Some hon. members
Subtopic: Canada Pension Plan Investment Board Act
Ms. Judi Longfield
I seem to be hitting a nerve. I served as vice-chair of the Whitby seniors advisory committee—
A point of order, the hon. member for West Nova.
Mr. Mark Muise (West Nova, PC)
Mr. Speaker, if we agree or not it is important to be able to hear what the hon. member is saying. I would really appreciate it if we could.
We should all keep in mind that we need to be courteous to one another.
Ms. Judi Longfield
As I was saying, I served as the vice-chair of the Whitby seniors advisory committee for six years. I have had the opportunity to discuss the issue over and over again with my constituents. I had the opportunity during the last campaign to discuss it.
The residents of my community overwhelmingly support the retention of a Canada pension plan. They all agree that a universal plan, an affordable plan and a secure plan is necessary.
We are providing this. We are providing a good deal of dignity to those workers who cannot afford to participate in a private venture. When these workers collect their pension they will know it is their pension, not a government handout.
Given the substantial changes in our demographics, a much higher than anticipated ratio of retirees to worker and the longer life expectancy, I believe we found the best possible solution. I call on members opposite to support this very important legislation.
I remind members of the House of words of the finance minister in his budget speech:
The ultimate test of a nation is its will and capacity to support those who are most vulnerable, to sustain the programs on which everyone of its citizens depend.
The government continues to demonstrate that it has the will and the capacity to provide a Canada pension plan that is fair, accountable and affordable.
Mr. Monte Solberg (Medicine Hat, Ref.)
Mr. Speaker, I would like to say it is a real pleasure to discuss the bill in the House but I cannot. However, I can tell you how disgusted I am with the government for moving closure on what is probably the most important bill it will bring before parliament in this mandate.
We have had eight hours of debate and already the government has moved closure. Hon. members in the Reform Party, and no doubt in other parties as well, will tell the House that when people come to their town hall meetings the issue that is highest on their agenda is the issue of pensions.
I guess the government does not think it is important enough to allow parliamentarians to debate this issue. After merely eight hours it has said “Enough, we are going to close off debate”. That is absolutely disgusting, anti-democratic and typical Liberal.
Last time around the Liberals jumped all over the Tories who set a record for introducing closure. This time around the Liberals have already gone well beyond what the Tories did. It proves the old adage of my friend, the member formerly for Beaver River, now from Edmonton North, Liberal-Tory, same old story.
I want to speak now to the essence of the bill. First, the Canada pension plan is in serious trouble. Everybody knows that. It has a $560 billion liability. We know that in order to deal with the problems of the plan, the government is raising the premiums by an astounding 73%, the largest tax hike in Canadian history, a $10 billion tax hike by the final year that the new premiums go into effect. Despite that $10 billion when people retire they will still only get a pension of $8,800.
What about their MP pensions?
Mr. Monte Solberg
In other words, people will pay in some cases $3,300 a year for 47 years if they happen to be self-employed, and at the end of that time they will get a measly pension of $8,800, and that is the best case scenario.
If a you happen to be a widow, under the government's plan, after your husband has paid into the plan for 47 years at $3,300 a year, you can count on $460 a month. That is absolutely disgusting. And the government says that this is some kind of reform as though it is good? No one believes that.
However, that is not the worst of it. It also raises the huge issue of the inter-generational transfer. Many members know, if they have talked to young people, how cheated young people feel by what is being proposed in this legislation. Young people are asking why in the world they are being asked to contribute to something that they will never draw from. That is their attitude.
I am sure that hon. members know if they will examine their hearts that in a few year's time when young people form the majority in this country they are going to be sorely tempted to change the plan to ensure that they will get some of the benefits that will now only go to some people who are currently in the plan.
The government has set up a plan that is going to set young people against their parents. It knows this is one of the problems with the plan, but it has done nothing about it.
Because I do not have a lot of time, I want to talk about the Reform Party proposal.
My hon. friends across the way have tried to scare people, which is their typical way of dealing with these things, by suggesting the Reform Party plan is something radically new. I would point out to my friends across the way that not only have about 25 different countries around the world adopted this sort of plan, countries like the U.K., Switzerland, Denmark, Australia now has a version of it, and Argentina. The U.S. is looking at this right now. It is talking about going to this sort of plan.
I make the point that the Reform Party is simply taking the best of what is being offered around the world and offering it to Canadians. Why are Canadians second class citizens to this government? Why can they not have some of the great benefits that this plan has brought to other countries?
