Government to hurry debate on pooled pension plan

The government has served notice it will speed debate on a pooled pension plan bill to move it quickly to the committee stage, as pensions remained a hot topic on the first day back in the House for MPs after a six-week hiatus.

Government proceeds with pooled registered pension plan bill, as MP pensions remain an issue

Government House leader Peter Van Loan speaks to reporters in the foyer of the House of Commons as MPs returned to Ottawa after a six-week break. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The government has served notice that it intends to limit debate on its pooled pension bill to three days and it is expected to move a time allocation motion on Tuesday.

Government House Leader Peter Van Loan gave notice of the time allocation motion late Monday and it calls for no more than two further days of debate on the bill after the motion is passed. He said earlier in the day that the government wants debate on the bill to be wrapped up Wednesday. 

MPs returned to the House of Commons Monday with pensions for both workers and MPs at issue following a six-week hiatus from Parliament. 

The government has proposed a bill to create pooled registered pension plans for people who are self-employed or not covered by a workplace pension. The PRPPs, which would be defined contribution plans and not guarantee specific returns like defined benefit plans do, would let people opt out but require employers to automatically enrol all employees.

The time allocation motion could be introduced as early as Tuesday morning and MPs will debate it for 30 minutes before voting on it.

MPs also faced a discussion about their own pensions after news taxpayers contribute $5 for every $1 MPs pay into the plan.

Conservatives warning of cuts

Meanwhile, Conservative ministers have warned of major cuts to the federal budget as they look to bring it back into balance.

NDP caucus chair Peter Julian said the government is cutting services low- and middle-income Canadians use while planning to build new prisons and allowing a planned corporate tax cut to go ahead earlier this month.

Both the government and opposition appear to be focusing on retirement income and pensions as the federal budget approaches  — likely in the first week or two of March.

Committee of MPs looking at MP pensions

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has also said it's time to look at MP pensions, with Van Loan pointing to the secret Board of Internal Economy. The board manages House of Commons administration issues.

The board is made up of MPs from all parties. Its meetings are held behind closed doors and few details are released on the discussions and decisions they make.

Van Loan said he hopes opposition MPs will co-operate with the government on trimming the pensions. Julian said the NDP doesn't believe it should be left up to MPs to decide on their own pensions, and advocated sending the issue to an independent panel. 


Which issue is most important? Take our survey.

Van Loan briefly outlined the government's agenda for the next few months of this session of Parliament.

He said the bill to end the gun registry will pass by mid-February, and wants to see the bill updating Canada's copyright laws pass by the end of April.

The government is also due to pass its omnibus crime bill, after committing to get it through the House within 100 sitting days after the election.

PRPPs like buying in bulk

Minister of State for Finance Ted Menzies told the House of Commons the pooled registered pension plan would make Canada's retirement income system — already "the envy of the world" — even stronger.

He said the plan is particularly significant for small and medium-sized businesses and will provide them with a low-cost and accessible option for retirement savings for their employees.  

"Basically, Canadians will be buying in bulk," Menzies said, adding that Canadians will end up with "more money left in their pockets."

NDP MP Wayne Marston, the party's pensions critic, said the bill was hastily put together and is a half-measure in lieu of real action.

The NDP won't support the bill because Canadians don't need another private plan and voluntary plans haven't worked in the past, he said. Marston says expanding the government-funded pension plan would cost about the same.

"There's room for action on the Canada Pension Plan," Marston said. 

Liberal MP Judy Sgro said the pooled registered plans won't help the people who need them the most, and will be subject to the volatility of the stock market.

The government should seek to lift seniors out of poverty, she said, and supplement or enhance the CPP instead of balancing its books on the backs of seniors.