Alistair spoke in the House of Commons about the governments CPP changes

Mr. Speaker, as the member well knows, Canada's retirement system was founded on three pillars, and this bill will be of great assistance with respect to the pillar of personal savings.

I want to look at the situation of women. We know today that the probability of a 71-year-old woman reaching her nineties is much higher than it was even

20 years ago.

Shifting the conversation to Bill C-26, I realize that the Conservatives stand against this bill, but it more than likely has the votes to pass in this House. Would the member not agree that since the bill is going to pass, the government should at least amend its own bill to fix the provisions that unfairly penalize women with respect to that all-important pillar of government pensions for retirement security?


November 16th, 6 p.m.

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate the member for Edmonton West for bringing the bill forward. I am sad to hear from the parliamentary secretary that the government will be opposing the bill. When we look at the three pillars that Canada's retirement system is based on, we know that workplace pensions are really the pillar that is suffering. Therefore, the government has to look at the other two. They are the ones where the government can have a real influence.

To the government's credit, it is bringing in Bill C-26, and it has made some amendments to the guaranteed income supplement, which deals with that third pillar of personal savings. If we allow seniors, especially in this unstable retirement environment, more freedom to choose how and when they withdraw their retirement savings, that is all the better for them.

The bill is obviously not a panacea for the difficult issues facing our seniors today, but private members' bills have to be very careful. To succeed, they have to focus on one little item where they can make a real difference. It is really up to the government to do the rest. We will certainly be keeping our eye on the Liberal government to ensure it does that.

There may be some watching this debate who are unclear on the difference between RRSPs and RRIFs. We know that RRSPs give everyone the ability to save for their retirement, as long as they have contribution room available and based on their earnings. A RIFF is used as the fund people can withdraw from during their retirement. However, there are mandatory minimum withdrawals that a person must make every year.

The rules for these mandatory minimums were created back in 1978. While I acknowledge there certainly have been some modifications over the years, basically we have old rules that are not very well adapted to today's society and today's reality in which many retirees are living. Seniors are now living much longer than they were in the 1970s. Now RRIF holders face the very real likelihood that they will run out of money in the later stages of their retirement. When that pillar of personal savings is taken out, a person's quality of life can take a significant downhill turn. We certainly want to ensure, through this bill, that we address that very issue.

I venture to say that all members of Parliament in the chamber believe Canada's seniors deserve to retire in dignity and that the government should be doing everything it can within its power to make that a possibility. I strongly encourage support of the bill at second reading so we can at least bring it to committee for further study and hear from expert witnesses. We should at least do the bill that justice.

This has been a battle the New Democrats have been waging for some time now.

I would like to point out for hon. members that it was in the previous Parliament that our pensions critic brought a motion before the House to review the retirement income fund mandatory minimum withdrawal threshold.

That was John Rafferty, the former member of Parliament for Thunder Bay—Rainy River. His Motion No. 595 stated:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should review the Registered Retirement Income Fund mandatory minimum withdrawal thresholds and amend them to ensure that they do not unduly force seniors to exhaust their savings too quickly.

The NDP has a history of supporting the intent of the bill. I am very happy to be offering my support of this bill at second reading. I believe this issue deserves further study.

Our party ran on support for any action that would address mandatory minimum withdrawals from RRIFs, so the ultimate aim is to ensure that seniors are not outliving their savings. We have supported this because of the very fact that if we follow the current withdrawal schedule, we will have many retirees with average savings, which are not very high, running out of money when they are in their 90s. No one in the House should support that.

If we look at the future, it basically means people who have saved diligently all their lives could have their quality of life significantly reduced later in retirement. When the income they were relying on from their personal savings suddenly dries up, because they had to follow that mandatory withdrawal schedule, suddenly they become reliant on just the government pension system. Of course, the guaranteed income supplement will respond accordingly in some way.

However, removing one of those pillars, such as personal savings, could have a very drastic influence on someone. I would argue that for a senior who has made it to the age of 90 and beyond, this is the last thing we need to do to them at that particular age. They have enough concerns when they are in their 90s, they do not have to suddenly worry about their income.

When we look at Canada's demographics, we have a real tsunami heading our way. In the next 20 years, the population of Canada's seniors is set to double. Time is of the essence. This is the time when we seriously need to be bringing forward proposals. To the government's credit, they have done some but I would argue this particular measure by the member for Edmonton West is something we could also be doing for that critical third pillar of personal savings.

We know that the probability of a woman who is now 71 living into her mid-90s has basically doubled. The same rate for men has actually tripled.

We basically have 265,000 Canadians right now who are in their 90s. By 2021, just a few short years away, we are going to add another 100,000 Canadians to that number. I think that mandatory minimum RRIF withdrawals are becoming increasingly irrelevant as women and men are living much longer and working more years.

This bill does not address everything. On this side, the NDP will be working hard. We will continue to work hard to improve the lives of our seniors. We will support this bill, but we think that much more needs to be done so that workers can retire with adequate incomes. More importantly, we need to make sure that seniors have access to the services they need to maintain their quality of life.

As I go on, I want to talk a little about some of the other areas where I think seniors need considerable help. I want to give a nod to my colleague, the member for London—Fanshawe for the incredible work that she has done on behalf of seniors, on the national seniors' strategy. It is a real honour to sort of inherit the mantle of the NDP seniors' critic. It is like Isaac Newton once famously said:

If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.

Certainly, the member has done such incredible work, it has allowed me to build on that base.

We know that more than a quarter of a million seniors are living below the poverty line, and that without concrete action, many more are going to fall into poverty in the future. We need that national seniors' strategy that my colleague from London—Fanshawe has brought in. It will ensure that seniors have access to high-quality and affordable health care and housing, and additionally improve the financial security, quality of life, and the integration of seniors within our society. This is really such a multi-faceted issue, looking at the issues that seniors face.

We certainly want to see some measure on home care. We do not want to see the same funding proposal kept that the previous Conservative government brought in. We would urge the government to look at that escalator to make sure it does not drop down to 3%, but to keep it at the current 6%. Health care budgets are drastically affecting our provinces' ability to deliver services. Now is the time for the federal government to take real leadership on this issue, to reinstate that funding that was cut under the previous government.

We need a system of a national pharmacare plan. That is one of the greatest costs that our seniors face. We do not want our seniors to have to choose between food and proper prescription medication. We also need to have real food security. One of the fundamentals of healthy living is making sure that proper, nutritious meals are available for our seniors, as well as affordable housing.

On the pension system as a whole, while I appreciate the 10% increase to the guaranteed income supplement, it really took a fairly small number of seniors off the poverty rolls. Much more needs to be done.

In conclusion, this is also a good time to remind the government that their members need to keep the promise that was made in the March 2016 budget and introduce that seniors price index. That seniors price index needs to be introduced so that we make sure our old age security and guaranteed income supplement are keeping up with the rising costs. I certainly hope to see some news from them soon.

In conclusion, I will be voting for this bill to go to committee for further study, but we must never rest until every senior is out of poverty and can retire with dignity.