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Professor flunks MPs on pension debate Add to ...

Professors rarely admit their homework assignment was a dud, but that's how McMaster political scientist Martin Hering is feeling.

The House of Commons scheduled a four-hour debate Tuesday evening on pension reform so that MPs could get their views on the record in advance of Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's talks next month with the provinces on measures to get Canadians saving more for retirement.

Given he is teaching a third-year course on retirement and pensions and had recently weighed in with a call for a higher retirement age, Prof. Hering asked his students to watch the exchanges live on CPAC, the Parliamentary channel.

"Since the level of debate was so disappointing, I felt bad that I asked them to watch it," said Prof. Hering, who has written a follow up note to his students, copied in part here:

"There was really nothing of note in the take-note debate on pension reform except that most MPs had decided to not attend the debate. Attendance was outrageously low: less than 20 MPs. Canada is in the midst of the biggest pension reform debate in 15 years, a month before a highly-anticipated meeting of finance ministers - and almost all MPs chose to not engage in this critical debate. Moreover, the MPs that have much knowledge in this area and could have contributed much to this debate decided to stay away from it: the finance critics of the Liberals, NDP, and the Bloc... They should have participated in this debate; this was their chance to provide input for the important meeting of finance ministers in Alberta next month - and they wasted it."

The full four-hour debate can be found transcribed in Tuesday's Hansard at the 19:15 mark.

For a flavour, here is an edited exchange between NDP MP Linda Duncan and Conservative MP Ted Menzies, the parliamentary secretary to the Finance Minister on the relationship between corporate taxes and pensions.

Ms. Duncan: "I was stunned in this House to hear members on the other side actually stand and profess that by lowering corporate taxes they are actually going to benefit the seniors. Are they suggesting that 80-year-old retired widows should apply for a job at one of these corporations because they are going to create more work? I am frankly just astounded at some of the replies that I have heard."

Mr. Menzies: "I cannot sit idly by and let a statement such as that last one go unanswered. Does that hon. member not understand who holds pension funds, who contributes to pension funds, wherein pension funds are invested, where RRSPs gain their money from? That is an incredibly naive statement for that hon. member to make... If we took the advice of the NDP and ran every company, every business, out of this country, the RRSPs would go with them. The RRSPs would be in the toilet."

Ms. Duncan: "I have to say that I am astounded by the member's comment, equally. First, he is fear mongering. I do not see any major corporations running away from Canada when they already have the lowest corporate tax rate in the western world, already a lower corporate tax rate than the United States of America. This is complete balderdash."

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