OTTAWA – POLITICS – Two weeks ago I was very humbled and honoured to have been appointed the New Democrat Critic for Pensions by our leader Tom Mulcair. It is a heavy responsibility and one that dovetails with the local concerns of many constituents in Thunder Bay – Rainy River.
The starting point for my work as the New Democrat Critic for Pensions is my belief that each and every Canadian by virtue of our citizenship is entitled to a secure and dignified retirement. We work hard, play by the rules, and contribute in various ways to our nation’s social and economic success. A dignified retirement – secure access to food, shelter, clothing, and medicare as we may need it – is our base reward for contributing to the greater good throughout our lives. We care not just for ourselves, but also for our family, friends, and neighbours and they in turn care for us.
With that being said a secure and dignified retirement still eludes many Canadians. This is absolutely unacceptable in a society that is as prosperous as ours. Our pension and retirement systems are broken and leave many far behind in what should be their ‘Golden Years.’ I feel that it is my job as your Member of Parliament and the New Democrat Critic for Pensions to propose solutions to fix our pension and retirement systems and to find ways to enhance the quality of life for Canadians who are retired today and those who will retire in the future.
If you have been paying any attention to federal politics over the last decade, then you will have noticed that the NDP is the only party that believes our pension and retirement systems are broken and has made strong commitments to repair the damage done by the current and past governments. Jack Layton always understood that pension and retirement security was a fundamental issue of fairness and equality, and Tom Mulcair and all New Democrats today from coast to coast to coast continue to believe this.
In past elections we laid out realistic and affordable policies to strengthen and enhance the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) which has served us well, but which is failing to keep up to the economic realities facing future generations. While ‘Baby Boomers’ like myself can still count on a significant benefit from the CPP when we retire the increasing privatization of public services like healthcare and education will mean that our children and grandchildren will face a more uncertain future, and will have much more difficulty finding money to put aside for their retirement. Most economists agree that an improved and enhanced CPP, with modestly higher deductions today and significantly higher payouts in the future, would serve Canadians well. New Democrats share this belief, and we will also reverse the unnecessary cuts made to the Old Age Supplement (OAS) program by the Harper Conservatives which will force all Canadians to work until age 67 before collecting their retirement benefits.
Another pension related issue that has and will continue to be a very high priority for me will be the security, or rather insecurity, of various private pension plans. Many of you will recall the hardships faced by the displaced workers at AbitibiBowater a few years back. When that company entered restructuring and bankruptcy proceedings it was found that the pension plan that was supposed to be maintained by the company was underfunded by more than $1.4 billion. What was worse was that these workers had no legal recourse for recovering these lost wages since pension plan holders are relegated to the bottom of the list of creditors during restructuring and bankruptcy proceedings. As the Member of Parliament for many of these affected workers it was – and remains – my job to seek justice on their behalf and others who face similar difficulties when companies like AbitibiBowater and Nortel fail to live up to their obligations.
Strengthening and enhancing public and private pensions will be the central focus of my work as the New Democratic Critic for Pensions moving forward. New Democrats have always made this a priority, and I am proud to continue this work and I won’t stop working until all Canadians are able to enjoy a secure and dignified retirement.
John Rafferty MP
Thunder Bay Rainy River