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New Canadian Government Breaks Promise of Pension Improvements

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Toronto Star columnist Thomas Walkom has written a too-rare appreciation of where the new Liberal government in Canada is going with its promise to improve the Canada Pension Plan. Walkom published a hard-hitting column on the subject on December 23.

Amid much fanfare, Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau made a promise on September 14 to boost the old age pensions of Canadians should his party win election on October 19. CBC reported: ” The Liberal plan includes a promise to restore the eligibility for old age security and guaranteed income supplement back to 65 [from the change to age 67 by the Harper Conservatives], a new seniors price index to make sure those benefits keep up with rising costs, a ten per cent boost to the guaranteed supplement for single low-income seniors, and a pledge not to cut pension income splitting for seniors.”

Trudeau made his announcement at a staged setting, surrounded by members of CARP (formerly named the Canadian Association of Retired Persons), an organization that has long campaigned for improvements to Canada’s public pension plans.[1]

In reality, the Liberal campaign promise was quite modest. It did not propose any increases to CPP benefit payments, the core of Canada’s three-tiered old age support system. In addition to CPP, Canada’s public pension plan includes the 65-and–older, universal Old Age Security payment and the 65-and-older Guaranteed Income Supplement.

The Liberals did not even propose reversing the punitive Harper measure, effective as of 2012, which raised the penalty for those opting to begin receiving CPP benefits as early as age 60.

Regardless, even the modest Liberal wish-list was placed on hold when provincial finance ministers met with their federal counterpart on December 21. The Star‘s Walkom reports, “They are not doing anything. They are not even bothering to make empty promises about doing anything. After hosting a federal-provincial meeting this week that dealt with the CPP, all Finance Minister Bill Morneau could provide was a promise to study the issue further and meet again.

“It was hardly an example of the federal leadership that Trudeau had promised during the election campaign.”

Yes, you read that right. Barely two months after winning election, and three months after promising to move heaven and earth to improve public pensions, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal government have shelved this key election promise on social policy. Morneau said on December 21 that finance ministers will return to discussion of the CPP in six months time. Or maybe they won’t. Whatever.

CPP legislation already requires a three-year waiting period to implement any changes that are approved.

CARP says in a December 29 press release that it is “outraged” by the government’s betrayal.

The early Liberal betrayal is the latest in a string of pension betrayals by Ottawa. This writer has written extensively about this, notably in this February 2014 article.

Pensions are not the only election promise where the Liberals are backing away. The Liberal government is failing to withdraw its fighter jets from the U.S.-led bombing of Syria. To add insult to injury for peace-loving Canadians, Defense Minister Harjip Sajjan made a five-day tour to the Middle East just prior to Christmas as part of planning for an expanded military role for Canada in the Middle East.

The lesson of the pension experience is that meaningful reforms cannot be expected of the new government in Ottawa. Extraordinary pressure through public education and protest will be required.

Petitions, loud and large public protests, public education—these were the tools used by the ‘Grey Power’ movement in 1985 to force then-Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney to back off from plans to cut inflation protection for pensions. That pressure was not sustained and did not prevent later cuts by the Liberal governments of Jean Chretien and then the Harper Conservatives, nor enough to win significant improvements to CPP. But the example could serve us well today. It sure beats naïve hoping-against-hope, which is about all that can be said for the efforts of Canada’s trade unions on this file during the past five years.

One of the curious failings of the New Democratic Party campaign in the October 2015 federal election was how it was outflanked and outscooped by the Liberals on the pension issue. The party went into the election championing pension improvements, even if its proposals were short on detail. But this never featured largely in the NDP campaign, making it another issue where the party failed to distinguish its program from that of the Liberals.

Notes:
[1] The one province in Canada that operates its own public pension plan is Quebec. The Régime de rentes du Québec more or less mirrors the federal plan.

Roger Annis is a retired aerospace worker in Vancouver BC. He writes regularly for Counterpunch and compiles his writings on a ‘A Socialist in Canada’. He is an editor of the website The New Cold War: Ukraine and beyond. He can be reached at rogerannis@hotmail.com.

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