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Hon. Yonah Martin moved second reading of Bill C-18, An Act to amend the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act, to validate certain calculations and to amend other Acts.

She said: Honourable senators, I am pleased to rise today to speak at second reading of Bill C-18, An Act to amend the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act, to validate certain calculations and to amend other acts. This bill makes several technical amendments to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act. The key changes grant authorities necessary to expand existing provisions relating to elections for prior service and to introduce pension transfer agreements. Other related amendments clarify and improve administrative aspects of the existing act, such as those related to part-time service and the cost of purchasing prior service with a police force that was taken over by the RCMP.

The new elective service provisions will also allows eligible pension plan members, both police officers and civilian members of the RCMP, to elect for prior service with other Canadian pension plans. The introduction of pension transfer agreements will allow the RCMP to enter into former arrangements with other Canadian pension plans to permit the transfer of pension credits into and out of the RCMP Pension Plan.

Once implemented with regulations, these changes will modernize the RCMP Pension Plan and bring it into line with the federal Public Service Pension Plan and other Canadian plans that allow previous service under other plans to be recognized under the current plan.

The new portability provisions will offer more flexibility and will provide each category of employee within the RCMP with similar pension options. Under the existing legislation, the almost 24,000 RCMP members whose pensions are governed under the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act do not have the same choices as their 6,300 colleagues whose pensions are governed by the Public Service Superannuation Act.

The Public Service Superannuation Act recognizes prior services with other eligible pension plans, including service with other levels of government and private sector employers. It also has more than 70 pension transfer agreements in place.

However, the police officers and civilian members of the RCMP whose pensions fall under the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act do not enjoy the same level of pension portability. Bill C-18 proposes to address this inequality.

Recruitment has been designated as one of the RCMP's internal management priorities. The ability to transfer pension credits from a former employer's pension plan to the RCMP Pension Plan would assist in the promotion of the RCMP as an employer of choice for both the police officers and civilian members of the force.

Expanded pension portability options would also have positive implications for the RCMP Lateral Entry Program, which was highlighted in a November 2005 report of the Auditor General of Canada as an option that should be considered more fully by the RCMP in its efforts to build capacity. This program allows police officers from other forces in Canada to join the RCMP after shorter and less costly training periods than other recruits. The program can become more attractive to potential lateral entrants once pension credits with a former employer are transferable to the RCMP pension plan.

Honourable senators, I would like to address a few concerns that were raised during the study of Bill C-18 by the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates. Some of these issues were also raised at second and third reading of the bill.

The first relates to the fact that the six-month training period for RCMP cadets is not recognized as pensionable service. This was raised as an issue because recruit training in some other police forces is pensionable and would be recognized under the RCMP Pension Plan if the previous service is transferred.

The service is not recognized as pensionable because cadets at the RCMP Training Academy in Regina are not sworn in as members of the RCMP until they successfully complete their training and graduate. The RCMP Pension Plan applies to all members of the force who work a required minimum number of hours per week. As cadets are not members, they cannot be covered under the plan.

Since the training period cannot be recognized as current service, the RCMP fully considered whether it could be purchased as a prior service event. In this regard, the RCMP Pension Plan, like all registered plans, must comply with strict requirements of the Income Tax Act and its corresponding regulations. The tax rules make eligibility for coverage under a registered pension plan dependent upon employment. Consequently, since cadets are not hired as employees, they cannot qualify for a pension entitlement under the RCMP pension plan.

This issue is important, but it is an employment issue, not a pension issue that can be dealt with under the scope of the bill before us today. The RCMP staff relations representatives have committed to raising the concern through appropriate channels within the RCMP.

Other topics of debate included the issue over the right of RCMP members to unionization and collective bargaining, benefit entitlements payable upon the death of a member, the wage roll-back for RCMP officers and benefits for RCMP members under the Veterans' Independence Program administered by Veterans Affairs Canada. These issues are all sensitive and important, but they are also issues that are unrelated to Bill C-18 and must be dealt with in a more appropriate forum.

Honourable senators may know that the new elective service and pension portability options supported by Bill C-18 were intended to be put in place following legislation that received Royal Assent in 1999. We have the opportunity today to set things right and provide the authorities missing from the original legislation to bring these provisions into operation.

Like many employers in the country, the RCMP faces an aging workforce and tough competition from other employers looking to attract the best and brightest to their ranks. About 700 members retire each year from the RCMP. To fill their place and meet future operational requirements, the RCMP must attract and retain a record number of recruits. While it is only one piece of the solution, pension portability can help to attract experienced police officers and civilian members, and make the RCMP an employer of choice.

I encourage honourable senators to demonstrate their support of the RCMP by supporting Bill C-18.

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