Elizabeth May: Speech on Time Allocation and Improving the Canada Pension Plan

Elizabeth May:

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise today to speak to Bill C-26, a bill to enhance the Canada pension plan.

I want to start by lamenting, as I did this morning, time allocation, which is bringing this debate to a premature end. I think this is one of those times, particularly with the degree of controversy about the drop-out provisions in the bill and how they will unequally impact women in this country, when we really should have more time for debate and more time to ensure that we have all the facts.

I want to take a moment to say that if there is anything sadder than watching Liberals fall short of their promises, it is the Conservatives jumping on them for doing about one-tenth of what the Conservatives did when they had power. The use of time allocation was constant in the 41st Parliament.

Mr. Speaker, I know that many who are currently heckling me were not here in the 41st Parliament, but I can assure them that we had no time to turn around before there was yet another time allocation motion. The Conservatives broke through all historical records. However, this does not excuse the Liberals for doing the same thing.

I would urge members on both sides of the House to consider what we really want in terms of parliamentary decorum and in terms of being able to address bills and get them through the House in an expeditious way while also ensuring that we do not trample on the rights of each of us here as members of Parliament to do the work we were elected to do, which is to study the legislation, provide suggestions, work together, and produce what the people of Canada want. They want parliamentarians who see the big picture and are prepared to put their heads together to come up with better legislation by taking the time that is needed.

Tme allocation is in no one’s interest here. I very much regret that the current government has brought it in now, for the ninth time. Again, for those who live in glass houses, I will remind them that it was 100 times that time allocation was brought in during the 41st Parliament.

I urge the Liberals in this place to consider what the threshold is against which they strive to achieve their goals. I would urge them not to think that their goal is to be better on any issue—the environment, climate, the treatment of veterans, criminal justice, Bill C-51, parliamentary decorum, the use of time allocation—than what Prime Minister Harper did. I want to set a really ambitious goal for them: Do better than what Prime Minister Mulroney did.

Obviously, I did not agree with everything done by the Progressive Conservative majority back in the 1980s, but I think if members go back and look at the use of time allocation, the number of whipped votes, and the treatment of issues and use that as a benchmark, they will find that they have to set their sights a good deal higher than trying to do better than the prime minister in the 41st Parliament.

Turning to the specifics of Bill C-26, I wish it did include—

I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, but I am having trouble speaking through the noise.

I wish that Bill C-26 dealt with another pension issue. There is an omission, and I hope that the Minister of Finance will get back to it in the spring budget. It is an egregious situation that affects a minority of pensioners for sure, but they are the very people we should do the most to honour. These are people receiving pensions who, through the Superannuation Act, are deprived of spousal benefits if they are veterans, retired service persons, retired RCMP members, and other retired categories of public servants and have remarried over the age of 60. They are deprived of spousal benefits on their death.

This is a terrible injustice to a lot of constituents in my community of Saanich—Gulf Islands. I know that a lot of other members of Parliament are aware of this. It is due to the most anachronistic of all pension rules. It goes back to the Boer War. It was called the “gold-digger” clause.

I do not mind saying that I am 62. I do not feel that I am so far along with one foot in the grave that the gold-digger clause makes sense. The gold-digger clause in the Boer War was that if a soldier came back from the Boer War and remarried over the age of 60, the only possible reason anyone would have married one of these soldiers would have been to get their hands on their benefits when they passed away.

Times have changed. Very healthy, vigorous adults who have a lot of life left get married over the age of 60. I have one such serviceman in my riding who received the highest medals of honour, including the Legion of Honour from the French government, for his service in the Second World War. He is now over 90, and every day I see him, he reminds me to please do something about this terrible injustice. He does not want to leave his wife destitute. Therefore, I flag that again for the Minister of Finance.

Overall, the Green Party supports the bill. We support the fact that it is expanding the most reliable and consistent way in which we can ensure that seniors in Canada have adequate savings for retirement. The Canada pension plan is the most reliable and the most sustainable of what is available.

RRSPs, for example, are a good program. I know many of us will pay into it, but the registered retirement savings plan appeals primarily to those Canadians who already have discretionary income to put into an RRSP. That taxable benefit to higher wage earners costs the tax system quite a lot of money. If we look at it as a public policy question, we see it is not clear that the RRSPs make sense.

The Canada pension plan makes abundant sense, and we know right now that two-thirds of Canadians no longer have any workplace pension. Workplace pensions are disappearing. More and more Canadians have inadequate savings for retirement, so the workplace pension plans are shrinking at the same time as we have what is sometimes called the grey tsunami. We know we have a demographic with many more people about to enter retirement.

By the way, I commend the government for returning the retirement age to 65; that is commendable. However, we do need to enhance CPP benefits. There is no question that overall the bill is going in the right direction. We know that right now the median value of retirement assets for Canadians between age 55 and 64, with no accrued employer pension benefit, is under $4,000. We know we need to augment the CPP. Only one in five Canadians have adequately saved for their retirement.

It is all well and good for some members of this place to say that Canadians should plan ahead and it is their responsibility to figure out how to save for their retirement. This is a very small cost of a public program, with the cost split between the employer and the employee, to make sure that people have adequate savings for retirement. The reason people do not put aside money for retirement is generally that they lack disposable income because the other costs of daily life eclipse their ability to set aside money for retirement.

I urge my friends on the other side of the House to embrace expansion of CPP. I agree with the analysis of the Canadian Association of Retired Persons. It does really good work on public policy and commends the bill as well.

That brings me to the point where I wish we had time in this place and I wish the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development could have provided, at committee, by accepting amendments, a fix to what looked initially like an oversight, and that is the dropout provisions for disability and child rearing to ensure gender parity. Both ministers have said that they can fix this problem by renegotiating terms with the provinces. I wish they had fixed it while they had the chance at committee. They still have the opportunity to fix it, if they are willing to accept amendments when we get through this process. However, at this point there has been no sign of a willingness to accept amendments, and we are left hoping for public pressure to continue what both ministers say they are willing to do by changing the terminology in the negotiated agreements with the provinces.

It is very hard to understand how this oversight has not been fixed already. The conclusion that my friends in the NDP have reached appears an inescapable conclusion. On the evidence we have before us, it appears that the bill will disadvantage women for no apparent reason other than an oversight. I did have a brief moment to discuss this with the Minister of Finance earlier this morning, and his position is that to do what the NDP asks now would result in a transfer of wealth from poorer women to wealthier women because of the way the calculation works. Unfortunately, I do not have the full facts on this. I had a 30-second conversation with the Minister of Finance, which is what happens when there is time allocation and inadequate time for debate.

I am left with the dreadful conclusion that, with the chance to bring in a really strong bill that would have no negatives attached to it, which is what Bill C-26 was when I first read it, it needs to be fixed. The NDP spotted this problem. I commend the NDP for spotting it. With that, I will close.