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Government House Leader Peter Van Loan responds during Question Period in the Commons on Oct. 21, 2011. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Government House Leader Peter Van Loan responds during Question Period in the Commons on Oct. 21, 2011. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Citing 'enthusiastic support,' Tories move to cap pension bill debate Add to ...

The Conservative government moved Tuesday to limit debate on a pension reform bill that will create new Pooled Retirement Pension Plans.

Government House Leader Peter Van Loan argued the move to invoke a process called “time allocation” was justified because the Conservatives won the last election by campaigning on the need for PRPPs.

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He said there is “enthusiastic support” for this new pension option, yet the opposition is focused on delay tactics.

“Why are they so determined to keep Canadians from having that option?” he argued in a special half-hour debate triggered by the motion. “It [time allocation]allows for debate to continue but it ensures we will actually make decisions.”

Mr. Van Loan made the accusations of delay in spite of the fact that the government only opened debate on the bill for the first time Monday.

The opposition NDP and Liberals attacked the move as “a disgrace,” arguing that it marks the 13th time the majority Conservative government has limited debate through time allocation or closure motions.

With the bells calling MPs to vote on the motion, NDP MP Chris Charlton held a hurried news conference to announce that – as opposition whip – she would be refusing to perform her ceremonial duties of walking down the aisle with Mr. Van Loan to kick off the vote as a form of protest.

She said it was “absolutely ridiculous” for the government to move time allocation after one day of debate. Ms. Charlton claimed the move is connected to controversy over Mr. Harper’s speech last week in which he signalled changes were coming to Old Age Security.

“The government has failed Canadian seniors and is now talking about gutting OAS,” she said.

Liberal MP Judy Sgro argued that opposition MPs were also elected and have a right to debate pension reform.

“We were elected and our job is democracy,” she said. “It’s a slap in the face to every Canadian.”

The government motion would limit second reading debate to two more days before a vote would take place to send the bill to committee. It would then be debated at committee, and then again in the House of Commons at report stage and third reading. If passed by the House, the legislation would be debated again in the Senate.

The debate over PRPPs comes as pension reform has suddenly jumped to the top of the political agenda in Ottawa. Prime Minister Stephen Harper surprised many last week by signalling changes are needed to Old Age Security to ensure that it is sustainable.

The federal government has been studying all aspects of Canada’s pension and retirement savings options for several years now. Some of that research noted that many middle-income Canadians are not saving enough to maintain their current standard of living in retirement.

The government argues that PRPPs will help address this by targeting employees of small businesses that do not currently offer workplace pensions. These small businesses would auto-enroll new hires into the system, though workers would have the right to opt out. Federal rules would not force employers to contribute to their workforce PRPPs, though provinces could make such contributions mandatory.

The contributions to PRPPs would be managed by the private sector at “low cost,” but the legislation does not define what low cost will mean in practice.

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