Former Bank of Canada Governor David Dodge is adding his voice to the debate over pension reform, calling today for a voluntary component to the Canada Pension Plan.
Speaking at the 'Canada 150: Rising to the Challenge' conference in Montreal this morning, Mr. Dodge also said there needs to be an “adult debate” over health care.
He painted a stark picture of choices and challenges facing Canadians today. Now the Chancellor of Queen's University, Mr. Dodge was the keynote speaker introducing the panel dealing with real life issue for Canadian Families.
Nortel workers and others workers who have lost pension savings as their companies went “bust” during the recession, Mr. Dodge said reforms will not likely help them.
But there is still time to help other workers.
“Much really can be done to improve the policy framework for these plans going forward,” he said, “possibly we could have a voluntary component for the Canada Pension Plan and the Quebec Pension Plan.”
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced this week that his government is launching cross-country consultations into pension reform.
Mr. Flaherty has said the government will be looking at four key areas, including adding a voluntary supplement to the CPP - which he admitted would be difficult to administer.
Some provinces are also looking at this, seeming to favour adding a voluntary layer of supplemental benefits to the CPP.
Michael Ignatieff’s Liberals, meanwhile, have called for something similar to what Mr. Dodge is saying - an opt-in plan to supplement the existing CPP.
The finance minister is guaranteeing that “all options” are on the table. Mr. Flaherty is hoping to find some sort of consensus between the federal and provincial governments in time for the ministers meeting in May.
This morning, Mr. Dodge said it was “absolutely essential” that reforms and changes take place.
“Let’s not kid ourselves, middle and upper middle Canadians now in their prime earning years are going to have to save more and expect to retire later in life than they hoped to do,” said Mr. Dodge.
On the health care issue, Mr. Dodge laid out several scenarios as to how Canadians can pay for escalating health care costs, including paying for it with dedicated health care taxes, reducing services and forcing individuals to pay or simply allowing longer wait times.
“These are stark and unpalatable choices,” he said. “There is no magic solution and we absolutely must have an adult debate about how we are going to deal with this.”
David Dodge is one of the sharpest economic minds in Canada. He knows we can't dodge the fiscal bullet. He sees the writing on the wall and he is calling for Canadians to save more, but the problem is that for most Canadians, there little room to save more, and anxiety abounds over pension woes.
Is there a way to improve the Canadian pension system? Of course there is, just like there is a way to drastically improve our health care system, but there needs to be a political will for change.
Below, you can watch Mr. Dodge speaking to reporters on health care reform. As he states, "you can't assume the problem away" on health care (and pensions). You're either going to pay for it with higher taxes and special levees or pay for it out-of-pocket which has distributional consequences. Mr. Dodge is clear, we need an "adult discussion" on these issues and we need to stop making promises which we can't deliver. I couldn't agree more.