This Sunday evening and Monday, federal and provincial finance ministers will be meeting in Meech Lake, Quebec, just a short drive north of Ottawa. Recent news reports suggest that some provincial finance ministers (notably from Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec) want a discussion on increasing Canada Pension Plan (CPP) benefits on the agenda, but that runs contrary to the Harper government’s agenda.
This past January, Prime Minister Stephen Harper pledged to the world’s corporate elite in Davos, “We’ve already taken steps to limit the growth of our health care spending. We must do the same for our retirement-income system.” His government had already announced a unilateral cut of $36 billion over a ten year period to health care spending, and just a few months after Davos his government used its false majority in the House of Commons to pass C-38, a budget implementation bill that will increase the eligibility age for Old Age Security (OAS) from 65 to 67.
It’s evident that the Conservative government had no misgivings about unilateral cuts to health care and pension benefits. But now that there is some discussion about increasing CPP benefits, finance minister Jim Flaherty says that would require the unanimous support of the provinces. In other words, cuts to social benefits (including health care transfer payments to the provinces) can be done unilaterally, but increased social benefits require unanimity. Not only that, helping Canada’s seniors apparently needs a greater degree of consensus than constitutional reform (which requires two-thirds of the provinces representing two-thirds of the population).
The need for pension reform in Canada is great and serious. Currently, about 62 per cent of working Canadians don’t have a workplace pension, and more than a third of working Canadians have no retirement savings at all. CPP covers about 93 per cent of workers, but pays a maximum of about $900 a month. The OAS pension amounts to about $540 a month. RRSPs cannot replace a public pension system. The median amount in RRSPs for those taxpayers nearing retirement is about $60,000, which is enough to by an annuity of about $250 a month in retirement.
The Council of Canadians supports the call from the Canadian Labour Congress that CPP retirement pensions should be doubled over a 7-year period and that the Guaranteed Income Supplement of Old Age Security pensions should be increased by 15 per cent so that no senior lives in poverty.