I would point out that Singapore has had this plan or a variation thereon since 1955. It has the highest savings rate in the world. Eighty-five per cent of the people in Singapore own their own homes. It is because there is a tremendous amount of prosperity in that country, due in part to this plan. We need to talk about these issues.
When the government members held consultations did they want to hear about this sort of plan? No. Their consultations were limited precisely to the type of plan they wanted to consider.
I invite my friends to consider what the Reform Party would do if it was in government. First, it would bring in tax relief. Now, that is novel for the government to hear, tax relief. Under the Reform Party plan it would take 1.3 million Canadians right off the tax rolls. That would do something to deal with the problem of the hike in premiums that the government is proposing and 300,000 seniors would be lifted right off the tax roll. I think that is important to talk about. The Reform Party would target seniors benefits so that people on the low end of the income scale would get more through the seniors benefit.
We would also guarantee that existing seniors would get the CPP benefits which were promised to them. We would bring in an improved survivor benefit. Under Reform's super RRSP we would have the situation where we could actually turn over the entire amount of the annuity to the surviving spouse.
As my friend from Calgary pointed out earlier in the day, under the Reform Party plan, if the mandatory CPP premiums were put them into an RRSP, and accumulated in an account in the individual Canadian's name, at the end of the 40 years they would have an annuity of over $250,000, paying them an income of about $24,000 a year. That is three times what the government plan offers. It would be a tremendous benefit which would be turned over entirely to the surviving spouse.
I do not know why government members do not want to adopt something like that instead of paying a measly $436 a month to the surviving spouse.
Beyond that Reform would provide the super RRSP plan so that people who are just coming into the system would start to pay into an account in their own name. As I mentioned a minute ago, that would build up over a period of time. It would give them a tremendous retirement nest egg, far greater than what the government is proposing.
At the same time we would start to contribute a bit into the existing CPP because under successive Liberal and Tory governments it has run up a $560 billion liability.
Finally, I point out that the Reform Party plan would give Canadians the power of choice. It would allow them to direct where their money was to be invested. That is a novel idea.
Under the government plan we know where the money would go. It would go to the super investment board, which would probably represent the largest intervention in the Canadian economy since the second world war. The government would be directing about $130 billion. We would have a team of bureaucrats or political appointees, chosen by the finance minister, to direct where $130 billion would go in the economy. That is ridiculous.
We have heard in the House today and in previous days how corrupt are some of the things that go on in this government. Do we really want to turn over the keys to the vault to these people? We are talking about $130 billion.
These people forget to whom that money belongs. These people think it belongs to them. They think it is their God given right to tax it out of people's pockets.
I would argue that is wrong. That money belongs to the Canadian people. It is their hard earned money and it should accumulate in an account in their name, far from the grasping fingers of the government.
That is why it is time for the government to wake up and realize there are other options. Just because an idea comes from the opposition does not automatically mean it is wrong. Maybe it is time to look at alternatives. The government should start to look at the alternatives which exist around the world. If it did that it would begin to realize that the Reform Party is on to something.
To force closure on this issue eight hours into the debate in a brand new Parliament sets a precedent which I believe will resonate throughout the entire mandate. I hope my friends across the way will seriously consider the impact that moving closure on a bill of this magnitude will have on this Parliament. To me it speaks to the anti-democratic nature of the government. I trust that very soon it will be punished when Canadian voters once again get the chance, just like it was punished in the last election when it lost 30 members.
Mr. Hec Clouthier (Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, Lib.)
Mr. Speaker, good afternoon.
Mr. Hec Clouthier
That wonderful gesture by the member opposite reminds me of something that George Bernard Shaw once said: “He thinks he knows everything, yet he knows nothing, which points clearly to a career in politics”.
Hopefully I will elucidate on the reasons I am speaking today in support of this wonderful legislation to amend the Canada pension plan.
Once again, for the benefit of members opposite, there are changes in the wind. I guess it was Heracleitus, the Greek philosopher. who said “Nothing in the world endures except change”.
We must amend some of this legislation to make it better, more propitious, more benevolent for the wonderful workers of this great country of Canada.
I have in front of me a few questions that have been asked of ordinary Canadians. I did not realize until tonight that some members opposite could not participate, would not participate or were prevented from participating in this debate. I am truly sorry for that.
