On­tario at the fore­front

Wynne fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of Ro­barts

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - Martin Regg Cohn’s col­umns on On­tario pol­i­tics ap­pear in Torstar news­pa­pers.

It ap­pears that On­tario has been in the fore­front of Cana­dian pension plan­ning for many years.

Re­mem­ber that wild and crazy idea for a new pub­lic pension plan in On­tario? True, it was set aside.

The other pre­miers co-opted the idea — co-op­er­a­tive fed­er­al­ism — and pro­duced an even bet­ter pan-Cana­dian plan.

But let’s re­visit, for a mo­ment, On­tario’s idea at a par­tic­u­lar mo­ment in time.

“The bill of­fers pension ar­range­ments that are bet­ter adapted to a world in which in­dus­try needs to be flex­i­ble and labour needs to be mo­bile,” On­tario’s premier pro­claimed in the leg­is­la­ture.

An­other over­reach­ing re­form by the prov­ince’s re­lent­lessly left-lean­ing premier?

“The pen­sions that peo­ple gain will not be for­feited as so many are to­day … and as time goes by there will be more and big­ger in­comes at re­tire­ment.”

Say what you will about Kath­leen Wynne, but we’re not talk­ing about her. Not here.

In fact, the above quo­ta­tion — and quixotic pension pro­posal — em­anated from none other than former Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive premier John Ro­barts in 1963. Back then, Ro­barts stressed that if other prov­inces were in­ter­ested, a re­cip­ro­cal ar­range­ment could re­sult.

Ot­tawa and the other pre­miers bought into the idea, cul­mi­nat­ing in the Canada Pension Plan in 1966.

Wynne’s On­tario Re­tire­ment Pension Plan, which forced the is­sue back onto the agenda, was ul­ti­mately sub­sumed by an en­hanced CPP. Ear­lier this month, Man­i­toba be­came the lat­est prov­ince to add its sig­na­ture to a com­pro­mise deal ahead of a pre­miers’ meet­ing next week in White­horse.

An alert reader pointed out the his­toric par­al­lels be­tween Ro­barts and Wynne. Who knew the two shared a pas­sion for pen­sions?

“I have read your pension ar­ti­cles with in­ter­est. I am sur­prised, how­ever, that you did not re­fer to On­tario’s planned pension plan in the early 1960s which was the ba­sis of the CPP,” wrote John Brugos. “It ap­pears that On­tario has been in the fore­front of Cana­dian pension plan­ning for many years.”

But not ev­ery­one is buy­ing into the CPP — whether the orig­i­nal ver­sion or the fu­ture en­hance­ment.

The Cana­dian Fed­er­a­tion of In­de­pen­dent Busi­ness con­tin­ues to col­lect pe­ti­tion sig­na­tures claim­ing its mem­bers aren’t in the busi­ness of help­ing work­ers save for re­tire­ment. And the right-lean­ing Fraser In­sti­tute, cling­ing to its Ayn Rand roots, main­tains a run­ning bat­tle against the CPP — in­sist­ing its low fees, high re­turns, and con­tin­u­ing bank­a­bil­ity are merely a mi­rage.

I’ve re­but­ted their shib­bo­leths be­fore — no­tably the ar­gu­ment that there is no fu­ture re­tire­ment short­fall to shore up. These crit­ics cite to­day’s se­niors as ev­i­dence that re­tirees can coast on their work­place pen­sions and abun­dant home equity.

But the Fraser In­sti­tute fails to grasp that an ex­panded CPP is not, in fact, tar­geted at re­tirees or boomers. It is aimed at younger work­ers weighed down by stu­dent debt, con­signed to pre­car­i­ous em­ploy­ment, bereft of work­place pen­sions, and priced out of the hous­ing mar­ket.

Cana­di­ans in­tu­itively un­der­stood the ap­peal of a pub­lic pension in the 1960s — first provin­cially, and ul­ti­mately fed­er­ally. Here’s how S.J. Ran­dall, then-chair of the On­tario Eco­nomic Coun­cil, ex­plained the chal­lenge as the Ro­barts plan moved for­ward in 1963:

“One of the trou­bles of the labour force is the in­abil­ity of so many to hold a job for long.”

Sound fa­mil­iar? To­day, we call it pre­car­i­ous em­ploy­ment.

And it is the fu­ture. As life­time jobs and work­place pen­sions fade into the past, all the more rea­son to up­date an out­dated CPP.

JOHN BRUGOS

MARTIN REGG COHN

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