Rosann Wowchuk, Manitoba Finance Minister: Statement on Pension Reform

April 2010: We reached out to a variety of politicians and invite them to inform our readers of their views on pension reform by drafting a position statement for publication. Here are the answers we received:

As we approach critical federal/provincial/territorial meetings on Canada’s retirement income system, the Province of Manitoba has launched a public consultation process to seek Manitobans’ input on how best to strengthen pension coverage and retirement income programs.

This consultation builds on our recent overhaul and modernization of Manitoba’s Pension Benefits Act, the first comprehensive reform in over 35 years. Manitoba’s Act now permits phased-in retirement and supplementary benefits, and puts new limits on employer contribution holidays. With these and other changes, Manitoba is ahead of the curve on ensuring a regulatory framework that encourages secure and fair workplace pension plans.

Manitoba is the only province to require all employees to belong to a pension plan when one is offered. With this approach, 46% of Manitoba workers have a workplace pension plan, the second-highest rate of coverage in Canada. Despite this relative strength, a majority of Manitoba workers do not have a workplace pension plan. A recent study found that 2/3 of middle-income Canadians working in the private sector will not have enough retirement income to cover necessary living expenses.

For these reasons, Manitoba has been a strong advocate for taking action to increase pension coverage. Through our consultation, we have asked Manitobans for their views on proposals that have been put forward to expand the existing Canada Pension Plan (CPP) for all workers and to establish a supplementary pension plan for workers without adequate pension coverage or no coverage at all. This input will guide us when we participate in upcoming pension discussions with federal, provincial and territorial governments.

To date, Manitoba has taken the position that, whatever options are pursued, a national solution is preferable. National solutions make it easier for workers to maintain their benefits as they move between jobs and jurisdictions. There may also be significant cost efficiencies in national cooperation. However, Manitoba has also indicated that if national discussions do not produce concrete and timely action to improve pension coverage, we will participate in discussions to move forward with other provinces on regional solutions.

Manitoba is also very concerned with poverty levels among seniors. One third of Manitoba Old Age Security recipients currently receive GIS benefits. This means that these 56,000 Manitoba seniors have annual incomes in the range of just $12,000 to $15,000. Improving the situation for lower income seniors will require more than expanding CPP coverage or creating new pension options. It will require looking at proposals to improve pillar one of our retirement income system – Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement. We are pleased that the federal government has included pillar one in its consultations. Manitoba will ensure the challenges facing low income seniors are part of the national discussion on retirement income.

Keywords: pension reform