The following article was published in the St. John’s Telegram on Saturday, July 18, 2009:

As the Chair of the St. John’s-Avalon Chapter of CARP, an organization dedicated to advancing the interests of aging Canadians, I wonder why our federal Conservative government has been so slow to address the alarming gaps in pension and retirement security that the economic recession has exposed. I believe that the decision to establish a federal-provincial research group to report by the end of the year on the adequacy of retirement income should not be construed as action. In fact, I believe that our federal government has been engaging in serial stalling by proposing modest tinkering with the Canada Pension Plan at a time when Canadians have been hit over the head with the inadequacy of private and public sector pensions in Canada.

The Conservative government insists that it has taken appropriate action. The federal Finance department has indicated that a federal-provincial research group on pensions has been formed with the mandate to table by year-end a “balanced package of proposed amendments” to legislation and rules governing federally regulated private pensions. Some MPs have stated that reforms cannot come soon enough and the House of Commons approved a motion that called for reforms to ensure retirement income sustainability. The motion advocated beefing up CPP/QPP, OAS and GIS and establishing a self-financing pension insurance program to ensure the viability of workplace-sponsored plans in tough economic times.

The proposed CPP changes, which would need to be approved by Parliament and two thirds of the provinces with two-thirds of the country’s population, are designed to encourage Canadians to work beyond age 60. The proposals, to be phased in gradually beginning in 2011, would allow Canadians at age 60 and older to work and draw CPP benefits at the same time, ending the requirement that they remain out of the workforce for two months before beginning to collect.

Those who begin collecting benefits at 60, however, will take a minor financial hit. Their benefits will be reduced by 36 per cent instead of the current 60 per cent. They also would be required to continue making CPP contributions. This would be voluntary for those 65 and older, but employers of those opting to continue paying CPP would be required to contribute. The big reward is reserved for Canadians who wait until age 70 to begin drawing CPP. They would see their benefits boosted by 42 per cent, up from the current bump of 30 per cent.

The proposed CPP changes are a “drop in the bucket,” considering the width and depth of the pension problem. What is needed is a national summit on pension reform, an idea the Harper government has so far declined to embrace. We therefore call on our local elected officials at all levels of government to support this call for a national Pension Summit to address the problems identified for the benefit of all Canadians and not just for petty political reasons.