Mr. Gérard Binet (Frontenac—Mégantic, Lib.)
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity today to speak to this motion urging the government to amend the definition of “pensionable employment” in the Canada Pension Plan to include worker's compensation payments.
I would like to take this opportunity to remind the House of some of the important provisions of the Canada Pension Plan and, in fact, of all Canadian income security programs, including the old age security program and the guaranteed income supplement.
I think the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources Development, the hon. member for Shefford, explained the issue rather well during the first hour of debate on this motion. We are talking here about a plan, the Canada Pension Plan, but also about the Canadian income security program for the elderly, survivors and the handicapped, a plan that has been part of our heritage since 1927 when the federal government, under Mackenzie King, passed the first Old Age Pensions Act.
Therefore, this debate should focus on the overall Canadian retirement income system, which is more than just the Canada Pension Plan.
Contrary to what the member for Halifax suggested, the government respects the spirit of the plan, and I would even say that we have to take the old age security and the guaranteed income supplement programs as well as the Canada and the Quebec pension plans into account when we talk about the impacts on retirement income.
Let me set the context. The Canada pension plan was established in 1966 to guarantee a basic level of income to Canadian workers who become disabled or retire from work. The Canada pension plan also provides benefits to dependants of deceased contributors.
Twelve million Canadians who work for an employer or are self-employed are covered by the Canada pension plan. The plan also protects migrant workers in Canada and Canadians working abroad.
Canada pension plan retirement benefits are intended to replace about one quarter of a person's income. Benefits are calculated mainly based on premiums paid and length of participation in the plan. The employee and the employer each pay half of the Canada pension plan premiums. Self-employed workers pay the whole premium.
This is how the Canada pension plan is funded; it is a contributory plan which takes income into account. The costs of the plan are covered by employees' and employers' contributions and by the return on investments generated by the Canada pension plan itself.
Each month, millions of Canadians receive benefits from the Canada pension plan. During the 2002-03 fiscal year, 4.3 million Canadians received Canada pension plan benefits for a total of approximately $2.6 billion.
During that period, the Canada pension plan paid 2.9 million Canadians a total of $15.1 billion in retirement benefits alone.
In August 2003, the maximum monthly retirement payment was $801; however, for various reasons, the majority of people do not receive that maximum. Pension benefits paid to Canadians average $455 a month.
In this debate, we should not forget one fundamental principle; the purpose of the Canada pension plan is to replace part of the income lost because of retirement, disability or the death of a salaried worker. This is why the amount provided by the Canada pension plan is based solely on employment income.
If we depart from that principle and adopt the motion proposed by the member for Churchill, which would broaden the scope of the Canada pension plan so that workers' compensation payments are considered pensionable income, where will we set the limits afterwards?
What will we do about future requests to include, as income, other forms of income support such as employment insurance or long-term disability benefits? Because if we pass this motion, there will be a precedent.
In the first hour of debate on this motion, the member for Dartmouth pointed out, and rightly so, that “worker's compensation is not considered pensionable employment for CPP purposes”. However, she added: “Since a retiree's CPP eligibility is based upon months of pensionable employment, each month of work a person misses due to injury counts against them when the CPP eligibility is calculated upon retirement”.
She also said last March that she could not understand “why the government has not already implemented this small but significant change to the CPP”.
I would like to take this opportunity to explain to the member why that is. It is because the legislation governing the Canada pension plan already contains provisions to exclude periods during which a worker cannot contribute to the plan. This means that low income months are not included in the calculation of CPP benefits and, therefore, have no negative impact on the retirement income.
Contrary to what the hon. member has said, people will not lose retirement income because they were temporarily out of the work force due to an accident. The general 15% dropout period allows people to deduct 15% of their lowest earning years, for calculation of CPP benefits.
Of course, one might well ask what happens when a person suffers severe and prolonged disability as the result of a work-related accident. What if the person is unable to make contributions? The CPP legislation has a provision for persons with severe long-term disability to be eligible for CPP disability benefits, and thus their retirement income is protected.
The CPP long-term disability program is the most important program of its type in Canada. In 2002-03, CPP paid out $3 billion to 285,000 disabled contributors and 91,000 of their children.
We have also made some positive tax changes for the disabled, and have helped national organizations for the disabled to strengthen their capacity and help advance an action plan for the disabled.
In conclusion, I would like to respectfully point out one last statement by the hon. member for Dartmouth, in which she said the government “treats injured workers as individuals who have deliberately opted out of the workforce”. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Our government believes it is important to create a wholly inclusive society. This means that it needs to ensure that the disabled can participate fully in the Canadian workforce. Our shared goal is to ensure that the disabled, including those who have become disabled in the workplace, benefit from the assistance they require in order to prepare for the job market, and to find and retain good jobs.
This is within the context of a global skills and knowledge based economy with its challenges of competitivity. In order to ensure its future prosperity, Canada must benefit from the abilities and talents of all its people. Both our society and our economy will benefit.
The change proposed in this motion, however, might run counter to the real needs of those it seeks to help, and might demand a major investment of new resources. That is why I cannot support the motion as presented.
Topic: Private Members' Business
Subtopic: Canada Pension Plan