Mr. John Rafferty (Thunder Bay—Rainy River, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand today to speak on this bill. Members will remember Bill C-501 in the last Parliament, my bill to protect workers' pensions in case of bankruptcy. Although it was not successful and the parliamentary session ended before there was a chance to pass it into law, I was very pleased to see a number of Conservatives stand to support Bill C-501. As they did, it was very clear to the government in the last Parliament that something needed to be done about pensions.
This is the government's answer to protecting pensions for all Canadians. As this bill does not guarantee an actual pension, it is best to refer to this as a savings scheme. That would be a better term for it. I will not go into detail about how it is set up, but there are some problems with it and I would like to outline some of those today.
This pooled pension or savings plan would be managed at a profit by financial institutions, banks, insurance companies and trust companies, and by the very nature of it, there will be an administrative cost on the money everybody puts into the plan. There is no regulation in this bill to regulate the costs that could be charged, and I guess the government's reasoning is that, by doing that, the costs will remain low because there will be competition among the institutions.
By the way, I will be sharing my time with the member for Brossard—La Prairie.
Unlike other pension plans we have seen in the past, workplace plans and the like, this particular pooled plan would not require matching contributions from employers. That is problematic in itself. I suppose there would be some provincial regulations put in place when the plan is set up on whether employers would have to be part of it, but in the bill right now there is nothing like that.
The first big problem with the pooled savings scheme is that it is not indexed to any kind of inflation. Workers would be putting their money aside for their retirement, which is a good thing, money would be deducted for administrative costs over the course of 20 or 30 years or however long they are putting money into this plan, and they would not have an opportunity to take advantage of inflation.
In addition to that, the other problem is that they are not really protected. Because it is not indexed, people will not be protected from the vagaries of the marketplace. As we have seen in the last couple of years, people who have been saving for most of their working lives and had RRSPs, which are not unlike this particular plan because they are privately managed by institutions, in many cases saw the value of their RRSPs drop by 25% or 30%. People have come to my office in Thunder Bay and talked about a 35% drop in the value of their RRSPs. Therefore, there is no real protection.
I would suggest to the government that there is another much simpler way to help Canadians save for their retirement, with fewer fees, indexed to inflation, and the money will be guaranteed to be there when they retire. In fact, they will have a pretty good idea of how much they will be receiving when they do retire. That is using the best pension plan we have in this country, which is the CPP. We put money into the CPP now and most Canadians are happy to do that. I see the benefits of that every day when people come to my office and ask me to help them apply for their CPP or CPP disability, OAS, GIS and these sorts of things. It is wonderful that we have this in the country.
However, what we could have done, and what we still can do, instead of a savings scheme like this, is we could open up the CPP. We could open up the CPP so that people could contribute to the CPP over the course of their working life, at a higher rate for example, or people who are self-employed could pay into it, or people could pay on behalf of a spouse who might be a stay-at-home mom or dad. They could pay into this scheme over the next 20 or 30 years.
Let us just say for example that people were allowed to pay double the contributions they are making now. If they did that, they would of course reap the benefits of CPP because right now they get out of CPP what they put into it, so it would still work.
What happens is that we reduce all those fees. I understand that the government is interested in having private business involved in pension plans. I understand where it is coming from that on that. What I am suggesting is that is not the best way to go about doing this.
If someone were to double their contributions to CPP, if they were allowed to do that over the course of their working life, and that kind of change is not going to help people like me who are nearing retirement, but let us just think about the people who are in their 20s and working. Not many people in their 20s think about retirement.
CPP would be a wonderful vehicle for them to start planning for their retirement. If they did that now, then 10 years down the road the benefit would be somewhere in the neighbourhood of about $1,900 a month when they retire. If it were a gradual shift, a gradual increase in contribution, let us say doubling over the next 10 years, that is what is would be worth. I think it is actually $1,920.
Imagine younger workers being able, over the next 10 years, to double their contributions. There can be an assumption, I suppose, that people who are working will have their wages increase over that time. They are not going to take a disposable income hit to make that investment.
If people did that, we would not be caught in a situation, as the government seems to think we would be, where OAS would have to be raised to 67 from 65. It thinks a big crisis is coming. We can avoid all of that kind of talk. We can avoid that situation by simply doubling the CPP over the next 10 years and allowing a wider contribution pool for people to get into it.
It is safe. It is secure. The market does not affect it at all to the same extent as private savings plans, RRSPs for example. We would have a very secure fund.
The other reason I like the CPP, and I am talking about that as the alternative to these pooled savings plans, is of course that the government cannot get its hands on it. I think that is critical. It is an important part of the CPP and how it is managed today.
There is a protected pension fund that is guaranteed to be there. People know what they are going to have. It is a defined benefit plan. We have seen what has happened in the past with defined benefit plans. We have seen what happens when organizations like Nortel go bankrupt and people are left out in the cold.
In the pooled plan, I wonder what is going to happen. First of all employers are not required to put any portion into it. It is simply a savings plan, an RRSP-related kind of savings plan, for people to have for their retirement. My understanding from the bill is that it is portable.
If employers are not required to match or make contributions, and I suppose some will, perhaps with some kind of collective agreement, but what happens if that company goes bankrupt? What happens to that employer's contributions? Are they safe and secure? There are some very serious concerns about this.
From 2008, when I introduced—
Mr. Hoang Mai (Brossard—La Prairie, NDP):
Madam Speaker, I am pleased today to speak to Bill C-25, An Act relating to pooled registered pension plans and making related amendments to other Acts.
At first glance, this measure seems to be a good one. However, it turns out to be a half measure when we take a closer look. That is exactly what was done by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance and even more so by the NDP in the House. This bill really has holes and problems. It has to be studied in its entirety, and we must figure out why the government has introduced this bill.
In Bill C-38 , the Conservatives attack seniors. That is clear. Just look at the provisions concerning the old age security program and the guaranteed income supplement.
The government has decided to increase the retirement age from 65 to 67 without providing any explanation. We posed questions to the Minister of Finance at the Standing Committee on Finance. The opposition was very insistent and, in the end, the government admitted that the savings would amount to $10.8 billion in 2030. The government is therefore balancing its budget at the expense of seniors and future generations, and that is a problem. We must understand where the government is coming from when we study this bill.
One of the first things that is obvious about the RPPP is that this product is very similar to an existing product, the RRSP.
In fact, RPPPs are more comparable to RRSPs—because they are administered by banks and financial institutions that will invest the money in the markets—than to a pension plan for seniors or future retirees.
On the weekend, one of my constituents told me that when he was younger, people talked about retiring at 55. They believed that if they invested as much as their advisor told them to into a retirement plan or their RRSP, they would be able to retire at 55, no problem. Today, that constituent is still working even though he is over 55 because these retirement investment products fluctuate with the market and the market has been turbulent lately. The investor's retirement income depends on the market.
What we are talking about today is exactly the same thing. It seems like the government has learned nothing from past mistakes and is doomed to repeat them. It claims it is introducing a product for the people who need it. Obviously everyone wants to have a stable and guaranteed retirement. However, this product does not offer such guarantees.
I would say it is like an RRSP because the employee is told to invest in this plan, but the employer is in no way forced to contribute to it. Therefore it is the employee who assumes all the risk. Of course, the employer might contribute, but that depends on his goodwill.
The government currently has tools such as the Canada pension plan and, in Quebec, the Quebec pension plan. These are solid plans.
No one across the way can deny that the Canada pension plan works, that it is well run and ensures a good retirement for those who are lucky enough to benefit from it: workers, self-employed workers, and people in the public and private sectors.
