Future of bill to kill mandatory retirement bleak

“We want to make sure that we understand the impact this might have, particularly on collective agreements and other pension schemes out there,” Martin said. “My big concern in all of this is that this is the thin edge of the wedge towards raising the age where people can qualify for Canada Pension and affecting other pension plans as well.”

Even the Canadian Forces, which requires members to retire by 60, dispatched senior officials to the committee hearing to warn that eliminating mandatory retirement would pose a “significant challenge” to its operational capabilities.

Last December, Conservative Labour Minister Lisa Raitt declared that she was prepared to support the bill as long as Folco agreed to an exemption for the military and to delay implementation so employers and unions could make adjustments. Folco agreed to both “friendly” amendments.

But at the committee hearings, Ed Komarnicki, Raitt’s parliamentary secretary, appeared sympathetic to other concerns raised by some of the witnesses.

In an interview, Komarnicki said the witnesses generally agreed that “mandatory retirement as we know it today should go, but in a reasoned way. They’ve certainly raised some reasonable points we need to look at.”

One was an exemption for federally regulated employers with bona fide pension plans, who would be allowed to retain a policy of mandatory retirement.

But that would effectively neuter the bill, said Susan Eng, CARP’s vice-president of advocacy. “If you’re going to go through all this legislative angst just to remove legislated age discrimination, why with the next breath would you put in an exemption that completely nullifies what you just did?”

Folco said she was prepared to live with an exemption for the military. But now, “there’s going to be so many exceptions that I just wonder what the point of the bill is.”

Eng said the government would be wise to pick up Folco’s proposal and take political credit for it, “because this is a no-lose situation.”

CARP’s 300,000 members “are full-on in support of these changes,” she said. In a recent survey, nearly half of those with an opinion said they’d even vote against their own party if it blocked Folco’s bill. If any party does, Eng said, “I would make it my business to tell everybody.”

Generally, said Komarnicki, there’s a “coalescing of consensus” on the need to eliminate mandatory retirement. But there’s no need to rush the process, he added. “One needs to do their due diligence and go through a process that takes into account what various people affected might have to say.”

Folco acknowledges that the committee needs to hear from experts on some of the issues raised by witnesses. But that won’t happen now until March 8.

That leaves little time for passage through the House of Commons and Senate if there’s a spring election. But it’s still possible if Parliament decides it’s important enough, Eng said.

“Remember the way they pushed through the HST amendments in three days?” she asked. “OK, do that for me.”

© The Ottawa Citizen

Keywords: mandatory retirement