and implementing positive job creating measures.
An expansion of the CPP would increase payroll taxes, reduce wages, and kill jobs. In a recent survey by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, 65% of businesses said that they would freeze or cut salaries if CPP were increased, 48% said they would reduce investments in their businesses, and 42% said they would decrease the number of employees. These are important and concerning numbers.
Even for places in my own riding, a modest increase in CPP would result in more money being taken out of the pockets of employees and would force employers to cut jobs, hours, and wages.
Instead, our government has a prudent and responsible plan. We will not proceed without thinking about the possible serious economic impact of such an expansion.
We will continue to try to identify all the factors that could help us better understand the possibilities and risks associated with the CPP expansion. The Minister of Finance will discuss this with his provincial and territorial counterparts at next weeks' meeting.
This is a complex issue that will have real consequences for Canadians. We need to fully understand the economic framework in which such an expansion would take place.
The Canada pension plan is sustainable as it is at its current contribution rate, and while the NDP continues proposing its radical economic schemes, our focus must and will continue to be sustainability and long-term manageability of Canadians' retirement system, including jobs today.
Simply put, with the economic recovery still fragile, we do not believe that now is the time to increase costs on workers and employers. To do so would benefit no one.