This plan exists and that is why we are saying that instead of creating a product that is similar to RRSPs or TFSAs, which we already have, the government should be investing in a plan that works. According to witnesses at the Standing Committee on Finance, the cost-benefit ratio for taxpayers is very high. It costs less to administer the CPP than to create a new product.
One problem is that this product is administered by financial institutions that want to generate profits. We know this; it is normal. At whose expense are these financial institutions going to make their profits? At the expense of those who have invested in this product. In this case, there is no guarantee. We talked about the fact that regulations might be brought in to ensure that the fees are not too high. However, there can be no guarantee that those fees will not go up over time. And when those fees go up, who loses? Who will have less money in the end? The people who paid in will lose. In this case, it will mainly be employees.
Rather than helping employees and people who are going to retire, the government is helping financial institutions, which, clearly, are already at an advantage thanks to the choices this government has made with previous budgets and the most recent budget. All the government is doing is continuing to reduce their tax rate so they can generate more profits. However, those profits do not go back to the common people. They do not go to those who want to retire with dignity and prepare for their future. Once again, clearly, this government does not have the best interests of seniors at heart.
My colleague from Thunder Bay—Rainy River introduced a bill to protect pension plans in case of bankruptcy. During the last election campaign, I met people. One person came to see me to say that we had come up with a very good idea, something that would protect them. He had spent a good part of his life working for Nortel, investing, working hard and keeping the economy going. Money was invested in his pension for the future. He was promised that he would be protected when he retired. We all know what happened in the end. Nortel went bankrupt. Because pensions were not protected, he is now living in misery. That is what he told me. This man's plight touched me deeply. He had tears in his eyes when he said that he had worked, he had invested, he had done everything he was expected to do, and yet the government failed to protect him.
What I find so difficult to understand is why the government does not really want to protect seniors, the people who truly helped build this country, who worked very hard. Thanks to these people, Canada has made progress in terms of the economy and quality of life. The government should be thanking them and telling them that they have worked hard, but what is it doing instead? It is giving them the cold shoulder. Not only that, but it is also attacking them. They worked hard and set money aside, but the government does not even want to protect them. What a shame to see that kind of attitude from the government.
As I said, that is what we are seeing in the budget, in Bill C-38. All of that and various changes have resulted in a record gap between rich and poor. That gap has been growing steadily since the Second World War. Of course, former Liberal governments have to take some of the blame, but so does the Conservative government.
The Conservative government is aware of the situation. The Conference Board of Canada and the OECD are saying it. The facts are there. The gap between the rich and poor is growing wider and wider, particularly in Canada, where it is growing more rapidly than in the United States. Imagine that. The United States has always seemed to be the prime example when it comes to this gap. Of the industrialized countries, Canada has surpassed the United States and other countries in how fast this gap is widening. It is because of measures like the budget and this bill that we are seeing these differences. Why? It is because the government is not helping those who need it most.
When we talk about old age security and the guaranteed income supplement, we are talking about people— seniors who are living on the edge of poverty. This government's solution is to tell them to work two years longer—to increase the age of retirement from 65 to 67—and that things might be better for them later. This is a completely ideological way of doing things. As the OECD said, there is no problem; this is purely a government decision.
Ms. Joyce Bateman (Winnipeg South Centre, CPC):
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time today with the hon. member for Crowfoot.
I am honoured today to add my voice in support of the work our government continues to do for Canadians regarding pensions and retirement income security.
Promoting the retirement income security of Canadians is an important goal of the Government of Canada, and we will continue to ensure that our policies, programs and services meet the evolving needs of Canadians.
In the wake of economic shocks from beyond our borders, Canadians are concerned about the long-term viability of their pension plans. We are listening to their views on how we can leverage Canada's financial sector advantage to strengthen the security of pension plan benefits and ensure the framework is balanced and appropriate. We are working toward a permanent long-term solution to protect the pensions of Canadians.
In our efforts to achieve greater retirement security for Canadians, our government is building on the inroads we have already made to strengthen the framework for federally regulated private pension plans. In 2009, we consulted Canadians from coast to coast to coast on these earlier initiatives and subsequently introduced a number of significant changes based on the advice of individual Canadians.
Why were pooled registered pension plans, or PRPPs, created? Canada's aging population and the global economic crisis brought the issue of retirement security to our attention. It is a very important issue. In this context, a joint federal-provincial working group was established in May 2009 to undertake an in-depth examination of retirement income in Canada.
The working group found that, overall, the Canadian retirement income system was performing well and providing Canadians with an adequate standard of living for retirement. However, some Canadian households, especially middle-income households, were living with the risk of not saving enough for retirement. The ministers worked together to analyze the wide range of ideas put forward in order to address the issues raised by the research report.
This exhaustive research led the Minister of Finance and the provincial ministers to agree on a framework for pooled registered pension plans in December 2010.
Since taking office in 2006, our government has also introduced several improvements to the tax rules for registered pension plans and registered retirement savings plans. If I have a moment I will get back to those important initiatives as well, but the pooled registered pension plans really are the crux of this bill.
Pooled registered pension plans, or PRPPs, will mark a significant step forward in advancing our retirement income agenda and will be a vital improvement to Canada's retirement income system.
What is a pooled registered pension plan? PRPPs are a new kind of defined contribution pension plan that will be available to employers, employees and the self-employed. PRPPs will improve the range of retirement savings options for Canadians. In fact, they will give all Canadians an opportunity to save for their retirement by providing an accessible, straightforward and administratively low-cost retirement option for employers to offer their employees.
They will allow individuals who currently do not participate in a pension plan—over 60% of the population—such as the self-employed and employees of companies that do not offer a pension plan, to make use of this new kind of plan.
More people will benefit from the lower investment management costs that result from the economies of scale of membership in large pooled pension plans, while allowing employees to transfer their accumulated benefits from one system to another and ensuring that funds are invested in the best interests of the plan members.
Some Canadians may also be failing to take full advantage of the discretionary savings opportunities offered to them through individual structures like RRSPs. In fact, the average Canadian has about $18,000 in unused room in their RRSP, unused for possible contributions. Research indicates that a portion of Canadians are not saving enough, and as I said, more than 60% of Canadians do not have a pension plan. We are trying to provide them with a means to save for their future.
PRPPs will address this gap in the retirement income system by providing a new, accessible, large-scale and low-cost defined contribution pension option to employers, to employees and to the self-employed.
We will allow individuals who currently may not participate in an employer-sponsored pension plan the same opportunity to save for the future. This is very, very important.
What are the advantages of pooled registered pension plans? PRPPs are innovative retirement savings plans that will address the lack of large-scale, low-cost retirement options for many Canadians. Some Canadians cannot take advantage of savings opportunities provided by individual structures, such as RRSPs.
For example, the average Canadian has about $18,000 in unused contribution room. Many Canadians have access to a pension plan only if their employer offers one. Many employers refuse to take on the legal and administrative burden related to a pension plan. PRPPs will eliminate most of the usual barriers that may have discouraged some employers from offering a pension plan to their employees in the past.
Since these plans will involve large pooled funds, plan members will benefit from the lower investment management costs associated with the scale of these funds. Essentially, they will be buying in bulk.
The design of these plans will be straightforward. They will remove barriers that might have been in the way of people who want to save for their future and for the future of their families.
We all understand that Canadians want their governments to work in partnership with them to provide and deliver results, and the bill today does exactly that.
Canada's seniors have worked hard to build a better country for future generations, and today's workers should be given every chance to follow in their footsteps.