We have the friendly giant across, the hon. member from Munchkinland. I see him sitting on the steps over there so he can see what is going on. Perhaps I will lend him my fedora because I am getting blinded here. He suffers from premature “defolication”.
I guess it was the hon. member for Calgary Southeast who say that business was suffering as a result of the CPP. I beg to differ. I am at variance with that. I come from the field of business. What hurt business in the last 10 to 20 years more than anything else was high interest rates. We now have the lowest interest rates in 35 years.
CPP has not prevented me from hiring anyone unless they were not good workers. Perhaps some of the members opposite might fill that bill. It was not the CPP that was stopping me from hiring people. It was the high interest rates, and now we have the lowest interest rates in 35 years and doing a remarkable job.
How do the proposed changes make the CPP more sustainable, affordable and fair for Canadians? Just the simple fact we have raised these premiums a bit, it is sustaining everything for our entire lifetime. Some members opposite could live to be 75 or 80 years of age, although some of them already look like they are octogenarians.
I will go on now to the affordability. Certainly it is affordable. We have six years before it gets up to the top premium price of 9.9%.
Is it fair? Certainly it is fair. I want some of the hon. members opposite who are under the age of 30, mere pups, to take advantage of the wonderful system we are putting in place. The hon. member for Elk Island will not be around that long to look after it, but some of the younger members under the age of 30, still in diapers, will be able to look after it.
Another question is will the CPP be there for me when I retire. I am having so much fun here I do not think I will ever retire. I will not have to take advantage of this. With the system we have put in place to look after the pension plan, it will be there for one and all when we retire, if we so choose to retire.
Here is the question the Reform Party is very interested in. It was asked at many committee meetings. Instead of making changes why don't you scrap the CPP? Can't better pensions be provided through RRSPs?
My answer is simply that Reform Party members have clearly indicated through their own actuaries that the RRSP program is more expensive than the CPP. Why? Not only would they be contributing to their own RRSPs. They also must pay for the benefits that have accrued through the CPP.
That in itself should be clear evidence to the members opposite.
It is obvious.
Mr. Hec Clouthier
It is quite obvious I agree with that. One would not have to be a rocket scientist. A mere cerebrally challenged farmer such as myself could figure that one out.
Mr. Jim Gouk
Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order to seek advice and help from you. There are words in this House that are unparliamentary. For example if someone lies, we are not allowed to call them a liar. Having listened to the hon. member across the way, I wonder if there is some word you could provide me with that I could use that would be acceptable in this House to point out the error of his way.
The Chair heard no such word or inference from the hon. member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke.
The hon. member has four minutes remaining, which I know other hon. members will anticipate with glee. The Chair has enjoyed, as I am sure all hon. members have, the debate this afternoon and it augurs well for the future, but unfortunately the debate for today has come to an end.
A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.
Mr. Lynn Myers (Waterloo—Wellington, Lib.)
Mr. Speaker, the throne speech correctly outlined that a country that has decided to invest in its children is a country that is confident in its future. A country that invests in its children successfully will have a better future. I believe this to be true.
We as a government have made tremendous strides in our attack on child poverty. For example the government has demonstrated its commitment by increasing its contribution to the Canada child tax benefit by $850 million a year, with higher payments to families beginning July 1, 1998. We need to do more. We need to focus on child hunger.
As a teacher, I am well aware that a hungry child does not do well in school, has behaviourial problems and can become a dropout.
As the former chairman of the Waterloo regional police, I know firsthand that these children often start down the path of delinquency and end up as young offenders or worse. In a country as wealthy as Canada, it is unacceptable that 20 per cent of our children live in poverty and an estimated three million children arrive at school hungry. People in our communities and schools are ready, willing and able to assist to ensure that nutrition programs are in place for all Canadian schools that need one.
I believe that investing today in our vulnerable children will yield major dividends tomorrow.
I believe that the federal government has both a role and an obligation to assist hungry children. I ask the government to examine this issue and explore ways and means available to ensure that child hunger is no more by the 21st century.
Will the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health commit to explore such ways to eradicate child hunger by the new millennium?
Mr. Joseph Volpe (Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Health, Lib.)
Mr. Speaker, I want to reassure the member for Waterloo—Wellington, who is already beginning to make his mark in the House with very poignant and very incisive interventions, that as far as the federal government is concerned, in Canada childhood is for children. As Canadians we want our children to enjoy all the opportunities that Canada has to offer both in childhood and as they grow into adults.
