This article was originally published in Seniors’ Life Magazine in May 2010, it comes to us courtesy of Jonathan Straw, the author as well as the editor at Seniors’ Life.

On May 8th, the Windsor/Essex Chapter of CARP held their Annual General Meeting at The Victoria/Greenlawn Reception Centre. As guest speaker, local Chair Bruce Draper was pleased to introduce Susan Eng. This was a very informative and knowledgeable individual to have here. For those of you who aren’t familiar with her, Susan Eng is Vice President of Advocacy for CARP, the national, non-partisan, non-profit organization committed to advocating for social change that will bring financial security, equitable access to health care and freedom from discrimination for all Canadians as we age.

Ms. Eng’s topic of the day was “Pensions for All”, an update on the current state of affairs of the pension systems. From a posting on CARP’s website dated April 26th, it was stated that although “prolific media coverage is really good news”, experts have stated that there’s nothing wrong with the pensions as they are. All the talk back and forth has brought industry players out with their own new and improved offerings. The public has become exhausted listening to this back and forth “tennis match”, so much so that “there may be no energy left to keep the political decision makers focused on the need for reform.” According to Susan Eng’s talk, the political response so far has been to make technical changes to the existing pension plans. The Opposition parties have suggested supplementary pension vehicles but there are “anti-reform forces” that are just getting started too! They use national averages and international comparisons to convince politicians that Canada’s retirement income system is among the best in the world and today’s retirees are doing just fine. They present the statistic that ‘ONLY 4.4% of Canadians 65 + live below the poverty line” as a good thing. It was much worse a couple of decades ago (double digits) but CPP and GIS lifted a generation of people out of dire poverty. Well, that effect has run its course! With the announcement that 1.6 million older Canadians rely on Guaranteed Income Supplement payments to help them get by, the anti-reformists responded with “Low wage workers can’t afford to save any more so you can’t introduce a mandatory, universal retirement savings plan.” Many of the 1.6 million are only 1 medical event away from dropping below the poverty line.

CARP has asked the Federal Government if there was a plan to increase Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement and their answer was “NO”. It has been suggested that when a pullout of Canadian troops from Afghanistan is completed, which currently cost Canadians between 1-2 Billion Dollars/year, there would be a likely source of revenue to support both of these plans. As far as CPP goes, the yearly COLA increase is all that’s allowed for and the contributor’s rates should be increased. “In today’s reality, one has to put away 18% – 20% of their yearly income for 30 years to be able to live comfortably in retirement,” said Eng in an interview with me after her talk. Reducing taxes and increasing wages especially in the low income sector would go a long way to improve retirement security. “CARP continues to press for substantial increases to OAS and GIS for those retired people who have to depend on public pensions,” said Eng. There are many models of pension funds that work well for their members and survived the recent economic crisis more or less intact. CPP is one of them, the Teachers’ funds are another. The Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan also did well compared to ones like General Motors. The important difference is that the employers are public sector and not broke- YET!