Our record shows that our government is committed to the financial well-being of Canadian seniors, as well as those Canadians who are currently still working to realize their retirement dreams.
Mr. Kevin Sorenson (Crowfoot, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise in this place and represent the constituents of Crowfoot and speak on their behalf in this House of Commons.
I realize that the introduction to this will not necessarily deal immediately with the pooled registered retirement plan, but over the last couple of days here on Parliament Hill we have had some major announcements about some things that I had never heard about.
Two days ago, the Minister of Health and a couple of other ministers made an announcement about a drug known as “bath salts”, which was a negative part of the drug culture and basic culture around the world, where people, young and old, were using this new drug, and so we banned it. My point is that our government was stepping forward to protect Canadians from something that some of our young people may not have even realized at the time would be such a potent, devastating tragedy just waiting to happen.
Yesterday, we had another announcement about human trafficking where we stepped up and said that we would protect Canadians.
Our government is implementing plans across the country and across a wide scope of areas to protect Canadians. We are implementing plans to create jobs and enable small businesses to provide opportunities for retirement, which is what we are here debating today, because we want Canadians to be secure on our streets, in a job and in retirement. Bill C-25 is part of that plan.
Our Conservative government's efforts to help Canadians save for their retirement do not begin with a pooled registered pension plan. It begins with a vast number of other plans that we want to see stable and secure. We see and have heard that our CPP is stable and strong. In the 75-year projection, CPP will be very strong and it will be there when Canadians need it.
However, not always does one size fit all. Not always can we tell Canadians that only if they wait CPP will take care of them at the end of the day. I think every economist and all individuals who are trying to better their life or pass on some financial instruction to their children would encourage their children to save, not just to go out and get a job and pay into CPP, but that they look at a number of different avenues in which they can protect their retirement and have a strong retirement.
This is a modern-day effort to assist Canadians who are self-employed or who work for small firms or businesses that do not have part of a benefits package that includes a pension plan. Our intent is to help Canadians who work where there is no pension plan. Sometimes the opposition members stand back and say that we should just throw more money into CPP or we should have that wealth transfer so the wealthy can put more money into it and we will all get a bit more. The CPP is strong and maybe we can make it stronger, but there need to be more avenues than just the CPP and more avenues than just this pooled retirement pension plan.
Many constituents in my riding of Crowfoot do not have access to a pension plan. The colleague who just spoke said that 60% of Canadians do not have access to a pension plan. I live in a rural riding and I believe that is true in most rural or remote ridings in Canada.
I spoke to this bill at second reading. When I had town hall meetings, met with constituents and had satellite office days, constituents came to me and asked me about the pooled registered retirement savings plan. I explained to them that we were not trying to incorporate a mandatory plan for all Canadians. I told them that it was not another tax grab, that it was not another opportunity for the government to put more of a premium down on CPP or any one plan. I told them that this was an opportunity, if they so chose to do it, to invest in a pooled registered retirement plan.
Around our place this summer, we will have a different type of summer. My oldest child, my daughter, is getting married. With that has come all the fun things with being involved in wedding planning. For years we have sat down and talked to our children about planning for the future and about some day in the future buying a home. We have told them that even when they come right out of college they should purchase an RRSP, that they should look into all of those different avenues.
Now, as my daughter is preparing to get married, she and her fiancé have asked me to n go with them to look at a house. They are just out of college and yet they want to invest in a home. I have for years told my children that they want to buy a home with 20% to 25% down. Now my daughter is telling that, even though I always told her that it was important to have that 20% to 25% to put down, she does not have 5% to put down, which is why she needed me to look at a home. The point is that some of these lessons are learned. Our children learn that it is important to have equity in a home and that it is important to invest and prepare for the future. As a father, I want to be able to help where I can.
As a government, we also want to be able to help where we can. As a government, we want to be able to say that we will not only be satisfied with the CPP, that we will not only be satisfied with the tax-free savings account and that we will not only be satisfied with a pooled pension plan, we want people to pick and choose and perhaps invest but to prepare.
In the rural constituency that I represent there are many farmers and many agricultural based companies who do not have a pooled registered pension plan. This is one of those opportunities. I commend our government for bringing this forward. I encourage the opposition to get off the bandwagon of one-size-fits-all and to recognize that when people have a registered plan they have something to count on.
Not only do we have agriculture in Crowfoot but many people also work in the oil patch in Crowfoot. Many people today will be contracted to work for one company but in a year or two will be working for a different company. The thing I like about this plan is that people would be able to take the plan with them because it is a plan in which they invest. When they leave that company, maybe after two years, they would not need to decide whether to pull out that little chunk of money they put away in a pension plan and put it into an RRSP, which is really the only way to protect that money. There is the tax-free savings account, but to save some taxes people can invest in an RRSP.
Now, as people switch from one company to another, one job to another or one contract to another, the pooled pension plan would remain constant. Now, when they go to the next place of employment that does not provide a pension plan, they would have this tool in their toolbox. It is something they will appreciate.
I encourage the opposition to recognize that there are many Canadians with many different groups. People cannot always reach into their toolbox and pull out a hammer. We reach in and pull out the tool that best suits our needs for the job that we are doing.
We are fortunate sitting here because we have pension plans. That is the topic of discussion, as well, in my constituency. I think it is time to say that this opportunity needs to avail for all those who want to take advantage of it. Our government is providing that tool and I congratulate it.
Mr. Massimo Pacetti (Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to debate Bill C-25, An Act relating to pooled registered pension plans and making related amendments to other Acts.
I am trying to bring a little balance to the debate today. I have listened to what the members of the NDP and Conservatives have said. I understand the government has realized that Canadians are worried about their retirement or realized, finally, that something has to be done.
I think it was two years ago that my friend, the Minister of State for Finance, travelled across the country, had consultations and came up with something called a pooled registered pension plan, which is an offshoot of the registered retirement savings plan. Now the government is making a big PR event out of it. Again, I agree with the member for Burlington, that it is an extra tool in the toolbox. That is why we support it. However, that is not the answer to the crisis we are having or the retirement savings and their future that people are worried about.
We have had six years of the Conservative government, with increases in hidden taxes. That has been part of the cause. Canadians have less money in their pockets to put toward retirement. We have had a lot of pressure on Canadians, whether they have lost their jobs or have had to take on other responsibilities. We have seen Canadians of all age groups having less money in their pockets, for various reasons. As I have said, most of this had led to some of the policies of the Conservative government.
Even those who do have savings are worried about retirement. We have seen rates of interest that have been the lowest ever in history. Therefore, even people who have money put away in a savings account are barely getting 1%. A lot of times it has been 0.5% or 0.25%. Canada savings bonds used to pay 10%. They are now paying less than 2% and 3%, if people are lucky because they have been holding on to the bonds for six or seven years. We expect these interest rates to continue to be low.
Canadians have taken risks. They may be retiring in a couple of years and need to get their retirement savings up. How do they do that? Maybe they take a gamble on something, but are they not sure what it will be. Some people have put it in the stock market.
We saw what happened a couple of years ago with the tech bubble where people put tons of money in companies like Nortel, which was supposed to be the most secure company around. It was an offshoot of Bell Canada. Some people got their shares for free, like my parents. They decided to keep them. The stock went up to $100 then $200 a share. They decided to buy some more because it was going to go to $400, trading in multiples based on sales never heard before. That was the way these tech stocks were evaluated. All of a sudden, overnight, stock portfolios of millions and millions of dollars went down to zero. We are still seeing lawyers making money from the Nortel bankruptcy. People who have disability plans and pension plans with Nortel cannot get their money out. They cannot get paid because the lawyers are holding up the distribution. The government is not willing to help these people. There is some money stuck out in some tax haven and the only people making money are the professionals, and people see this.
