If I may reply, that is a response to an order paper question that I filed on this point. I filed it after the committee meeting that the motion refers to because I didn't get an answer from the President of the Treasury Board.
What I would say is that there is a basis for calculating what the cost would be. I understand what the legislation says. I think what you'll find if you talk to those workers is that they're saying this arrangement worked well for the last three years. Also, of course, in Parliament we have the luxury of being able to amend legislation, so the fact that current laws prohibit something doesn't mean that we can't allow it by amending the legislation.
What they're interested to know is what the cost would be, because if it's a really high cost, then it might be unreasonable to expect Canadian taxpayers to subsidize their ongoing participation in the public service plan. Their estimation—they hired an actuary—is that the cost is actually very low. Government presumably has a sense of what it has cost over the last three years to keep them in the plan under the current provisions of the public service pension act. They'd just like to know what it has been costing the government for the last three years. There is a way to figure out what it's been costing per year for the last three years.
It's really hard to believe that the government went ahead and made a decision after negotiating with them for two years and, I might add, giving them the impression that this might actually be possible. They've started a campaign to try to keep themselves in the pension plan only in the last couple of months, when they started getting that answer instead of the answer they had been getting for the last couple of years, which was that this might actually be possible. I think they feel a bit led on, but they still want to work constructively with government because they are really eager to stay in the pension plan.
It's not just for themselves. I think it's also important to say that where I'm from in Manitoba, we have an AECL site that's about to move into a decommissioning phase. A lot of those workers have worked and lived in Pinawa for a long time, but some of them are 15 years, say, into the plan. Instead of sticking around for the decommissioning, they're starting to say that maybe they need to be looking elsewhere for work, and maybe they want to be somewhere else. I think that losing that kind of site-specific knowledge on the cusp of the decommissioning process isn't very good.
There's a question, I think, of a moral obligation to these folks who are in a pension plan and would like to stay in it, but there's also a logistical consideration, which is whether it makes sense to be losing people with experience and site-specific knowledge on the cusp of important projects. All they're asking for is to know what the government estimates the cost has been over the last three years to keep them in the plan, even though they weren't technically working for the government. Even though they were performing all the same work on all the same sites with all the same equipment, they were no longer technically working for government. Nevertheless, they were still in the plan.
All we're asking for is to know what the government thinks that cost has been over the last three years so that they can go back to government with a proposal. That may include some legislative amendments, but I don't think that's the end of the world. We were just talking about legislative amendments to change the control structure for votes, and nobody said that because the current law doesn't permit it there's no way we could possibly do it. Instead we had a good conversation about what kinds of amendments we might make to the law in order to enable something good to happen.
They're just asking for what it has cost. We've been doing it for the last three years. I think it's reasonable. When Treasury Board was here in November, I think they more or less agreed that it was reasonable. They said that they were looking into getting those numbers and that as soon as they had them they would share them with the committee. It's hard for me to believe the government made that decision without having the numbers, so presumably they have them. The workers would just like to have that information shared with them so that they can try to work with government to find some kind of solution.
I felt the need to respond to Madam Ratansi's citing of that order paper question. It's true that I did ask that question. I've asked that question in many forms, as many as I possibly can, and as soon as I have the answer, I can stop asking the question.