Why the obvious fix for the country’s collective pension problem is being ignored

Flaherty opted instead for a private-sector solution. Don’t expect results. The Tory government’s big fix is the Pooled Registered Pension Plan (PRPP), expected to come into effect sometime next year. It has major defects—including the fact that neither employers nor employees are under any obligation to join. Canadians are already sitting on more than $600 billion in unused RRSP room, and in 2009, only 31 per cent of those eligible to contribute to an RRSP did so. Nevertheless, a country that isn’t saving enough for retirement through voluntary savings programs is going to try to fix the problem with yet another voluntary savings program. But the biggest problem with the PRPP is its dishonesty. It’s not a
pension plan.

There are two major types of pension plans. The first—the kind that RBC offered its employees until this year—is called a defined benefit pension, or DB plan. Thanks to the pooling of funds among contributors and beneficiaries of different ages and retirement dates, members are insured against retirement savings risks, and then some. Long before they retire, members know what kind of monthly payments they’re going to receive. The employer guarantees it.

Someone enrolled in a typical DB plan and earning $100,000 a year knows that he will be owed an annual pension of two per cent of his salary, or $2,000, for each year of employment. A 30-year employee at that salary would be eligible for roughly $60,000 a year until death. That pension is made possible by a forced savings plan, with the employer required to regularly set aside and invest some combination of employer and employee contributions. The math is complicated, but the pension and RRSP systems are based on the assumption that, if you were that $100,000 earner saving by yourself, you’d have to put aside $18,000, year after year after year, to achieve the same result.