As recently as the bank crisis a couple of years ago, people thought it was secure to have stocks in the banks. They put their money in the banks thinking it was as secure as ever. Then we saw the bank closures in the states. We were lucky in Canada, but we cannot put all our eggs in one basket, as most personal investment advisers say. They will also advise to diversify. People who took the advice of professional advisers, they would have lost some money a couple of years ago by having their money in bank stocks.
Again, people are worried. People have invested money in resources. People have invested money in the past in metals such as gold. As recently as a few years ago, gold was at a couple of hundred bucks. Now, if one was lucky enough to have invested in gold, it is at $2,000 an ounce practically, but who can forecast those things?
Some people have their money invested in secure investments such as bonds, but countries have gone bankrupt and are unable to pay their bondholders. They are being renegotiated. Who is making the big money? It is the big players. I do not see how individuals who are busy trying to raise a family will make any more money than they can make today.
Again, some people are taking more risks, such as in real estate. We see what is happening in the real estate market across the country if one is fortunate enough to buy a condo. It seems like the condo market is fine. Those who live in a condo may buy another one to rent out to maybe make some money. However, as soon as the condo market collapses, as is predicted, they may have to take some money out of their retirement savings to supplement these real estate deals.
Therefore, I do not see how the government could think that people can easily put some money into a pooled savings plan that is administered by somebody we do not know and all of a sudden, miraculously, their retirement savings will be secure for a 5, 10, 15 or 25-year period.
For years, the Liberal Party has said that we should start with the Canada pension plan. In Quebec, it is the Quebec pension plan. It survived relatively well in comparison to many of the other private pension plans, so we should be working with that.
Elderly Canadians are not the only ones who are beginning to worry. As I have said before, we have young people who are worried about their future. We see Quebeckers who are going to the streets based on the fact that their tuition fees and cost of living are going up. They see a crisis developing in the next while. That all means they know their retirement will be affected because the Conservative government has told them they will not be able to retire until the age of 67.
This is nothing new. We have had crises, whether it be over pensions or other issues. In the 1990s, the Liberal government recognized that the Canada pension plan was not sustainable and action had to be taken. What did we do? We consulted with individuals and stakeholders, not just our friends. We met with the provinces. We looked at how we could secure the CPP in the long term and we did not just issue talking points.
We realized there was a problem, and we did not turn to private institutions to solve it. We negotiated truly, we invoked thought-provoking discussions and, miraculously, we came to an agreement with all of the provinces. It was not self-imposed. It was not dictated to them, as the current government likes to do. We recently saw that with the health accord. The previous Liberal government sat down with all the provinces and discussed the issues and the needs, came to an agreement and signed a 10-year health accord. The Conservative government has said that it does not need to discuss anything with the provinces. It will give them some money and increase it at a certain level. After that, it is their problem, even though it knows that the cost of health care will increase within five to ten years.
Coming back to the bill, the government says that it will secure people's pensions. In actual fact, the only thing we think it will do is make the banks and insurance companies happy by allowing them to offer pooled registered pension plans to employers and the self-employed in federal jurisdictions. It would also provide a framework for provinces to pass similar legislation.
The budget tabled recently in the Quebec National Assembly provides for companies to offer this pooled registered pension plan to their employees, which we have not seen in the other provinces.
I do not believe the province of Ontario passed it in the last budget and there has not been any movement with the other provinces. I am sure somebody on the other side will correct me.
We also think it is great that the administrators of the plans will be regulated. Financial institutions need a special licence from the Superintendent of Financial Institutions, and we have no problem with that.
The only problem is that most individuals already have trouble saving. A lot of them are working in low-paying jobs. Many of them work for small companies, which do not have the time, energy, resources or ability to set up these plans no matter how easy it is. It will be very difficult to see any of these smaller companies implement a registered pension plan. As an accountant by trade, I just do not see it.
A lot of employers would not want to make RRSP contributions, even for employees who want to have them deducted from their pay cheques and put aside. They do not want to take on that responsibility. There would have to be separate accounting, extra cheques would be involved, for example, and administration. They would have to hold the money in an account, ensure there is enough money in that account a month later to make the remittance, and then ensure the amounts are deposited into the correct employees' accounts. I could go on and on. I do not see why we would not use the tool available to us, which would be the CPP or the QPP.
Companies would have the option of rolling into a plan. If it is not made mandatory and companies would have an option, I am not so sure how many companies would take us up on that, unless of course they have a dedicated payroll resource person and they really need to keep these employees and the employees all agree they need to have this plan.
Again, we are not asking the employer to contribute, and we are not asking all the employees of a certain company to opt in. They have the option of opting out. A company may only have 10 or 20 employees. If only 2%, 3%, or less than 50% of them opt in, I do not see why that company would go to the trouble of setting up a pooled registered pension plan.
Also, the troubling part is that this new option is another private registered savings vehicle, which more than likely would help the financial institutions. I think it was a member from the Conservative Party who stated Canadians, on average, have $80,000 of unused RRSP contributions. If there were an urgency because Canadians have totally utilized all their RRSP room, I would understand the purpose of coming up with something like this.
Right now, the only people I am aware of who are using their RRSP to the maximum, again, using my background as an accountant and speaking to my accounting friends and bankers, are people who can afford it. That means it is the higher-income people. I do not see the necessity to start a program just for these people.
The Liberals believe the solution is that we do not need to look any further than working with the Canada pension plan and the QPP to help people save for retirement. The CPP and QPP have proven track records. They have been stable and secure. Even through these economic downturns, they have been quite strong.
We see it in Quebec. The QPP has rebounded in the last two years, with rates of return close to 10%. There was a bit of a crisis about three years ago where it lost tons of money in certain investments in the banking sector. It changed its management. It changed its direction. It made recent statements that it is going to change direction again. It will be looking at making investments in infrastructure and other areas that would require a lot of money that individuals do not have in their RRSPs.
Even if we wanted to take the example of these pooled registered pension plans, there would not be enough money in these pooled plans to be able to diversify risk, as the CPP and the QPP are doing today. Supplementary CPPs could allow those who want to investment more in a secure retirement vehicle to do so.
Again, we are not sure about the fees. I know we are very worried about the fees. Even if these registered pooled pension plans start with low management fees, it would be a matter of time before the banks and insurance companies get a hold of people's accounts and hold them hostage. If the funds do a good job and the return is high, we know what would happen. All of a sudden, the fees will go up. If there is no return, the fees will stay the same. I do not see how we are going to win with this.
Again, we would be adding another level of complexity to people's options for savings, such as deciding what to do their money when they change employers: “Do I keep it in this pooled retirement savings plan? Do I keep it with the bank? Do I move it to an insurance company. What point am I at in my life? Am I going to be retiring in five years, ten years, fifteen years?
The administration of what an individual is to do with the money in that pooled registered pension plan would be a headache for unsophisticated investors, and the areas they would want to invest in would add another level of complexity.
We could look at options for opening it up further. One of the options would be for government to look at options to help those who are in the low-paid workforce. These are people who are moving from job to job, and they are the people who need the most help with their retirement savings.
In making these decisions, we need to look at the evidence. Policy decisions, such as retirement savings plans for Canadians, were not made on a whim but rather based on solid evidence.
