Mr. Thomas (Moncton):
I have one supporter anyway, Mr. Speaker. At the outset I want to emphasize that although in my motion I refer specifically to the CN pension plan, what I have to say is equally applicable to the Canadian Pacific pension plan and the CP pensioner. I would also point out that the severe restrictions placed on private members proposing anything that might be construed as a charge on the public purse hampered me considerably in the wording of my motion. Had I been sure that it would have been acceptable to the chair, I would have move that the government immediately appoint a commissioner, etc.
The minister has been considering the advisability of this for far too long. What the pensioner wants now is action to help offset the erosion of his pension by the increasing cost of living. When an opposition member files a notice of motion of this type, the odds are less than 50-50 that it will ever be debated. It must survive the draw and come out with a fairly high priority to have even a chance of coming up for debate. While my motion survived the lottery with a reasonable placing, I still felt that by the time it was called for debate the government would have ordered such an inquiry and this motion would be redundant.
May 3, 1974
Surely a government which professes such concern for the workingman would long ago have taken steps to order such an inquiry-an inquiry which was approved, in principle at least, by the Minister of Labour (Mr. Munro) last August 31 when the House was discussing the back to work legislation. The minister has since then indicated many times in the House and at public meetings that he recognizes the necessity of such an inquiry and seemed prepared to appoint a commissioner. It appeared that action was imminent and that this motion would be a fait accompli.
On February 11, 1974, in Edmonton, the minister said:
I am giving full consideration to the calling of a complete inquiry into railway pensions. In scope, it would cover all the details of benefit cost and funding. Through this vehicle of inquiry, I would hope that the parties concerned would then be in possession of all the facts. Then when the bargaining is once again opened, they would be able to sit down at the bargaining table with the findings and recommendation at their disposal.
It is now very apparent that the minister is in no hurry to initiate such an inquiry, for on April 11 his parliamentary secretary, in the adjournment debate, made it very clear that the minister is prepared to toss the whole matter of pensions back to the railways and the unions before he makes any recommendation. This is a direct contradiction of the minister's statement to which I have just referred. The parties involved have argued the pension issue for years and have always ended up at loggerheads over the issue of cost. This is why the unions wanted the Deutsch terms of reference broadened to determine the costs of the various proposals and the ability of the fund to carry them.
Until these facts are known, what in the world is the point of starting further discussions-discussions, incidentally, at which the retired pensioner will not be represented? The minister seemed to recognize this when he said that only when both parties are in possession of all the facts should they again sit down at the bargaining table. By the minister's own admission, the parties involved must be supplied with further facts and figures. These can only come from a thorough investigation made by a completely independent person who is knowledgeable of pension funds. I cannot accept the minister's view, as stated by his parliamentary secretary, that the parties involved want further discussions.
Certainly from everything I have heard from the unions and the pensioner's associations they are fed up with discussion and now demand a completely independent inquiry. I strongly suspect that the minister is hedging, perhaps under pressure by the companies, and that he has no real intention of taking early action. Certainly from the mail I have been receiving from employees and pensioners there is no indication that these people want further discussion. They want action, now.
If the minister has his way, it would be a direct negation of the pious claims in respect of his government's concern for those whom inflation hits hardest, the pensioners on fixed incomes. The minister's colleague, the Minister of National Health and Welfare (Mr. Lalonde), has recognized the necessity of adjusting pensions annually to meet the rising cost of living. Legislation recently passed to
CNR Pension Fund
remove the 2 per cent limit on annual escalation has enabled the government to adjust the pensions of people already retired to cover cumulative increases built up since their retirement. More than once in this House the Prime Minister (Mr. Trudeau) has proudly proclaimed that he has eased the burden of inflation for all federal pensioners by indexing the cost of living. But, whether deliberately or not, he consistently overlooks one large group who, for all practical purposes, have been federal employees but have not received the same treatment.
I refer, of course, to the thousands of retired railway employees and their widows or survivors. These people seem to be in limbo. The companies are no longer interested in them and the unions do not worry about them once they stop paying dues. One has only to look at the recent wage agreements: nowhere is there any mention of the retired pensioner. The reason is obvious: there was no one to speak for them. This is one reason I have never been happy about including pensions in the general negotiation. They should be negotiated separately with a third party, the pensioner, given full negotiating rights.
Lest any member think that relatively few are affected, I would refer to Hansard of May 1, 1974, and the answer to question No. 20. This return shows that 25,912 people are currently drawing CN pensions. Double this figure to allow for wives, and we have over 50,000 people directly involved-not counting, of course, the children who may be involved. Remember, this is the CN only. Other railway pensioners are not included. Now for the real shocker: 258 are receiving less than $25 a month, and 130 are getting $25 a month. So a total of 400 people are getting $25 a month or less. At today's inflated prices this would barely buy one bag of groceries.
Let us look a little further. We find that there are 6,096 pensioners, or almost 25 per cent of the total, getting less than $100 a month. Surely neither the CN nor the government can be very proud of this situation. But what is the minister's reaction to repeated requests for help for these people? Nothing more than to suggest further discussion between companies and unions with the pensioner out in the cold, literally and figuratively. But this is not too surprising in view of this government's track record of treatment of railway pensioners.
Admittedly, there have been some improvements. The 2 per cent retroactive escalation announced in 1972 and 1973, while not enough to offset the cost of living, was at least a start. But now that the legal restrictions have been removed there is nothing to prevent railway pensioners receiving full cost of living escalation similar to other retired federal employees. The minister's suggestion for further discussion will not remedy this situation.
Mr. Speaker, I am beginning to wonder if the government is trying to sucker us into settling for the proposal put forward in Bill C-139 in the name of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport (Mr. Guay). Certainly the publicity given this bill far outweighs its importance as an instrument to improve the CN pension plan. Let us take a brief look at Bill C-139. It seeks to amend the Pension Benefits Standards Act so that the CNR will no longer be required to meet the funding provisions. The bill quite obviously has its genesis as a result of statements made by Mr. MacMillan, then presi-
May 3, 1974
CNR Pension Fund
dent of CN, before the standing committee on transport last December. At that time, Mr. MacMillan stated that one reason CN pensions are not as good as civil service plans is that CN is required to fund its pensions annually while civil service plans are not. He inferred that if this situation were changed the CN plan would be improved. But, Mr. Speaker, when I tried to pin Mr. MacMillan down to a definite promise to improve the plan the following exchange took place:
Topic: PRIVATE MEMBERS' MOTIONS
Subtopic: CANADIAN NATIONAL RAILWAYS