Proroguing, Pensions and the Public Discourse

Nothing like a bit of proroguing to get people running in all directions. The holiday break would normally lull people into lethargy but the thought that our elected representatives are going to sit on our tax funded institutions and salaries while the country faces economic, military and security crises seems to have started a stampede.

Despite the non-action of the Finance Ministers after their Whitehorse meeting, politicians and experts of all stripes have weighed in on the pension reform file. If the government refuses to lead [or govern], they leave the field open to the Opposition.

The Ontario NDP proposed an Ontario pension plan which is essentially a voluntary supplementary target benefit plan to be administered by existing large pension plans like the CPP, OMERS or the Ontario Teachers fund. CARP was happy to support the idea as an important first step off the status quo towards a universally accessible and affordable retirement savings vehicle. However, being regional, voluntary and offering a maximum of $600 to $800 more per month, it can only hope to make a small, albeit valuable, improvement on the retirement security landscape. Click here to check out the Ontario NDP Plan.

The public discourse has continued apace. Especially avid are those out there telling us that our pension system does not need fixing. Some appear to be on a parallel universe like Malcolm Hamilton who is quoted as saying there is “virtually no poverty among senior citizens in Canada”. An estimated 300,000 Canadian seniors live on less than $18,000, Statscan’s own Low Income Cut off. And the Report from this administration’s own National Senior’s Council points out that many more are just one major expense away from falling below the line. Click here to read more on Malcolm Hamilton’s views

Others like Jack Mintz who was engaged to provide the research to inform the Whitehorse meeting add in our fridges and homes to demonstrate that Canadians are saving enough. While the numbers are likely accurate, they do not answer the question of whether people have enough to live on in retirement – which is the point of pension reform. Click here to read a summary of the Jack Mintz Report featured in the National Post

The push back has clearly begun. It is actually cheering to get proposals to improve the voluntary investment options from those who would stand to lose retail investment business if a widely accessible supplementary pension plan were available. But the arguments from commentators and experts defending inaction are bizarre – and not just because they obsess about the messenger or ignore the facts – but also because they appear to be an attempt to provide cover for government inaction.

The call for pension reform has been gaining national media traction – sometimes prodded by CARP – but mostly carried by the momentum of a good idea that people can see for themselves. In the CBC poll asking viewers what should be covered in the Throne Speech, the pension question garnered 64% of the 11,000 votes – or approximately the number of CARP ActionOnline readers who respond to our most popular polls [the HST poll got 5800 responses] – not that they are the same people – I’m just saying… Click here to view the results of the CBC Poll