Somebody also stated that Australia implemented a similar program to the pooled registered pension plans. After 10 years, it was obvious that the only ones making money were the financial institutions. In Australia, $161 billion of investments were made in pooled pension plans versus $105 billion in fees that were taken out of these plans. It is not dollar for dollar, but 80¢ was charged for every dollar that was put into the pooled pension plan.
A recent study by the Rotman International Journal of Pension Management found that despite the presumed role of competition, the investment performance of the system continued to be restrained, again by high fees and costs. We think this could be averted by using the CPP or QPP as the supplementary retirement investment tool.
As parliamentarians, we should also be concerned by all of this and perhaps look at how we could improve the pooled registered pension plan, or look at other options. The other option is easily the CPP, QPP.
However, we have seen that the Conservatives have already made up their minds. Like many other things, they will not listen to anyone else's opinion, or reason. They will not even look at evidence on a lot of issues. They will blindly follow this approach and put their hands over their ears and march on.
As we have seen today, the Conservatives have moved time allocation so we can no longer debate this issue. The very reason each and every one of us is elected to this House is for debate, but they decided they have heard enough, or they have pretended they have heard, and have imposed time allocation on this particular bill. This is one of many bills on which they have imposed time allocation. In Parliament, they have imposed time allocation over 60 times, and if we include committees, we are almost at the 300-point mark.
It is important to talk about how we got to a point where we suddenly have to rush through the bill. The minister of state consulted on this for about two years, and then all of a sudden there seems to be a rush to get the bill through. There have been concerns about retirement security for some time, while the Canada pension plan, and I repeat, the Canada pension plan has been secure for at least 75 years. It is not just the CPP that has been secure, but also QPP.
Canadians also need to save more for retirement to live comfortably. We all agree with that.
It was in 2009 that the Conservatives announced the consultation on pension reform. Now, all of a sudden, as I said, it has been a rush. In December 2010, the Conservatives announced this program, I will not call it a scheme, but a program.
I will wrap it up. I have a lot more notes that I could go through.
Retirement income for Canadians is important. Pensions all of a sudden have become an issue. It has always been an issue, but as we get older it becomes a greater issue.
The government has created a crisis by changing the age of retirement for being able to collect OAS. I am in favour of the flexibility the OAS will provide, but I am not in favour of changing the age from 65 to 67. One of the first people it would affect would be me. The government will be taking about $12,000 out of my pocket, and I have not even got there yet.
I do not see how Canadians could be happy with that. I do not need the money, but imagine how Canadians my age, who are relying on this money, feel about $12,000 being thrown away overnight like that.
Mr. John Carmichael (Don Valley West, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to be sharing my time with the member for Brandon—Souris.
Our government understands that hard-working Canadians and seniors want an effective and sustainable retirement income system that will help them achieve their retirement goals. That is why I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak to Bill C-25, an act that would implement the federal framework for pooled registered plans, or PRPPs.
PRPPs would mark a significant step forward in improving Canada's retirement income system by providing a new pension option to Canadians. Currently, 60% of Canadians do not even have access to a workplace pension plan. Most of these Canadians work for small and medium-sized businesses or are self-employed. Clearly, this represents a gap in Canada's retirement income system, a gap that PRPPs would fill.
PRPPs would allow these Canadians to access a pension plan for the very first time. In short, PRPPs would be a broad-based, low-cost, privately administered pension plan option. We may think of it this way: pooling pension savings would spread the cost of administering the pension funds over a large group of people. This would allow plan members to benefit from lower investment management costs, lower than those typically associated with the average mutual fund. Do members know what this would mean? It would mean that more Canadians would have more money left in their pockets for when they retire.
Simply put, the PRPP is the most effective and targeted way to address the gap in Canada's retirement income system. How will it do that, one might ask? PRPPs would address this gap by providing a new, accessible, straightforward and administratively low-cost retirement option for employers to offer to their employees; allowing individuals who currently may not participate in a pension plan, such as the self-employed or employees of companies that do not offer pension plans, to make use of this new option; enabling more people to benefit from lower investment management costs that result from membership in a large pooled pension plan; allowing for the portability of benefits, facilitating an easy transfer between plans; and, finally, ensuring that funds would be invested in the best interests of plan members.
Clearly, PRPPs are what Canada's retirement income system has been waiting for. This is why it is so important that the provinces follow the lead of our government and implement PRPPs as quickly as possible. Doing so would enable Canadians from coast to coast to coast to take advantage of this great new pension option.
Unfortunately, not everyone feels the same way. While our government is trying to implement PRPPs, the NDP would rather take the irresponsible and reckless route. It wants to double CPP. Do people know what that would do? It would result in higher CPP contribution rates for employers, employees and the self-employed. In the case of small and medium-sized business owners, it would act as a payroll tax, and that is a tax on job creators.
Members need not take my word for it. Let us hear what the Canadian Federation of Independent Business had to say. According to its research, “to double CPP benefits would kill 1.2 million person-years of employment in the short term”. Only the NDP would propose something so reckless. That is the difference between our Conservative government and the irresponsible NDP.
While our government is committed to generating economic growth and long-term prosperity, the NDP has no problem jeopardizing Canada's fragile economic recovery by imposing higher taxes on job creators. That, to me, is unbelievable.
It should be clear that doubling the CPP is the wrong decision for Canada and our economy. Unlike the NDP, our government believes that lower taxes help to generate economic growth and create jobs for Canadians.
Let us just look at the facts. Since July 2009, more than 750,000 net new jobs have been created. What is more, Forbes magazine ranks Canada as the best place for businesses to grow and create jobs. When it comes to the economy, there is no doubt why Canadians trust this government. This government gets results. That is why Canadians trust this government to keep Canada's retirement income system strong.
I will take a moment to tell the House just how much our government has done to ensure that Canada's retirement income system will continue to be the envy of the world.
Since 2006, our government has increased the age credit amount by $1,000 in 2006 and by another $1,000 in 2009. Next, we doubled the maximum amount of income eligible for the pension income credit to $2,000. Our government introduced pension income splitting, and we increased the age limit for maturing pensions and registered retirement savings plans, RRSPs, to 71 from 69 years of age.
What is more, budget 2008 introduced the tax-free savings account, which is particularly beneficial to seniors as it helps them to meet their ongoing savings needs on a tax-efficient basis. Our record also includes important improvements to several specific retirement income supports. Budget 2008 increased to $3,500 the amount that can be earned before the GIS is reduced. This means GIS recipients will be able to keep more of their hard-earned money without any reduction in GIS benefits. Budget 2008 also increased flexibility for seniors and older workers with federally regulated pension assets that are held in life income funds.
Budget 2011, the next phase of Canada's economic action plan, announced new measures to improve seniors' financial security and ensure they can benefit from and contribute to the quality of life in their communities. The plan includes a new GIS top-up benefit targeted to the most vulnerable seniors. Since July 1, 2011, seniors with little or no income have been receiving additional annual benefits of up to $600 for single seniors and $840 for couples.
The plan also provides an additional $10 million over two years to enhance the new horizons for seniors program. This additional funding will enable more seniors to participate in social activities, pursue an active life and contribute to their community. It will also provide funding for projects that will increase awareness of elder abuse and promote volunteering, mentoring and improved social participation of seniors.
Canadians just have to look at our record to know that this Conservative government is on their side, and the proposed PRPP is just the latest example. However, members need not take my word for it. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce states:
|| PRPPs—with simple and straightforward rules and processes—will give many businesses the flexibility and tools they need to help their employees save for retirement.
Greg Thomas, the federal and Ontario director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, says:
|| Canadians will be able to save more for retirement with this new pension plan. People saving for retirement will enjoy lower costs and more flexibility throughout their working lives.
It seems clear to me and to Canadians that PRPPs are the way to go.
Mr. Merv Tweed (Brandon—Souris, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand and speak to Bill C-25.
I would think that all members of the House would see this as a benefit to all Canadians, particularly, as previously stated, the self-employed, small and medium-sized businesses and organizations that are probably too small to have their own plan but would like to offer another form of investment in the people they employ and an opportunity for people to grow within that company and stay with it based on the fact that they would have a plan at the end of the day that provides for their retirement.
As many are aware, our government understands the importance of a secure and dignified retirement for people who spent their entire lives building a better and more prosperous Canada and for their families themselves. This legislation would take Canada's retirement income system one step further by helping more Canadians realize their retirement goals.
A lot of work was put into developing this proposal. Canada's retirement system is strong, but that does not mean it cannot be improved, that we cannot offer enhancements to pick up those individuals outside of the circle and offer them something better and an opportunity to invest for their retirement. This legislation addresses exactly that.
We all have memories of the crisis of 2008 and how it brought out concerns with regard to retirement. We all asked ourselves if our pension would be adequate, if we would be able to retire in the style we choose. I suspect upon reflection many people found they would not be able to. Things changed dramatically after 2008. If people were in the stock market or in RRSPs or in any type of investment, they took a hit. There is no question about it. The proposal we are putting forward would address that.
We did not do this blindly. We did it through co-operation and discussion with provinces and finance ministers across Canada, with people in our communities and, as the previous speaker mentioned, small business people. I was a small business person too. We always looked for opportunities to provide our employees with better security and better programs. Quite often we had to make the decision that we could not afford it.
This would address many of those issues. As I said, we did not do this blindly. We did it with a lot of consultation. We are trying to provide Canadians with an adequate standard of living upon retirement, and that is what everyone wants.
During the consultation period we found out that modest and middle income Canadians risked facing retirement with insufficient savings. Of particular concern was the declining participation in employer-sponsored RPPs. The proportion of working Canadians with such plans declined from 41% in 1991. Canadians are not taking full advantage of other retirement saving tools, like the RRSP.
I have been told that there is $600 billion in unused RRSP room. That is a clear indication that Canadians have priorities, and their families are their priorities. Sometimes we make those decisions and forget about the future. We need to always be aware of that and have that in our view.
With these findings, our government went to work on behalf of Canadians. We consulted, we met with provincial and territorial counterparts and held discussions with many businesses and we came to today's legislation.
In short, PRPPs are a new, innovative, privately administered, low-cost and accessible pension option to help Canadians meet their retirement goals.
PRPPs are particularly important and significant for small and medium-sized businesses. It is quite often unaffordable for business owners to provide these types of benefits. The bill would give them that opportunity, because it would enable owners and employees alike to have access to a large-scale, low-cost private pension plan for the first time. We basically would piggyback on larger corporations. We would get a better buy-in and we would get a better return because of the pooled funds.
Professional administrators would be subject to a fiduciary standard of care to ensure that funds were invested in the best interests of the plan. That is obviously a given, but I think it needs to be said.
By pooling pension savings, PRPPs would offer Canadians greater purchasing power. Basically, we would be buying in bulk. We would be getting a bigger, better deal for less money. By achieving lower prices than would otherwise be available to Canadians, it would mean more money left in the pockets of those same Canadians when they retire.
The design of the plan would also be straightforward to allow for simple enrolment and management. People in small and medium-sized businesses, the self-employed, I suspect, and the employees themselves will like the simplified form.
Finally, they are intended to be largely harmonized from province to province, which further lowers administrative costs and makes the transferability a lot easier to deal with.
Overall, these design features would remove any of the traditional barriers that might have kept some employers from offering pension plans to their employees.
It is my belief that this would lead to a greater willingness for small and medium-sized businesses to offer PRPPs. That is crucial. It is crucial because, incredibly, more than 60% of Canadians do not have a workplace pension plan. That is a huge number. When the members opposite look at it and talk to their friends, they will see it would include a lot of the people who support them and work with them in their day-to-day lives, and it is important that we try to include them in the discussion.
With PRPPs, participation would be encouraged by automatic enrolment of employees into a PRPP where an employer offered one. The automatic enrolment would encourage regular savings by making participation the default choice of employees who do not actively make a decision to opt out.
I remember the best advice I ever received as a young person entering the workforce in a family business was from a financial advisor who told me to just take a little bit off my cheque every month as I would never miss it. Then, as I grew older and my needs changed and my income earnings changed, I could increase it. It is the best advice I have ever received and the best advice I have ever given my children or their friends.
Canada's finance ministers decided to proceed with the PRPP framework precisely because it was considered an effective and appropriate way to target the modest and middle-income individuals who may not be saving enough for retirement, particularly those who currently do not have access to an employer-sponsored pension plan. These PRPPs would strike the right balance.
I know that if the NDP members had their way they would double CPP benefits and increase payroll taxes on small and medium-sized businesses, but that is not the way this government operates. At a time when Canada's economic recovery is still fragile, imposing a job-killing tax on the creators of those very jobs would be simply irresponsible.
PRPPs would be an efficiently managed privately administered pension plan that would provide greater choice to employers and individuals and promote pension coverage and retirement saving.
Once the provinces put in place their PRPP legislation, the legislative and regulatory framework would be operational. This would allow administrators to develop and offer plans to Canadians and their employers. Working together with the provinces, I know and I am confident that we can get these important new retirement vehicles up and running for Canadians in a timely manner.
It is important to remember that PRPPs would not just stand by themselves. They would be part of a bigger picture, part of Canada's retirement income system. We must always remember that. This bill is designed to help the many who do not qualify or are unable to have a pension plan within the confines of where they work. I know the Minister of State for Finance has gone to great lengths to listen to Canadians and to hear what they asked for and what they need. I believe this bill responds to their needs in a very positive way.
I encourage all Canadians and all members of Parliament to support this legislation.
Mr. Pat Martin (Winnipeg Centre, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, it should come as no surprise that I disagree profoundly with my colleague from Brandon—Souris, as I disagree with his party on the policy direction they are taking. I even disagree with just about everything the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance said. I think those guys are going down the wrong road and are doing the dirty work for corporate Canada once again.
Here are the origins of the bill. Thomas d'Aquino, when he was the head of the Business Council on National Issues, and then John Manley, when he became the president of the chief executive officers, or whatever they call themselves—the Grand High Poobahs of, really, the unelected Prime Minister of Canada, which is essentially what he is--declared that what was really holding back Canadian productivity was “legacy costs”. That is a nice way of saying those dirty pensions that our predecessors got into in the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. That was back when we used to negotiate fair wages for working people, back when working people and their employers would sit down and put together a sensible benefit package with a real benefit plan for their retirement years. All of a sudden, the corporate world has declared that unaffordable and it does not like having the burden of legacy costs.
We can even look at what happened in 2008 with the economic downturn. As soon as the auto industry got into trouble, what did the executives of the auto industry say? It had nothing to do with the cars they were producing or their management skills or the way that they had dropped the ball and made products that nobody wanted to buy anymore. Right away they said that the reason they were not productive was because of the legacy costs. They said that it was the pension plans that were dragging them down. They said that something needed to be done about the pension plans so they trooped down here to their friends, the guys who they bought and paid for and put into power, and complained to them that they had to do something about these pensions.
Mr. Speaker, I forgot to say that I will be splitting my time with the member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant.
The Conservatives put it in fine print so the world can see. They put in place this disingenuous bill with a title that actually uses the words “registered pension plan” in the title. This is another example of the creative writing class that takes place somewhere down in the bowels of the Conservative Party's black operations department. They develop these names that have nothing to do with the bill. In fact, they are 180 degrees opposite to the true intent.
There is nothing about this that is a pension plan. It does not bear any resemblance to a pension plan. It is a savings scheme that, frankly, is no different from what ordinary workers could do today if they were lucky enough to make enough to set money aside in an RRSP. They could put a little more money aside in an RRSP and have the same net effect as this, except that they would be gouged even further by the financial sector that also stands in the wings waiting to benefit from this huge shift of money that should normally be going into a pension vehicle such as a proper registered retirement pension plan or, the best retirement vehicle that we have, the Canada pension plan.
And you wonder, Mr. Speaker, why I have strongly held views on this issue?
I represent the riding of Winnipeg Centre and that, frankly, has been the home of two of the greatest champions of social justice that our country has ever known. In 1919, the Government of Canada wanted to send J.S. Woodsworth to prison for his role as a leader of the 1919 general strike. The good people of Winnipeg Centre sent him to Parliament instead where he became the founder and first leader of the CCF. He served there until 1942 when he died. Then the good people of Winnipeg Centre elected the person who came to be known as the father of the Canada pension plan, Stanley Knowles.
J.S. Woodsworth, while he was here, managed to wrestle old age security out of the Liberal government of the day. William Lyon Mackenzie King had a minority government. J.S. Woodsworth had two members, A.A. Heaps and J.S. Woodsworth were called the Ginger group. They were the Independent Labour Party, predating the CCF. They went to Mackenzie King and told him that they would support his government and prop it up if he would introduce old age security.
We have a letter on file at the NDP headquarters today that is signed by William Lyon Mackenzie King agreeing to that. It took him seven years to do it. It was 1926 by the time he actually fulfilled that promise. However, William Lyon Mackenzie King yielded to the pressure of the ginger group. The member of Parliament for Winnipeg Centre managed to negotiate some semblance of pension.
When Stanley Knowles was elected, he not only brought in the Canada pension plan, the second initiative was the indexing of the Canada pension plan. Now, at a 1% operating cost, the Canada pension plan with a small amount of contribution yields a guaranteed benefit to Canadians in the neighbourhood of $900 or $1,000 a month. That is a good return. That is in the best interests of Canadians.
I am worried that as the government puts in phony bills like this and phony diversions like this, it will siphon off attention to, contributions in and participation in vehicles that work, like the Canada pension plan. It is as if it is throttling down the emphasis on the Canada pension plan.
We, when we form government in 2015, intend to undertake a comprehensive overhaul of the Canada pension plan, which will be meaningful support in old age security for Canadians. It has been charted out and it is part of our platform. It will be the most effective investment vehicle ever. Even if the Canadian pension plan as we know it were doubled, as being proposed by the NDP, the total old age security coming from that would still be less than social security in the United States. Social security in the United States has a maximum benefit of about $30,000 a year. If we take the CPP as it is today, even adding on the old age security of under $7,000 a year, that still only comes up to about $19,000 a year. We are well behind other countries, even the United States, in our social security benefits for seniors.
It frustrates me how disingenuous the Conservatives are when they introduce a bill that purports to be a pension plan for ordinary Canadians. I just heard the member for Don Valley West saying that his employees could never have a pension plan if it were not for this. He said that he had worked for years and all his employees never had any benefits. Maybe if he had given them a raise in pay they would have been able to buy some old age security. Why did the member not put a pension plan in his company? That is what we used to do in the old days, we had corporate social responsibility. We had capitalists with a social conscience. That seems to be gone.
Capital has no conscience. If it were not for the NDP here to impose some conscience into that party, it would just be following loyally and faithfully behind the Business Council on National Issues, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and all the other dummy outfits that undermine the basic needs of Canadians for their own selfish self-interest.
We can look at the handout this is to the financial sector. We can look at the dough they will make by managing all this dough again. It is appalling, frankly, how they gouge, and the percentages they take for moving money around. The best bargain is the Canada pension plan with an operating cost of less than 1%.
This bill diminishes and undermines the systems that work and would put in place a system that will not be effective and will be no better than issuing a piggy bank. The Conservatives might as well give every Canadian a piggy bank and say, “I know you have not had a raise for seven or eight years but here is a piggy bank. Put more money into it and you will have more money to spend when you retire.”
That is not creative. There are no financial geniuses over there. That is like pulling a sedated rabbit out of a tattered old top hat and trying to convince people it is magic. It is not magic.
Mr. Sylvain Chicoine (Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-25, the Pooled Registered Pension Plans Act. I would like to say from the outset that like my colleagues from the NDP and from all the opposition parties, I am very disappointed in this bill, because contrary to what the title suggests, this can hardly be called a pooled pension plan.
Before getting into the details of the bill, I would like to put into context the situation with pension plans and the Canadians who are depending on them. According to the Conference Board of Canada, 1.6 million seniors in Canada are living below the poverty line, and this bill will do nothing to help them. What is more, according to the Canadian Labour Congress, 12 million Canadians lack a workplace pension plan. Unfortunately, we do not believe that this bill will do much to help those 12 million Canadians gain access to a pension plan either.
By OECD standards, the CPP and QPP systems are relatively inadequate. Other similar countries have guarantees and much more generous public pension plans than ours. In the United States, maximum social security benefits are about $30,000 a year. Here in Canada they are about $12,000 a year and, if we add the $7,000 a year from old age security for the less fortunate, that is still far from what is being done in the United States.
According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, most Canadian workers do not have RRSPs. Over the past few years, only roughly 25% of Canadians have contributed to their RRSP, which is far from what it should be. That suggests that, unfortunately, Canadians do not have the means to contribute.
In fact, I am disappointed because this bill will simply create a new type of savings plan enabling the funds from plan members' accounts to be pooled in order to reduce the costs associated with the management of investments and of the plan itself. The program is called a pooled registered pension plan, but it would be more appropriate to call it a savings plan, because this bill cannot guarantee that it will provide any retirement income.
This bill is designed for self-employed individuals and employees of small and medium-sized businesses, which are often unable to manage a private sector pension plan. The system created by the passage of this legislation would be a defined contribution plan. Employees would contribute a portion of their earnings to a retirement fund, and that money would be invested in stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and so on. Some companies might match their employees' contributions, up to a certain percentage.
The account grows through contributions and investment income until retirement. However, with this kind of defined contribution plan, there can be no guarantee about the amount of money that will be available upon retirement. Thus, it is the individual, the employee, who assumes all of the risks associated with the investments. With this kind of system, the amount of money available upon retirement depends on market fluctuations, and markets have not exactly been stable over the past 10 years. I invested in RRSPs and I have less money now than when I invested 10 years ago. These investments are not reliable; they are risky.
Defined contribution plans do not provide the same level of income security as defined benefit plans, such as the CPP and the QPP, which guarantee a certain payout upon retirement. Pooled registered pension plans would be managed by regulated financial institutions, such as banks, insurance companies and investment companies. The latest numbers on CPP investment returns show that the plan has lost hardly any ground over the past few years—less than 1%—while the stock markets, in which the government wants Canadians to invest their savings through pooled registered pension plans, have declined by about 11%.
Pooled registered pension plans will not provide workers with greater retirement income security because they will simply encourage families to gamble their retirement savings on the stock market, which often goes down instead of up.
As I said, anyone who has ever watched his RRSP take a dive knows how risky it is to invest his savings in the stock market. The government is so out of touch with reality that it is encouraging families to double down on what has turned out to be a system that does not work very well. With such an unstable economy, families do not need to take on any more risk. They need the stability of the Canada pension plan and the Quebec pension plan. Many economists and provincial leaders have said as much over the past few years, but the government has turned its back on families and refused to consider this solution.
Bill C-25 does not cap administrative fees or costs and assumes that competition will keep costs low. Once again, the government is dreaming in colour because it is relying on the invisible hand of the market and hoping that that alone will keep administrative costs and fees as low as possible, but as the Australian experience proves, that hope is in vain. More than 10 years ago, Australia created a similar plan. The results were disappointing, to say the least. The plan had been in existence for 12 years when the Australian government-ordered review of it showed that even though people were saving money through mandatory contributions, the returns on their investments were no greater than inflation. In many years, returns were lower than inflation.
The report attributed these disappointing results to the very high costs, despite the fact that it was originally thought that competition among companies would lead to lower costs. That was unfortunately not the case. However, the Conservatives do not want to learn from the Australians' experience, which was essentially a failure. With this bill, the government would rather hide behind its ideological ideas and make decisions without truly examining the issue.
In six years, the government has unfortunately not done much to help provide security for Canadian retirees. This bill appears to have been hastily drafted in response to pressure from union groups, seniors' groups and political parties, particularly the NDP, which, after the last election campaign, proposed an increase in Canada pension plan and Quebec pension plan benefits.
Bill C-25 is a half measure, when what we truly need is some real, concrete action. Canadians deserve and want more than what the government is proposing. Once again, the Prime Minister is putting the interests of Bay Street giants and insurance companies ahead of the interests of Canadians. It is time for the government to take real action to increase the number of Canadians who have access to retirement security and to lower the current number of 12 million Canadians who do not have access to these plans. Bill C-25 will not help achieve that objective.
Canadians do not need new private, voluntary savings plans. They really need concrete measures to ensure that they will be able to retire with dignity.
The NDP is proposing doubling the benefits provided by the Canada pension plan and the Quebec pension plan to a maximum of close to $2,000 a month. The NDP wants to work with the provinces to make it easier for workers and employers who want to make voluntary contributions to individual public pension accounts. The NDP also wants to amend federal bankruptcy legislation to move pensioners and long-term disability recipients to the front of the line of creditors when their employers file for bankruptcy protection. The NDP also wants to increase the annual guaranteed income supplement in order to lift every senior in Canada out of poverty immediately.
The NDP understands that Canadians want more than what the government is proposing with the pooled registered pension plan. The NDP will obviously not support this bill because it merely offers a new type of savings plan and does not even come close to solving the problem of making pension plans accessible.
In closing, the NDP urges the government to abandon Bill C-25 at third reading and to come up with a real plan that will help the 12 million Canadians who do not have a pension plan and the 16 million seniors who are living below the poverty line.
Hon. Ted Menzies (Minister of State (Finance), CPC):
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to stand and take us through to the beginning of question period.
I have listened to many of the debate today, or the false information, I would suggest to you, Mr. Speaker, and I am sure you have been able to recognize this, having listened to many of these debates. We have certainly given this fulsome debate in the House as well as in committee. We have brought in witnesses who talked about the benefits of the pooled registered pension plan.
It has been said many times, but not enough and it deserves repeating, that this will be a low-cost option to those Canadians, 60% of those in the workforce, who do not now have available to them a workforce pension plan that their employer can choose to contribute on their behalf. That is the option of the employer.
We, on this side of the House, think that option is exactly what our businesses want. They have asked us for an opportunity so they can choose to offer this pension option, this retirement option, this savings option to their employees and, if so, they can choose to contribute as well on their behalf.
We see it as accessible, which has been mentioned many times, by any Canadian. In many forums I have been asked if this is this only for small businesses. Absolutely not. It is available to any business that chooses to offer it.
For the first time in history, this is available to self-employed Canadians who can contribute to their retirement. A lot of self-employed Canadians have not had the option to become part of a larger pool at low cost, where the administration costs are low.
I have heard lots of comments from the other side that are very much ill-informed. Canada has been accused of having very high MER rates, management expense ratios, to put it in layman's terms, and of course the industry will complain that those are required because of the complications of the pensions they offer.
We have simplified it down so the parties that are interested, once they qualify, in offering the pooled registered pension plans. They have told us that they can bring their costs down very low.
We are trying to provide a realistic low-cost option so Canadians can actually participate in a larger pool, the same type of pool that the Canada pension plan and the Quebec pension plan is. That is what makes sense for Canadians.
The NDP continues to harp on the fact that all we should do is double the Canada pension plan. That absolutely negates the position in which many Canadians are. They do not want another mandatory reduction from their paycheque, and it would be mandatory, because that is the makeup of the Canada pension plan. Many people are saving in other ways and they do not want it deducted from their paycheque.
Many businesses have said that they are struggling to hire new people and make their businesses profitable. Now is not the time to add another cost, albeit a tax, on them contributing on behalf of their employees. This gives those businesses an option if they feel comfortable to offer a savings plan for their individual employees. That is very important.
We have a very good system in our country. The NDP loves to talk down our economy, our seniors and what a great country this is in which to live. We should be proud of the fact that we have a great country, a great financial system and a great retirement system for our seniors. It is the envy of the world.
I have spoken at many pension conferences in Canada and around the world, and I have also listened. Many approach us and ask how we have done it in Canada and could they follow our model. Many have asked about the pooled registered pension plan. They think it is a good idea and they would like to adopt it in their countries. Some people recognize that, but obviously not the opposition.
The opposition members stand over there and say that we have done little for seniors. We have done a lot for seniors. We have given the largest increase in the guaranteed income supplement for those low-income seniors. We on this side of the House thought that was a great idea. Apparently, the NDP did not like it because its members voted against it. They stand in here and say that they support seniors, yet they voted to keep them as low-income seniors. That is an incredible position for them to take.
We have the Canada pension plan. As I have said before, it is actuarially sound for 75 years. We co-share the jurisdiction of that with the provinces. It is in good shape. We have discussed whether we can increase that, and that discussion continues among our officials. As well, the Quebec pension plan is there for seniors.
We have the tax-assisted registered pension plans and registered retirement savings plans. Those are good. They have had some struggles, but, over the years, averaged out, they have done well.
However, we think there is an option that is missing, and that is the option for so many of our Canadian workers who do not have that.
In the last few minutes I have, let me just share a bit of the chronology from where we started.
In 2008, when we saw some of the insolvent pension funds in trouble, we realized we needed to look at those that were federally regulated. The Pension Benefits Standards Act had not been changed since 1985. We took a serious look at that, through consultation. We have improved that to protect the federally-regulated ones. We moved from there. We saw the challenges that individual pension funds were facing, so we moved to make improvements to them through a working group.
We did extensive analysis and we found out what segment of the Canadian population was not saving enough for their retirement. This is directed toward the middle section of income earners who need the support to help them save. This process will help them save and they are sharing in the contributions for that. Most Canadians think that is only fair that they help save for their own retirement.
We know the socialists love to share everybody else's money but their own. We would like to suggest that is probably not the way most Canadians think.
We have shared this challenge with our partners, the provinces.
I mentioned earlier how progressive the Quebec government had been on this. In fact, in its last two budgets, it has addressed this. It wants to move forward with it.
It is very unfortunate that the NDP is the sole roadblock in us being able to move forward, the Quebec government being able to move forward and other governments that actually want to put in place mirror legislation to this so we are able to provide pooled registered pension plans to those Canadians who want them and those Canadians who need them.