Mr. Chair, I feel it is important to take part in this take note debate on Canada's retirement income system, especially since workers in my riding and most members' ridings have been affected by a very unfortunate situation in recent years, especially the past three years.
It used to be that we were especially concerned about people who had no private pension coverage. When people without private pension coverage reached retirement age—65 for most people or 60 for people who qualified for the Quebec pension plan—they received public pension benefits, of necessity. But few of them had enough money to retire.
Two things happened. With the economic crisis, the economic structure or the problems experienced by companies weakened many pension funds. But they were also weakened when one of the major stakeholders was denied a role in managing pension funds. In the past 10 years, pensioners themselves have been excluded from managing many plans. When companies started tampering with pension plans to try to refloat them, if I can put it that way, by giving the employer a contribution holiday or restricting coverage, one stakeholder was missing every time. So when it became necessary to take measures, most of the time, they were taken and the people who were affected right away were those who were receiving private pension benefits.
This is a reflex that is relatively normal under the circumstances and abnormal in other situations. It is normal because we have a survival instinct. We tell ourselves that we will be retiring later, so we will have time to make up for the shortfall in the fund. We do not worry about the people who are receiving their pension when we make this decision.
I would like to remind members of two specific examples, Atlas Steels in Sorel and the Jeffrey mine in Asbestos. These people ended up in a situation in which the union and the employer agreed that the employer's contributions could be suspended or, in some cases, they agreed upon exceptional measures that meant that insufficient contributions were being made to the pension fund. At Atlas Steels, in Sorel, pensioners saw their pension benefits cut by 20%, 30%, 40%, 50% or 60%. That is huge. You are entitled to receive an amount every year because you and your employer contributed. But then all of a sudden your pension goes from $27,000 a year to $13,000 or $14,000 a year. That is terrible.
These situations happened—and this has not been brought up yet this evening—because a key player was disregarded, someone with an opinion on such situations and especially on the management of a pension fund.
We introduced Bill C-290 to partially fix this situation by creating a tax credit.
This tax credit would allow anyone whose benefits were cut to recover approximately 22% of the money they lost. That is not very much, but it is still a significant amount for people who do not earn much to begin with. But, contrary to expectations, some of the Liberals voted with the Conservatives to deny workers from Jeffrey mine in Asbestos and Atlas Steels in Sorel the right to this measure, which would have helped alleviate financial difficulties.
This evening we are debating measures to confront the new realities of pension plans. However, there is still some ambiguity because no action is coming out of all this talk.
I would like to give an example of the elements of the public pension system. There is old age security for seniors, which is their income security. For many of them, it is insufficient because it is their only income. So the guaranteed income supplement was created to give seniors a decent income on which to live. But then what happened? Some of the people who are eligible have been beaten up by life and a large number of them are marginalized. Some of them are isolated by poverty, others by their low level of education or training or simply because they do not know their rights or have communication problems.
In 2001, we learned that 183,000 people in Canada were in that situation, including 81,000 people in Quebec. Since then, the Bloc Québécois has been on the attack. Our colleague at the time, Marcel Gagnon from Shawinigan, the member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain, led a crusade that allowed us to find many of these people. However, 42,000 have not yet been reached. So they are the people we are talking about.
Our Conservative colleague was saying earlier that seniors only have to apply once. However, in order to apply that first time, they need to know they are entitled to the supplement. The government, on the other hand, knows they are entitled to it, so why not just give it to them?
Over the years, the government has misappropriated a great deal of money, $3.3 million to be precise, that belongs to some of our most vulnerable seniors. That money belongs to them. We need to start with measures like that one. We also need to look at the possibilities being discussed right now in Quebec by unions and seniors' advocacy groups, which are proposing increasing the income provided by public pensions. In Quebec, some people have suggested doubling the Quebec Pension Plan with appropriate deductions and contributions to make that possible. This would give people who are working and do not have a private pension plan the opportunity to participate in a group plan that will guarantee them at least enough income to live with a little dignity when they retire.
This is what people should take away from this evening's debate: we need to take a close look at what we are doing wrong and remain open to what we can do better.