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Thank you for visiting my website. I hope this offers you useful information on the work I am doing as Wascana’s Member of Parliament and Deputy Leader of the Liberal Opposition in the House of Commons.
If you have any questions or comments about any federal program or service, or need help dealing with any department or agency of the Government of Canada, please don’t hesitate to contact my Constituency Office. It is an honour to serve our community.
Lester Pearson was a remarkable Canadian. We first came to know him as a proficient global statesman, skilled in the diplomacy of multilateralism. He assisted at the birth of the United Nations, invented the concept of peace-keeping, and won the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1963, he became Prime Minister of Canada.
Five years in that job, Mr. Pearson never once had a majority in Parliament, but still he led one of the most productive governments in Canadian history.
This past February, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Canada’s Red Maple Leaf Flag — one of Mr. Pearson’s proudest accomplishments. Next year, we’ll mark the 50th anniversary of national medicare, another Pearsonian legacy.
And this week, the legislation that originally created the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) will turn 50 years old. It passed the House of Commons on March 29th, 1965, was approved in the Senate on April 1st and received Royal Assent on April 3rd. The CPP and its Quebec counterpart came into effect on January 1st, 1966.
The stated purpose of the Canada Pension Plan was to ensure all working Canadians have an opportunity to retire in dignity. It builds on basic Old Age Security to achieve greater social justice linked to progress in the economy.
Established by federal-provincial agreement, the CPP is a mandatory contributory plan into which all employees and employers pay regular premiums. That money is invested to generate the returns necessary to cover the plan’s benefits. As such, CPP contributions are essential long-term investments in portable retirement incomes for a large portion of Canadians, supporting their future living standards.
That sounds like common sense today, but 50 years ago it took extraordinary vision, diplomacy, negotiation and persistence to get it done. National Health and Welfare Minister, Judy LaMarsh, was a dynamo at the centre of the action. Quebec Premier Jean Lesage was pivotal, along with Ontario’s John Robarts. Stanley Knowles and Paul Martin Sr. were constant Parliamentary advocates. And Lester Pearson provided the driving determination.
The CPP was an historic accomplishment!
But by the 1990’s — with longer life expectancies, aging demographics and escalating unfunded liabilities — doubts had arisen about the future soundness of the Canada Pension Plan. Would it run out of money? Was the investment strategy getting adequate returns? Were the benefits supportable? Was the administration strong, efficient and independent? The plan clearly required major renovations to save it, and that would take federal-provincial consensus, which is always hard to get.
As part of a multi-pronged effort to restore fiscal integrity to the Government of Canada, then-federal Finance Minister Paul Martin Jr. decided to tackle the CPP challenge. He found a key ally in the Provincial Treasurer of Alberta, Jim Dinning. Ontario Finance Minister Ernie Eves was also helpful. Together, they built the business case, the social consensus and the national momentum to rejuvenate the CPP.
It’s an interesting historical footnote that saving the plan earned strong support across Canada — except for provincial NDP governments in British Columbia and Saskatchewan, and Stephen Harper and his Reform (now Conservative) Party.
Today, the CPP ranks as one of only a handful of successful public pension plans worldwide. Its administration is competent and cost-effective. It’s a distinct fund, independently managed according to investment policies that are free from political interference. It has a proven track-record as an international leader in the pension industry, generating world-class rates of return. External actuaries have recently judged the CPP to be sound and secure for another 75 years (the maximum actuaries will go).
Because it’s been neglected for the past 9 years, the CPP is labouring under one major limitation. The maximum regular benefit a contributor can receive is just over $12,000 per year. The average is just more than half that. Those amounts are far from sufficient to ensure retirees can maintain their quality of life, without other significant savings.
But the typical 35-year-old today is saving less than half of what their parents did at that age. Three-quarters of those working in the private sector don’t have access to an employer-sponsored pension plan. And of those who are within 10 years of retirement, fewer than one-third have $100,000 or more set aside to sustain themselves. Another third have no retirement savings at all.
While they have tinkered with various private sector pension adjustments, the Harper government has not been helpful in dealing with basic retirement income insecurity.
They eliminated previous investment tools like Income Trusts, destroying about $25-billion in value formerly in the savings accounts of some 2-million Canadians. They are delaying eligibility for Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement by two years, which will take nearly $30,000 from the lowest-income and most vulnerable seniors — most often women living alone. And Mr. Harper has vetoed every suggestion to upgrade the CPP.
All of which is to say: Canada has big challenges to face in the immediate future if we’re to honour Lester Pearson’s ambition of a fair, efficient, adequate system of retirement income for all Canadians.
As glum news continues to cascade over the Canadian economy, federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver never seems to be available to answer any questions about his stewardship.
He’s frequently spotted in Ottawa, but hasn’t stood up to account for himself in Question Period since March 10th. In fact, Mr. Oliver has answered questions in the House of Commons on only four days in all of 2015 — three of those back in January.
His muzzling is quite deliberate. He is not a convincing spokesperson for the government’s ineffectual policies — he’s not adept at making silk purses out of sow’s ears. Furthermore, with the Conservative economic record in tatters, the government wants to talk about anything but the nation’s finances. That’s why Mr. Oliver has been benched and you hear non-stop about fear, hate, war and terror.
