Pension Reform Meeting Draws Large Crowd

March 9, 2011

There were not many empty seats at the Winnipeg Leadership Assembly Wednesday evening on March 2, at the Plumbers and Pipefitters Hall on Higgins Avenue in Winnipeg. Sponsored by the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), the Winnipeg Labour Council (WLC) and the Manitoba Federation of Labour (MFL), the gathering focused on pushing the Federal Conservatives into honouring the commitment to focus on CPP expansion that they made last June during the run-up to the Federal-Provincial Finance Ministers’ meeting held last December.

WLC President Dave Sauer said, “We are bringing our social justice partners together to mount as high a profile campaign as we can to keep the public focus on the importance of public pension reform in the days leading up to the tabling of the next federal budget. There are many studies endorsed by a wide cross-section of academia, pension specialists, economists and governments, including the province of Manitoba that show the best way to alleviate the pension crisis is by improving CPP.”

Winnipeg Labour Council President Dave Sauer, CUPE President Paul Moist, and MFL President Kevin Rebeck
Labour leaders at the meeting included (L-R) Winnipeg Labour Council President Dave Sauer, CUPE President Paul Moist, and MFL President Kevin Rebeck.

The keynote address was made by Canadian Union of Public Employees National President Paul Moist who outlined the importance of taking action on enhancing CPP benefits to Canadians and the best way to reduce poverty among seniors. He told the activists that the short term goal is to try to get the Harper government to adopt the strategy that it once endorsed as part of this year Budget. Failing that, it is key that this becomes a core issue in the next federal election.

Paul Moist included some interesting fact sheets in his presentation – exploring the myths and facts concerning pension. You can view the information sheets he prepared in PDF format.

MFL President Rebeck said “It is clear that too many people in Canada are not able to set aside adequate retirement funds in vehicles like RRSP and mutual funds. Too many don’t have access to a workplace-based pension plan that will meet their needs once they are no longer able to stay in the workplace. Of the more than 852 thousand tax filers in Manitoba, less than 25 per cent contribute to a RRSP plan.

“This fits into the national scenario that sees only 3 per cent of income making its way into an RRSP plan. In fact, there exists today more than half a billion dollars of unused RRSP contribution room, underscoring the reality that voluntary contribution of untaxed income into an RRSP plan, or its equivalent, simply does not work.

“Not being able to contribute to RRSP plans is not unique to low and middle income earners. In Manitoba, only 45 per cent of wage earners being paid $80 thousand dollars or more each year make contributions. The fact is, voluntary contributions to tax sheltered vehicles hasn’t worked in the past, isn’t working today and sure as hell won’t be working anytime soon. That’s why working families need a CPP benefit that will make a difference. That is why working families need effective, defined-benefit workplace pension plans. That’s why we need a national scope pension fund insurance plan to protect workers assets when plant closures and pension plan wind-ups threaten our retirement security.

“The good news, Rebeck continued, “is Manitobans have a provincial government that is dedicated to our campaign. The support we have received from the Selinger Government has been great. In particular, the work and arm-twisting that Finance Minister Rosann Wowchuk has devoted to advancing our plan to enrich CPP benefits has been both effective and a big reason why we came so close to success at the Federal – Provincial Finance Ministers meeting last December.”

Wowchuk’s analysis was “An expansion of the CPP would increase savings adequacy in the future by building on the plan’s existing strengths. CPP’s guaranteed benefits are secure, inflation-indexed and portable. This approach is the most practical approach to address concerns surrounding retirement income.”

But as Rebeck pointed out, “it was defeated by the federal government’s flip-flop to pander to its business supporters and its conservative ideologue base in Alberta. They moved from endorsing the CLC plan in June as an effective way to quickly and affordably address seniors’ poverty to backing the so-called Alberta option of a voluntary, RRSP-type contribution scheme to be administered by the private sector in December.

“Administered by the private sector.” Thats rich. That should read, ‘A fund barely able to keep pace with inflation while being bled dry by private sector administrative fees.’ That’s the same model that so far has proven to be under-utilized and completely ineffective.

“This is just one of the many differences between being supported by an NDP provincial government that cares about working families and ‘helped’ by a Conservative federal government that doesn’t. It’s key that we keep the pressure up to turn this decision around by endorsing again and implementing the CLC action plan that we heard about again tonight. We have the opportunity to convince the Harper government to live up to its statements made in the months leading up to last Decembers Finance Ministers’ meeting and announce appropriate measures in this month’s Budget Speech. If they don’t, then it’s got to be an election issue the next time that Canadians go to the voting booths.”

Rebeck summed up his comments by saying that “Together, working people have moved a majority of provincial Finance Ministers to support this plan. Together, working people have created a public dialogue about pensions and raised public awareness. Together, we can change our CPP plan to ensure all Canadian’s can retire with dignity and respect, above the poverty line.”

The discussion about the need for improvements in Canada Pension Plan benefits has been going on for many months. One of the early events held in connection with the issue was a rally held outside the Fort Garry Hotel in August 2010. You can view a YouTube video of the event.