Tag Archives: Canada Pension Plan

Tory relevance is not retiring

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For strategic brilliance and tactical cunning, look no further than the Conservative Government of Canada. In an election year, these are the days that try the souls of federal Liberals and New Democrats, alike.

Against their own advice of only a year ago, the Harper Tories have executed a stunning reversal of policy in announcing that they will, after all, allow individuals to top-up their Canada Pension Plans (just in time, naturally, for the fall general election).

Said Finance Minister Joe Oliver last week: “To build on our current world-class system, we intend to consult with experts and stakeholders during the summer on options for allowing voluntary contributions to the Canadian Pension Plan.”

“However,” he added, “our government will not force Canadians into a mandatory, job-killing, economy-destabilizing, pension-tax hike on employees and employers. We believe that Canadians are best placed to decide how to save for their retirement with voluntary options, rather than have tax hikes imposed on them.”

That said, messing with the CPP – an arrangement between the feds and the provinces – would be a remarkable example of progressive politics for a party that has despised all such connotations in everything it has done to date.

And if this is not simply another vote-getting ploy – but an actual commitment should the Tories win another majority in October – it could amount to one of the biggest advances in social policy since Tommy Douglas tread the fair earth of western Canada so many decades ago.

Now, to be clear, a “voluntary” codicil to the current fed-prov agreement is a far cry from a “mandatory” requirement that employees and employers dig deeper into their pockets to fund old-age retirement benefits. It is not, for example, even close to the system that the UK currently enjoys – a system that tops up the state-benefit program with an ancillary fund that effectively raises the post-retirement incomes of low-wage earners to 40 per cent of the median, national average.

Still, it’s a start, and not a moment too soon.

Canada is facing a demographic crisis that all evidence suggests is leading the largest population cohort (those between the ages of 53 and 55) into structural poverty within 15 years.

Late-blooming equity accounts, overspending, debt restructuring, falling wage levels, winnowing economic opportunities for adult children, the various predations on retirement savings of capital markets – all have conspired to make a minefield of a future that once looked like the Elysian Fields.

Still, not everyone is convinced of the federal government’s good intentions. According to a Globe and Mail story, the NDP’s finance critic called the move a “deathbed conversion.” Indeed, he said, “you can tell when the government’s serious about something: They ram it through an omnibus bill. When they’re not serious about it, they launch a series of consultations.”

That’s fair enough. But what if – just this time – the Tories are serious about this thing of theirs; this entirely uncharacteristic overture to protect the future of the nation’s citizenry from the neglect and impotence that present-day capital markets promise routinely?

Even the remote hope that average wage-earners might obtain a measure of control over their retirement savings by plugging into a virtually fool-proof, government-guaranteed vehicle – as opposed to a predatory, capricious financial sector where certain public administrations actually pay criminally liable investment banks to stay afloat – is a genuine comfort to those who don’t occupy the one-per cent of the income population.

That’s why, of course, Mr. Oliver’s modest proposal is also masterful politics, timed like a bank vault on Canadian election time.

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The great undoing of Torytown is underway

 

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When the pugnacious in politics – especially those who specialize in knocking the noses of the national press gallery out of joint – finally get their comeuppance, that’s news. Or so the media mafia decrees.

How else do you explain yesterday’s near-blanket, front-page coverage of former Stephen Harper hit-man Dimitri Soudas’s ouster as executive director of the national Conservative Party?

Indeed, the reporting was almost gleeful, if not particularly nourishing.  

“Dimitri Soudas, a long-time Stephen Harper loyalist handpicked by the prime minister. . .was forced to resign after a series of incidents where he personally intervened in a tightly contested nomination race on behalf of fiancee and MP Eve Adams,” the Globe and Mail fairly crowed.

“The Conservative Party went so far as to conduct its own investigation, combining through emails and phone records, to determine whether Mr. Soudas had breached a provision in his contract as executive director of the Tories that stipulated that he must recuse himself from Ms. Adam’s efforts to secure a nomination.”

Plainly, he had and, so naturally, the pundits treated themselves to a field day. The Globe’s Campbell Clark opined that Mr. Soudas “lost his job for being the heavy for the wrong person. He was for years. . .willing to get tough with journalists, MPs and party officials, to fire blasts of venom and throw his weight around.”

Mr. Clark’s colleague Lawrence Martin observed in his column, “The young and extremely partisan Mr. Soudas, who had previously served in the Prime Minister’s Office as one of the so-called boys in short pants, was hired to be the party’s principal election organizer. But he meddled too much. . .”
Still, as low-hanging fruit in the well-fertilized orchard of Ottawa’s crimes against common dignity go, the Soudas affair is a relatively easy pick, just as was the Nigel Wright-Mike Duffy-Pamela Wallin-Patrick Brazeau Senatorial Sincapades last year.

Alleged taxpayer-funded bad guys and their various misdemeanors, malapropisms and misdirections are always more fun to cover than are the creaky beams and girders that support the entire system. But, it is the failing apparatus, the crumbling infrastructure, of governance, itself, that contains the most important story. 

In fact, a great undoing in Torytown is underway – one for which the Harper government’s well-publicized gaffes and controversial policy directions are not singularly responsible. Little, almost banal, mischiefs are adding up and taking a toll.

The Canadian Press reports that a federal study, released last fall, on the advantages and disadvantages of expanding the Canada Pension Plan was actually far more nuanced than Department of Finance officials were prepared to admit publicly. 

The government line had been (and still is) that hiking CPP premiums and payouts would kill thousands of jobs. But, according to the CP story, “a summary of the study’s contents, prepared for then-finance minister Jim Flaherty, shows the job-loss claim was based on a misleading assumption.”

What’s more, according to a briefing note from which the CP quoted, “In the long run, expanding the CPP would bring economic benefits. Higher savings will lead to higher income in the future and higher consumption possibilities for seniors.”

Meanwhile, turning its attention to the Department of National Defence, The Canadian Press reports that the feds have effectively wasted more than six years of “research and planning” for new search and rescue aircraft. Says the news service: “A briefing prepared for the former associate defence minister, Kerry-Lynne Findlay, spells out in detail how the project, which has been grinding its way through the defence bureaucracy since 2004, was being further sidelined.”

The actual note, obtained through an access to information request by CP, stipulates “that the work completed on the project prior to 2011 is no longer valid and cannot be leveraged in the new procurement strategy.”

Finally, in a revelation the novelty of which ranks right up there with snow in Canadian winter (now, spring, perhaps), The Ottawa Citizen quotes the Public Policy Forum on the growing “lack of trust and understanding between bureaucrats and their political masters.”

Hmmm. You think?

Taken separately, these tidbits from the front lines of policy making might seem to appear as mere cracks in the foundation of otherwise responsible governance. 

Taken together, though, they form a troubling pattern of disingenuousness, buck-passing, waste, general incompetence, and mistrust.

Of course, it’s easier to make news of these qualities when we attach them to an individual or two, and not the system that affects them.

 

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