Two dozen protestors barged into Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s office in Whitby on Friday as a backlash against his latest pension proposal gathered force.Susan Eng forwarded me CARP's response to the new pension proposal. Most of CARP's members are worried about their retirement, and rightfully so.
“We’ve been betrayed,” Ontario Federation of Labour President Sid Ryan said as labour and community figures occupied Flaherty’s constituency office.
Ryan said the labour movement was angered by the Harper government’s surprise decision to opt for a private sector solution to the country’s pension problems rather than enhancing the Canada Pension Plan, as Flaherty had previously proposed.
Unlike the CPP, the new Pooled Registered Pension Plan, or PRPP, would be a voluntary scheme administered by the financial industry.
Ryan said the voluntary plan unveiled Thursday would do little to help solve a situation in which nearly one-third of Canadian families lack any pension savings.
“What Flaherty is proposing is a glorified savings plan — a gimmick to get the issue of pensions off the front pages,” Ryan said in a telephone interview.
Neither employers nor workers would be required to pay into the PRPP, Ryan said. “It will not deliver income security for Canadians the way an expansion of the CPP will,” he said.
Flaherty was in St. John’s for pre-budget consultations and, after several hours at the office, Ryan said the protestors were about to leave to ensure there would be no confrontation with police.
“We’ll be back,” Ryan said. “This will be the first of many protests across the country.”
The fractious issue of pensions has been gathering steam for more than a year and is likely to come to a head when Flaherty meets with his provincial counterparts in Kananaskis, Alta., on Sunday and Monday.
After studying Flaherty’s pension proposal for a day, Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan on Friday lashed out at the federal government, accusing the Conservatives of misleading the country on a matter of importance to all Canadians.
“We just think this is a terrible decision for Canadians and a bad decision overall,” Duncan told the Toronto Star Friday.
“The real story here is that they (the federal Conservatives) are clearly flip-flopping and breaking the commitment they made (in June).
“They basically misled us.”
Last summer, Flaherty said he agreed with a majority of provincial governments that a slight increase in CPP premiums would be the best way to help Canadians save more for retirement.
Duncan said Flaherty can expect trouble if he asks the provincial finance ministers in Kananaskis to endorse his new pension proposal.
Duncan said he had been in touch with other provinces and “I can tell you that a number of provinces are surprised” that Ottawa has turned its back on CPP enhancements.
Ontario and other provinces “are going to continue to fight for enhancements to the CPP,” said Duncan, who suspects pressure from the business community forced Ottawa to abandon its promise.
Flaherty’s proposed PRPP would provide a lucrative new source of business for life insurance companies and other financial institutions.
Ontario and most other provinces have recommended a “modest” increase to CPP premiums over a period of time, but Prime Minister Stephen Harper rejected that out of hand Thursday.
Canadian Labour Congress President Ken Georgetti said he was astonished and disappointed with Flaherty’s new proposal.
“Everybody knows that the best way to ensure the retirement security of Canadians is to enhance the CPP,” Georgetti said. “There is overwhelming evidence that the private sector, voluntary system of saving for retirement has failed us for over 40 years and won’t work now.”
Susan Eng, vice-president of advocacy for CARP, an advocacy group for older Canadians, said its members welcome any moves to provide a long-awaited improvement in pension security.
But she said Flaherty, in exchange for providing a new source of business to financial institutions, must demand commitments not to gouge pension savers through high administrative fees. To protect the public, there should also be guarantees to ensure benefit adequacy and ethical performance by administrators, she said.
“You’re about to hand some billions of dollars in business over to a monopoly” of banks and insurance companies, Eng said in an interview. “So, before you hand over all this business, let’s talk about some regulations.”
The Montreal Gazette reports that in the shifting alliances of Canadian federalism, Quebec is siding with Alberta and the federal government in opposition to higher pension benefits to be paid by the Canada and Quebec public pension plans because that would also mean raising payroll deductions for taxpayers: