New Democratic Party
Ms. Judy Wasylycia-Leis (Winnipeg North Centre, NDP)
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak on the important issue of pensions for Canadians in the House today. I am pleased that my colleagues in the NDP caucus have chosen to bring this matter forward as a matter of considerable urgency and a matter warranting the attention of all members in the House.
As members know, it is not often that we get a chance to talk at some length on one particular public policy matter. It has certainly been the case that we have devoted little time in the House to the future of our public pension system. Today we have that opportunity and the motion before us is intended to raise those general issues of concern as well as to focus specifically on the issues of investing in unethical or less than desirable activities for our society.
We are discussing one of the most important issues facing Canadians, and that is the issue of security for their retirement years. To say it is one of the most important issues facing us all is an understatement.
Our approach to this universal question, just like our focus on public health care, cuts right to the core of our values as a caring society. It pertains directly to our values as Canadians for caring and sharing the wealth. It pertains to cooperation and compassion as a predominant theme and approach in any civilized society. The issue of adequate retirement income is critical to all of us. This is literally our bread and butter after the age of 65.
Today 4 million Canadians receive old age security payments on a regular basis, with more than a quarter of these, 1.15 million, relying to some degree on guaranteed income supplements just to help them get by. Since any other income is deducted from the GIS, we are speaking about bare-bone core income support.
Nowhere is this more critical than when we speak about over half the population in Canada. Women in particular are dependent upon these programs. They are dependent on these programs because many have worked in the home or at part time or irregular employment, and have been unable to contribute to either a Canada pension plan, workplace plan or an RRSP. About 12% of senior women are living with their families and 35% are out on their own. Many senior women are not making it and remain mired in deplorable poverty conditions.
A Statistics Canada survey from last fall showed that fully one-third of Canadians in their forties and fifties felt that they had not made adequate financial arrangements for their retirements, and were even unsure about when they would be able to retire.
What is key to all of this is that Canadians are not reassured that the government's plan will serve them well, or that the government has the wherewithal, the vision, or the motive to address these critical problems to ensure that all people, regardless of their life circumstances and where they live in this country, have access to retirement income and income security in their old age.
Obviously, some Canadians, through their unions, have negotiated workplace pensions. About 79% of unionized workers have workplace pensions as opposed to only 30% of those who are non-unionized. We are talking about fewer than 4 out of 10 workers in this instance. Many more are covered by the public workplace Canada pension plan.
Almost three million Canadians currently receive CPP retirement benefits. Constructed over the years as a pay-as-you-go, self-supporting, publicly administered plan, it has been an example to the world of how to provide a stable, dependable income for our elderly. This plan has not been vulnerable to the whims of the marketplace or to the market's highs and lows. It is this strong base that has limited the impact on the CPP of the overall recent market decline that has had serious consequences for economies around the world. It was not pouring money into corporate banking profits either.
That was a source of considerable aggravation for the present Prime Minister and his corporate buddies. That is, until 1997 when, as finance minister, he caved in to the corporate media hysteria and paved the way for private access to our public funds as the answer to questions about CPP sustainability.
The Liberals did not go quite as far as the present Conservatives would have liked which would have been to scrap the CPP altogether and have it replaced with a public RRSP scheme. Let us not forget that the change was significant nonetheless.
That brings me to the essence of the motion before us today which is about the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board. The board was set up amid considerable controversy. It was set up to oversee what we would call a gambling initiative. In true fashion of the present Prime Minister, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board has taken the most rigidly conservative of paths.
I may sound cynical about what has transpired vis-à-vis our public pension system and how money was being invested to ensure security for all of us in old age, but I am still optimistic. I still have great hope for the future. I have that optimism in part because of the ever growing capacity of young people, whom I meet, to learn and to grow.
When I was a child, I had a friend who firmly believed that milk came from the refrigerator. To this person it was obvious and beyond dispute. Today my son, who is 15 years of age, knows exactly where every item of his clothing is manufactured and under what labour conditions and environmental standards.
