NDP proposes opt-in pension plan for Ontario

This article was originally published in the Toronto Star on January 11th, 2010, to visit their website, click here

As it faces a pension crisis that has left six out of 10 people without a plan for retirement, Ontario should adopt a provincial plan that would allow everyone to save for their golden years, the New Democrats said Monday. NDP Leader Andrea Horwath is suggesting a plan that would give retirees the security of a dependable level of income – and at least hold them over while the federal government ponders calls to expand the Canada Pension Plan.

“No matter where they work, all Ontarians should be able to retire with dignity, security and without worry,” Horwath said.

“An Ontario Retirement Plan is a sensible idea that would allow people who want to save for their retirement the chance to do so.”

The proposed plan would be publicly run and available to any working Ontario resident without a workplace pension, but it won’t be mandatory. Employees and employers would be expected to contribute every year, with rates phased in over a five-year period, although a longer phase-in might be considered for employers depending on economic circumstances. The maximum benefit of the plan would be between $600 and $700 a month, and employees would be able to take their pensions with them when they change jobs.

The proposal is based on models like OMERS (the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System), the Ontario Teachers’ Pensions Plan and the Canada Pension Plan – all of which have continued to provide reliable income despite the economic downturn.

A similar system is already in place in New Zealand, and one is being considered in the United Kingdom, Horwath said.

Experts, labour groups and some of the provinces believe the recent financial crisis exposed weaknesses in the system, and the aging of the population will only exacerbate the pitfalls.

Susan Eng, vice-president of advocacy with retirees’ lobby group CARP, said the NDP plan would offer a flexible, secure retirement savings option and a viable alternative to what she considers a current lack of political action.

“That kind of serial stalling is wearing thin, and while it may be possible in good times for politicians just to avoid a difficult situation in bad times they really need to show some bold political leadership, and that’s what we’re asking for here,” said Eng.

Saving for retirement – or living on incomes that fall below the poverty line – has become “an absolute burden” for some people, she added. “The choice becomes paying the rent or eating, and they just don’t have any alternative whatsoever,” Eng said.

“There’s nobody else who’s going to come and support them in any kind of way.”

That kind of stress is unnecessary when successful retirement plans like OMERS exist, and could be extended to everyone through a proposal like Horwath’s, said Eng.

Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan announced minor changes last month that will lay the groundwork for what he promises will be a major reform of the province’s pension system – a problem the government has identified as a key priority that requires a national solution. A few days later, Ottawa and the provinces agreed to take the first steps toward updating the country’s retirement savings system after meetings in Whitehorse.