As a society we need to seize the opportunity early in the lives of our children to nurture their development and to help them prepare for the years ahead. The growing body of research evidence is clear. Children's early experiences have long term effects on their health, intellectual development and well-being.
While families are the ones who are first and foremost responsible for the development of their children, they are not the only ones who must assume some responsibility. Governments, communities, employers, unions, teachers and individual Canadians in all walks of life have an important role to play.
This government has identified children as a major priority in its public policy initiatives. The Speech from the Throne highlights work that we are undertaking with the provinces and territories to create a national children's agenda.
I take pride in noting that this government has already made contributions to the well-being of children. The member for Waterloo—Wellington will acknowledge this as well.
The national child benefit process with the provinces produced a federal commitment of $850 million of investment in the Canadian child tax benefit. There is the prospect of further investment in this area.
I am also pleased to mention that the last federal budget provides for a $100 million increase, over a three year period, under the Canada prenatal nutritional program and the community action program for children.
These two sets of initiatives are indicative of a commitment to children and an approach to children's issues which is comprehensive and structured.
Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP)
Mr. Speaker, I draw to the attention of the House and the government the grave situation facing students in this country who are reeling under student loan debt and the crisis which is in our post-secondary institutions.
I raised a question in the House last week and asked the minister responsible what the government was prepared to do to provide real financial assistance to students.
The fact is that post-secondary education and student loan debt has now reached a crisis proportion. Despite the recommendations and announcements of the government on its intentions in the throne speech, the crisis continues.
There is a huge gap in the reality of what the government is saying, what it is purporting to do and what the reality is that is facing our institutions and students in this country.
If the Liberal government is truly committed, as it repeatedly says it is, to access an opportunity for young people in Canada, then why have we seen a cut of more than $2 billion in our post-secondary educational institutions since 1993? Why has there been a cut of $550 million this year alone?
The truth is that the government has shown by its actions, not by the rhetoric but by its actions that it does not care. It does not care about the student loan debts which students are facing in this country. It does not care that it is more difficult for our post-secondary institutions to deal with the financial crisis which is upon them.
Recently the Canadian Federation of Students produced a major report called the “Blueprint for Access ”. In that document they pointed out that the average debt load will be $25,000 for students by June 1998. That is up from $13,000 in 1993 when the Liberals took office. This is an appalling and shocking fact and shows the real lack of commitment this government has shown to young people and students.
In 1995-96 more than 7,800 students who received Canada student loans declared bankruptcy. Is this a healthy system? Does this demonstrate to us that students are coping in the institutions? The contrary is true.
Another astounding fact is that tuition fees in Canada have reached a national average of $3,100 which surpasses the average of publicly funded institutions in the United States. This is something Canadians are not aware of.
How has the government responded to this crisis? We have heard vague promises of the millennium fund. There was no consultation and this fund will not help students today who are graduating into poverty. What we need are national standards for accessibility. We need a real commitment of leadership from the government to help students today with financial assistance and a flexible program that will relieve the debt load. We do not need some vague promise about a scholarship fund in the millennium which will not help students who are in grave difficulty today.
We call on the government to end the rhetoric and to put into action accessibility as a national standard and to show leadership by providing the financial commitments to assist students today.
Mr. Robert D. Nault (Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Human Resources Development, Lib.)
Mr. Speaker, the accessibility of post-secondary education for young Canadians is and always has been a priority of the Government of Canada. Recognition of the importance of post-secondary education in helping Canadians build their careers is demonstrated by the Government of Canada's investment in post-secondary education through the Canada health and social transfer.
Provincial jurisdiction together with the fact that the federal transfers to provinces for post-secondary education through the CHST are provided as a block fund means that there is no direct connection between the federal transfers and provincially set tuitions. Provincial spending priorities will determine the level of funding to post-secondary education and other social programs.
While the Government of Canada does not directly influence the level of tuition fees, it does however play a major role in helping students cope with costs and in facilitating access to post-secondary education.
In the 1997 budget the government increased federal support for higher education and skills by improving interest relief and tax measures. The period of interest relief was extended from 18 to 30 months allowing low income borrowers to defer repayment. Further the government is working with interested provinces to explore the implementation of income related repayment schemes to help reduce student indebtedness.
As you can see, there are many proposals and projects on the go with the Government of Canada and the provinces and this will continue as we help students get an education in Canada.