Monday, February 6, 2012

Harper Conservatives roll dice with your retirement

I gave the following speech in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Feb. 1, on Conservative Bill C-25 — an act relating to Pooled Registered Pension Plans. The Harper government introduced time allocation on the bill, limiting debate to two days.

Mr. Speaker,

The image that haunts me from the May 2011 federal election, from campaigning in my riding of St. John's South-Mount Pearl in the great province of Newfoundland and Labrador, is that of the seniors I met at their doors, in the middle of the afternoon, in their winter coats.

They wore their winter coats inside their homes, decent homes in the suburbs of St. John's and Mount Pearl, because they could not afford to turn up the heat.

The No. 1 issue in my riding is seniors, people living on fixed incomes, people trying to make ends meet.

According to the Conference Board of Canada, 1.6 million seniors across the country live in poverty, and it is slowly and steadily getting worse.

The cost of everything is going up — the cost of food, the cost of oil, the cost of gas.

Everything is going up except incomes.

Seniors are having a hard time.

People are worried about their retirement years.

Lately, people are practically panicking about the thought of retirement.

The Conservative government has thrown out the idea of raising the age of eligibility for Old-Age Security to 67 from 65.

I have to stop myself there and offer an apology to the man in my riding who wrote to me to complain about the term “old age security”, which he finds, “disgusting”.

To quote the man further, he said:

  • It is very obvious that the term is not only outdated and lacking creativity as a program title, but it is insulting and downgrading to individuals reaching age 65, and are very active and independent members of society.

That is a very good point.

However, my speech is not about OAS, although it is what most Canadians are talking about from coast to coast to coast.

I am on my feet in this esteemed chamber today to speak about pooled registered pension plans and to speak against them.

Pooled pension plans are not the solution for the retirement security of Canadians.


Because they amount to gambling even more of their retirement savings on failing stock markets.

Here’s the $64,000 question: Will people have a decent retirement income from a pooled registered pension plan?

The answer is … who knows.

Roll the dice and see, but don’t count on it.

Don’t take it to the bank, don’t dare take it to the bank.

Is that how we want to see their retirement, as a big fat question mark, as a gamble, as a crapshoot?

Bill C-25 is designed to appeal to the self-employed, as well as workers in small- to medium-sized businesses, companies that often lack the means to administer a private-sector pension plan.

The plan created would be a defined contribution plan, and Canadians need to understand that.

Employees will kick in a portion of their salaries into a retirement account where it could be invested in stocks, or bonds or mutual funds.

Companies can contribute or they can decide not to — it’s up to the individual company.

Canadians have to understand there is no guarantee how much of their money will be left when they retire.

Their pension will depend upon how well their money is invested. This is not a defined benefit plan.

Again, it’s a defined contribution plan.

Anyone who has watched their RRSPs nosedive in recent times knows how incredibly risky it is to tie savings to the stock market.

Most people have taken losses in recent years, and that is most people who can afford to put money into RRSPs.

When people think about retirement, they want stability.

They want to know that their retirement years will be comfortable years.

Forget that with the pooled registered pension plan.

Here is what the New Democrat position comes down: The NDP will not support pooled registered pension plans, although this is not a pension plan so much as a savings scheme.

Canadians need to understand that as well.

The NDP will not support this savings scheme because the Conservatives are offering this up instead of taking real action to protect both existing pensions and enhance pension retirement security for those who lack a workplace pension plan.

An estimated 12 million Canadians do not have a workplace pension plan.

That’s more than one in three Canadians.

Bill C-25, an act relating to pooled registered pension plans, or pooled registered savings schemes, would not give them one.

A New Democratic government would double the guaranteed Canada pension plan.

The CPP is a universal program for all Canadians, whether self-employed, in small or large businesses, or in the public or private sector.

Why give workers a savings scheme to roll the dice on their retirement when we could simply expand the CPP?

Participation in the CPP is mandatory, meaning its expansion would impact everyone.

No one would be left behind. I

Isn’t Canada all about leaving nobody behind?

No, wait — that is the New Democrat line. That is what New Democrats are about.

The Conservative line is about money for prisons.

The Conservative line is about money for fighter jets.

Prisons and fighter jets have a higher priority than our seniors who are most vulnerable.

The Conservative's Safe Streets and Communities Act was debated here last fall.

It would make it much safer for seniors to line up outside soup kitchens.

That is what our country is coming to.

Our Canada is changing.

The safety net that makes our country a great country, one of the best in the world, is under Conservative attack.At the recent World Economic Forum in Switzerland, the Prime Minister said, “Our demographics also constitute a threat to the social programs and services that Canadians cherish”.

Funny, I would say the Conservatives constitute a threat to the social programs and services that Canadians cherish.

The Conservatives pose that threat.

The Conservatives have only been a majority government for nine months and already they have attacked or are in the process of dismantling core services across the country and across my province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Look no further than to the closure of the Maritime Rescue Sub-Centre in St. John's, a service that is vital to our mariners.

It is a closure that the regional minister defended by sneaking away in a decoy car.

Look no further than to the Defence minister using our search and rescue Cormorant helicopters as a taxi for his holiday on the Gander River.

Look no further than Service Canada and how it is being gutted. Just last week two EI claimants tried to kill themselves because their claims were delayed or rejected.

Look no further than the Canadian seal hunt and how the Conservative government has allowed market after market to ban products from an industry that is central to our heritage and our culture.

Look no further than to our precious seniors.

The Conservatives would have it so that the retirement of so many Canadians is a crapshoot.

Again, the Conservatives constitute a threat to the social programs and services that Canadians cherish.

The Prime Minister also said in Switzerland that there would be major transformations coming to Canada's retirement pension system.

The only transformative change that Canada needs in terms of retirement security is to lift every senior out of poverty and expand the Canada and Quebec pension plans.

However, all the Conservative government proposes is yet another privately administered voluntary savings scheme like several others already on the market.

It’s the same old, same old.

Canadians are not impressed.

I will conclude with this quote from a constituent in my riding, one of about a dozen who have written my office in recent days concerned about retirement and the Conservative agenda that’s transforming Canada into a warped shadow of itself:

“Young people do not stand a chance in this world. Everything we have worked so hard for to make things better for them is slowly being taken away. What a sad message we are sending.”

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