Our knowledge base is much more sophisticated and extensive, and our awareness is growing in leaps and bounds through debates that we have been having around trade, social justice, globalization, and sovereignty. The labour movement has played a particularly active role in raising awareness of these matters and in raising awareness from its international solidarity contacts. As a result of these debates and these educational programs from trade unions, Canadians now know about interlocking corporate ownership, manufacturing zones set up to bypass regulations, and child labour.
We have seen the TV footage reporting on a garment factory fire in which dozens of women perished because of abominable labour standards and locked doors. We know that someone owned that factory and almost certainly financed it through investment.
We now know more about our world and how we fit in as producers and consumers than ever before. Just as compelling is our desire to apply this knowledge to action to improve these negative conditions. A growing number of us, when we learn about huge multinational coffee corporations exploiting farmers and workers, choose fair trade options over free trade exploitation.
My colleague from Winnipeg Centre has just outlined our $2.5 billion investment in the arms industry. Most Canadians want no part of that. If we gave them the choice, they would not invest in the arms industry.
Similarly, tobacco each year results in the deaths of 45,000 Canadians. That is roughly five times the number of deaths caused by car accidents, suicides, drug abuse, murder and AIDS combined. Even smokers are against it. We have responded with measures to discourage tobacco use and limit its damage.
However, we may still be unwittingly supporting the tobacco industry in its aggressive quest for new markets in places like China through our public pension plan investments. This is truly unacceptable and is what has given birth to a growing list of socially responsible investment funds now totalling an estimated $50 billion in 2002, of which $10 billion was in positively or negatively screened investment.
The CPP, a long time pay as you go plan, got into the investment business in the late 1990s. Its investment arm, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, currently controls over $30 billion of the CPP's $66 billion total. Together with other large public sector pension funds, it wields considerable influence and clout.
There is a downside. In addition to its active role in the arms trade, it has other questionable investments on the go. Many Canadians were appalled to learn that the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board was involved in the financing of new triple p hospitals in Ontario. Our national public pension money is being used to determine our most cherished social program when it is fighting for its very survival.
Of course, Canadians' immediate reaction would be to pull out, but what is the response from the CPP Investment Board? The board has taken a rigid position against ethical investment. Why? According to the board chair, maximizing profits should be the one and only goal of our national public pension plan. My goodness, what a high moral standard Canada has today. What an incredibly high standard set by the chair of the pension investment board.
That segment of the corporate community that resists regulation at all costs tends to hide behind these myths. According to them the sky will fall as soon as rules are added. This is not the case. The sky will not fall, and neither need profits, according to many studies that have actually examined the performance of ethical funds.
According to one Canadian study, for example, the ethical growth fund performed as well or better than non-screened mutual funds over a 10 year period, even slightly outperforming the TSE 300. There will be variations along the way, but in the great tradition of pension funding, in the long term, performance is relatively even.
New Democrats recognize the fiduciary responsibilities of the CPP Investment Board. However, other progressive pension funds have managed to define that responsibility to allow for other responsible social behaviour as well.
To suggest we cannot possibly reach a consensus about what constitutes ethical is a line of morality that is outdated. It shortchanges Canadians' sense of common values and our impulse for decency.
No one is saying that a process will be easy; I do not know of any ethical issue that is, but that does not mean we surrender to the highest bidder without even trying. We need national leadership to set in motion the national dialogue necessary to accomplish this task.
This is an issue that affects all Canada pension plan contributors. It has an impact on all of their lives. They have a right to take part in a full discussion on this issue. They should have been full participants from the beginning.
This is no magic bullet. No one on these benches believes this guidance alone is sufficient without the active promotion of better ethical labour and environmental practices where our investment dollars take root, but it is clearly a vital element in 21st century financial management that is long overdue.
We look to labels for information. What we are saying today is that we want labels on our pension investment. Milk does not come from the refrigerator.