Libby fights for Canadians’ pensions

House of Commons
January 30, 2012

You can watch Libby deliver this speech at:

Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak to Bill C-25, which is the pooled registered pension plans.

I will begin by commenting on the remarks made by the Minister of State for Finance during the debate earlier this morning and again in question period in response to one of his own member’s questions on this bill. He said that they were doing a great job on pensions and helping seniors. I was surprised to hear the minister of state say that Bill C-25 would be accessible. He kept stressing that it would be accessible.

When we look at the bill and the proposal the Conservatives have, there is absolutely nothing accessible about it. How can something be accessible when one cannot afford it? How can something be accessible when to go ahead with this kind of savings scheme would be to put one’s money at risk in very volatile markets? How can it be accessible to the 1.6 million seniors who are considered to be living in poverty, as estimated by the Canadian Labour Congress? I was very surprised to hear the Conservatives describe this proposal as something that is accessible.

I was further surprised when the minister of state remarked that currently in the RRSP plan there is, I think he said, $600 billion room for people to make contributions into RRSPs and that this would be a great opportunity to do that. Surely that begs the question as to why Canadians are not taking up what already exists under RRSPs if there is $600 billion tax room available that they could use individually. The answer is that most Canadians cannot afford to make RRSP contributions or, if they can, they are concerned about the security of their money, whether it is in various kinds of stocks, mutual funds and so on. Therefore, they have not been taking up that so-called room in RRSPs.

I want to make it clear that this so-called pooled registered pension plan would not guarantee an actual pension. There is also no guarantee about how much money would be left when people retire if they had been able to afford to put money into such a plan.

As we read through the legislation, it becomes clear that the risks of such a plan are borne entirely by the individual who is making the contribution, as well as the employer, if he or she decided to make a contribution.

We should also be aware that this so-called pension plan that has “accessibility” would be managed by for-profit financial institutions, like banks, insurance companies and trust companies. There would be no caps on administration fees or costs.

This so-called plan, which is no plan at all, from the Conservative government would push people into the marketplace. It is basically saying that if people can afford it they fend for themselves. That is the basis of the government’s plan here today.

We should be very clear that this proposal would not require matching contributions from employers. It also encourages hard-working Canadians to basically gamble on failing stock markets.

I find it quite incredible that, on the basis of public policy, a government would come forward with this proposal and say that it is the answer to the severe pension problems we have. It wants to just shuffle everybody off and tell them to go in the marketplace and see if it will fix it for them.

We know that is clearly not the case. For everybody who watched their RRSPs plummet over the past year or so, they know how risky it is to have their savings tied to the stock market and how risky it is for their retirement.

I also want to illuminate the bigger picture. We heard the Prime Minister’s speech in Davos, Switzerland, last Thursday about a fix for a generation, which he mentioned several times. I would say that it is more like a rip-off for generations to come.

One of the cores of that speech was his musings about how the Conservatives would tackle something that is very basic to Canadians, which is our old age security system. I find it quite reprehensible that we have a government that could make clear choices about economic performance and about how tax revenue is collected and where tax revenue goes and yet it has made clear choices and had the gall to announce those choices in Switzerland to a bunch of billionaires. The government did not even have the guts to be in Canada to roll out its plans. It did not have the guts to say it in the election.

We have a government, as we learned from the Davos speech, the “fix it for a generation” speech, that now plans to take aim at the old age security system and our pension system. The opening shot is the proposal that we have here today.

By contrast, the NDP has done an enormous amount of work studying, researching and analyzing what does need to be done to ensure pension security for Canadians who are already in retirement or Canadians who are planning to retire and are quickly approaching that age.

I want to pay tribute and thank the member for Hamilton East—Stoney Creek for the amazing work he has done in bringing this issue forward. He has very doggedly, time after time, whether it is in question period, in bills he has proposed for the NDP and brought forward in the House, in the forums he has held across the country or in speaking with seniors organizations, made it clear on our behalf, on something that we all support, that the NDP has brought forward a very comprehensive plan for retirement income security.

We would not leave people out in the cold. We would not leave people to the vagaries of the marketplace. We would not say to people that they might have to get a bit older before they can collect their old age security. Our plan is based on income retirement security that is fair, equitable and, most important, affordable.
The member outlined earlier this morning the plan that works in our country, and that is the Canada pension plan and the Quebec pension plan. We would increase it to a maximum of $1,920 a month. We would ensure that it would be sustainable and that Canadians would get a fair and decent retirement pension.
We would also amend the bankruptcy legislation to ensure that pensioners and long-term disability recipients would be at the front of the line, not the end of it, of creditors when their employers entered court protection to declare bankruptcy. How many cases have we heard in the House of seniors who have worked hard over the years and paid into their pension plans only to see them go up in smoke because of bankruptcy proceedings? They found out that they were at the very bottom when it came to seeing some justice from the system such as it exists now. We have put forward legislation to correct that situation.

Finally, we have made it very clear that we would increase the guaranteed income supplement, the GIS, to a sufficient level of about $700 million a year to lift every senior out of poverty in Canada immediately. Again, this is something that is affordable, realistic and it is the right kind of public policy decision to make at this time.

In debating the legislation today, we have to be very clear that we have a Conservative government that likes to make announcements in front of its billionaire elite supporters in Davos, Switzerland. It likes to put forward proposals that drive people into a marketplace situation, saying that they should go out there and fend for themselves, but if their savings get wrapped up in some kind of volatile market and they lose it, that it is not the government’s problem.

That is not our approach. We do not want to see income inequality grow in our country. What was announced at Davos was nothing more than a further step to huge corporate interests such as we have seen with the corporate tax cuts. We have to be very clear for Canadians that there is an alternative. We do not have to be driven by this kind of agenda. I hope Bill C-25 is the beginning of a massive campaign to show that Canadians will not allow their pension system to be tampered with.

Other prime ministers have tried to do this. Other Liberal and Conservative prime ministers tried to get in there and make changes and they heard the wrath of Canadian seniors, who are a very organized group. I hope today the bill will be the first opportunity to mount a campaign as to what we see as an attack on public services, on our public pension system and on seniors who are some of the most vulnerable in our society.

We have to say” no” to the idea that it is just about the marketplace and “yes” to sound public policy decisions that are fair, equitable, and affordable. That is what the NDP has put forward.