When you have counted almost exclusively on the energy sector to drive the national economy, and prices in that sector collapse in half, you would think the Finance Minister would have something to say — something to ease anxiety and build confidence.
When the Bank of Canada calls the situation “unambiguously negative” and takes monetary policy in a direction completely opposite to the government’s fiscal policy, you would think the Finance Minister would have something to say.
When that monetary policy could be contributing to household debt loads that are already near 165% of disposable incomes and global commentators are warning of a risky housing bubble in several parts of Canada, you would think the Finance Minister would have something to say.
When you’re already suffering the worst economic growth record in 80 years, and all the major forecasters — from the private banks to the Bank of Canada, the IMF and the OECD — are projecting even slower growth immediately ahead, you would think the Finance Minister would have something to say.
When the pace of new job creation is at its lowest ebb (outside of actual recessions) in all the nearly 40-years that records have been kept, and job quality is the worst it’s been in a quarter of a century, you would think the Finance Minister would have something to say.
When youth unemployment remains at double-digit levels nearly six years after the last recession ended, and there are 166,000 fewer jobs for young Canadians than before that recession began, you would think the Finance Minister would have something to say.
When, among those now nearing retirement, more than two-thirds have less than $100,000 saved-up to sustain themselves and one-third have no retirement savings at all, you would think the Finance Minister would have something to say.
But he remains tightly muzzled, just as the government remains in deep denial about the economic realities confronting Canada’s middle-class, and all those working so hard just to get there.
What’s required is an urgent federal budget investing in the real drivers of economic growth and jobs — namely, transformative infrastructure, higher learning and skills, innovation, effective trade and marketing, and environmental credibility that earns greater market access.
Instead, the Harper government is obsessed with one thing only — an Income Splitting tax break profoundly skewed to the wealthy. It will cost over $2-billion every year and benefit fewer than 15% of Canadian households. The biggest winners are those with incomes of $233,000. It worsens inequality and does nothing for growth.
No wonder the Finance Minister is speechless.
At a time when Canadians need some competent economic leadership, federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver is mostly absent from the House of Commons these days. And when he does show up, he seems both puzzled and muzzled – allowing junior Ministers to answer finance questions with meaningless “talking points” written in the Prime Minister’s Office.
That’s a serious problem for Canada. A sign of weakness. The Finance department has been rendered totally subservient to the partisan requirements of the PMO. There’s no sense of confidence in the Minister. His job is just to be the mouthpiece for whatever Mr. Harper wants said. It’s quite a pathetic spectacle.
On one occasion when he was allowed to speak for himself last week, Mr. Oliver went on a strange tirade against the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. The CIBC had just contradicted the Harper government on Canada’s job market, pointing out serious problems of poor growth and declining quality. Mr. Oliver depicted the CIBC as some rogue outlier, practising “sham” economics.
The trouble for Mr. Oliver is that many other experts agree with the CIBC – including the TD Bank, the Bank of Canada, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Morgan Stanley, York University, the Parliamentary Budget Officer and others. They can’t all be a sham! Mr. Oliver embarrassed himself.
At the same time, his excuse for punting the federal budget into April or May or later – forcing Canadians to go through more than an entire fiscal year without a budget plan – began to blow up in his face. He said the delay was all because of the uncertainty about oil prices.
But the provincial governments of both Saskatchewan and Alberta are more fiscally dependent on oil revenues than is the federal government. Yet Saskatchewan will be able to table its 2015 budget this Wednesday (March 18th) and Alberta will do so on March 26th. If they can get their acts together, why can’t Canada?
This point was also underscored last week by all the major private sector economists who advise the federal Minister. They say the global market price for oil is now as stable and predictable as it’s going to get, so there is no credible reason for any further stalling.
The real problem is that economic realities just don’t fit well with the political argument Mr. Harper wants to present in this election year.
He wants to say that everything is rosy, that he’s done a great job, and now is the time for big tax cuts for the wealthiest of Canadians. But none of that is true.
His own projections were forecasting a declining economic growth rate for Canada, even before the drop in oil markets. As the CIBC and others pointed out, the job market is not generating either the quantity or the quality of new employment that Canadians need.
A big majority of middle-class Canadians, and all those working hard just to get to the middle-class, are feeling more and more insecure. They’re worried about the daily cost-of-living, their household debts, the high costs of higher learning for their kids, the inadequacy of their own retirement savings.
And Mr. Harper is trying to tell them that they’ll just have to accept all that – because now is the time for a big tax cut that will benefit only 14% of Canadian households (86% can never qualify). It will cost more than $12-billion over the coming budgetary planning cycle, with the biggest gains going to those with income over $233,000.
But no tax fairness for the middle-class. Nothing to drive greater economic growth or more and better jobs. Nothing to bolster community infrastructure, or greater access to post-secondary education, or science and innovation. Nothing to correct Mr. Harper’s chronic trade deficit. Nothing to ensure we have the environmental credibility necessary to secure access to global markets for our valuable resources.
Considering all of that – maybe it’s understandable why the Finance Minister has nothing much to say.
In a series of recent questions in the House of Commons, I’ve contrasted the economic success that Canada experienced in the nine years before Stephen Harper […]
Stephen Harper seemed distracted in the House of Commons last week. In response to pointed questions about weak job creation and poor job quality, he rattled […]
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