The National Pensioners Federation (NPF) follows the actions of governments and pension providers in the area of retirement security for all Canadians. Retirement security is one of the most pressing economic challenges Canadian families face today. Less than 40% of all employees are covered by a workplace pension plan. Millions of Canadians simply cannot save enough on their own to retire. Canada is facing a pension crisis. Expanding the Canada Pension Plan/Quebec Pension Plan – everyone’s pension plan – will make sure that all aging Canadians can count on a decent pension in retirement. NPF believes that CPP is an integral part of retirement income. NPF lobbied that the age of entitlement for OAS (Old Age Security) should be brought back to 65, and are glad that happened. NPF also lobbied and presented to the Senate subcommittee that the dropout provisions for childbearing and disability periods off work should be included in the CPP expansion. However, when the expansion was approved by the legislature, that piece was missing. It has since been added so that women will not be in a predictable position of poverty again in 20-30 years. GIS (Guaranteed Income Supplement) should be increased to provide a pension income that allows a reasonable standard of living appropriate to their geographical location. Pensions should have super priority during a bankruptcy process, and NPF remains dedicated to that.
“I am very much involved not only on the pension issue, but also with the ideology behind it … to privatize the post office and other public services. Their ideology is very clear to me in regards to where they are going … it’s important to mobilize people and make them aware of what is happening, and make sure we are going to have a say in this process.” – Jean-Claude Parrot By John Devine Getting on the bad side of retired Canadians is never a good idea, a lesson one might have thought today’s generation of politicians would have learned from Brian Mulroney when he tried to de-index pensions back in 1986. After incurring the wrath of seniors, particular one irate elderly woman who told him during a protest on Parliament Hill, “goodbye Charlie Brown,” Mulroney quickly backed down rather than face a withering assault from a generation of Canadians who knew how to mobilize their forces, bringing grey power to bear. Now, a new generation of retirees is promising to take on Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his government’s plan to introduce a target benefit pension model for federally regulated industries, and Crown corporations. In an open letter to Kevin Sorenson, Minister of state for Finance, dated July 25, Peter Whitaker, formerly a union negotiator for Canada Post employees, took issue with the government’s strategy, and also the consultation process. He wrote on behalf of a number of retiree organizations representing hundreds of thousands of Canadians, he says. “Our concerns are two-fold,” he wrote. “First, we object to the unfair, opaque, and inadequate way that this consultation was conducted. Second, we oppose the Federal Government opening the way for employers to convert defined-benefit (DB) plans to target-benefit (TB) plans; thereby allowing sponsors to retroactively eliminate DB pension liabilities and potentially reduce pension cheques paid to retirees.” In an interview with ARIA, Whitaker, along with Jean-Claude Parrot, representing a group of retired Canada Post employees, said that the initial group of organizations has grown and now includes the National Pensioners Federationand its one million members, and the Congress of Union Retirees of Canada with its 500,000 members. “It is picking up steam and we are trying to use that pressure to get the minister to sit down and talk to us. They fumbled the ball when they introduced the consultation process because they never involved retirees. That’s wrong. If you want to deal with retirees’ pensions, then retirees have to be invited to participate, and you have to be informed. No one knew this was coming,” he says. The July 25 letter followed an earlier one sent to the minister on July 15 following up on attempts to get a response to the government’s initial release about its target benefit plans, says Whitaker. In June submission by a group of Canada Post Corporation retirees had been sent to get answer about the government’s plans and how retirees might be impacted. The finance department responded on June 18, two days before the deadline for submissions to the consultation process, that an individual could make a submission, contrary to the conditions laid out that invited input from retiree groups, he maintains. None of the retired or deferred members of the Canada Post defined benefit pension plan are legally represented by their former unions or associations, as they are no longer employees, explains Whitaker, and so have no representation under the conditions of the consultation process. The efforts to gain a voice are attracting support, he says. “We started contacting the other retiree groups … and we are picking up more as we go along.” The July 15 letter concludes with a request for at least two retirees “who have endorsed the CPC (Canada Post Corporation) retiree submission” to meet with department officials to discuss how retirees can be involved in the process. The July 25 correspondence calls “on the government to cease any further development on framework legislation or regulation for DB-TB pension plan conversions, and instead act to stabilize and sustain existing DB pension plans in order to protect the benefits of all current and retired plan members.” For inspiration Whitaker and others opposing the government’s target benefit shift looked to New Brunswick, where a group of retired civil servants are taking their government to court over unilateral changes to their pensions. In moving to a shared risk model, the government removed certain benefit guarantees, making the delivery of them conditional. (For an ARIA story on the NB retirees, click here). “We saw what they did down there, and the reaction was amazing with retirees forming a coalition to take on the government. What we see us doing here is similar to what they are doing there … this whole process of attacking the vested rights of employees and retires, and taking away benefits we have paid for through our working lives, we see it as the same fight.” Whitaker and Parrot also agree with the view that the federal government’s intent with target benefit is to give employers a way to shift from defined benefit; it’s not about providing a better option to defined contribution, says Whitaker. “They are just going to walk away from their obligations and shift all of the costs onto retirees and employees. It’s not shared.” For Parrot, formerly national president of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, the approach of the federal government to pensions is routed in its ideology, which includes privatization of services, including, perhaps, Canada Post. That would be an easier task to accomplish if new owners didn’t have the legacy costs of a DB plan. “I am very much involved not only on the pension issue, but also with the ideology behind it … to privatize the post office and other public services. Their ideology is very clear to me in regards to where they are going.” The reaction from retiree groups has been supportive, he adds. “It’s important to mobilize people and make them aware of what is happening, and make sure we are going to have a say in this process.” The government, says Whitaker, is preparing legislative framework for the fall, which he suspects will be unveiled at a finance department meeting in Toronto. A petition has been shipped across the country to retiree groups and bargaining units, and the idea is to present that at the October meeting. “What we are looking at now is similar to what we saw in 1986 when Mulroney tried to take away the indexing. The seniors on the Hill said no way … grey power confronted them and they backed off. It looks like that is what we are going to have to do again.”
The Federal Budget recently released by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty leaves out many crucial areas, including those pertaining to retirees and pensioners. The budget put forth by Harper’s Conservative government highlights cuts to military funding and funding for rural internet connection but includes no mention of the aging population. “Canada does not prioritize or protect the income of aging Canadians,” said Herb John, President of the National Pensioners Federation. “Canada is the only G7 country without a national housing policy,” he said as evidence to the current government’s lack of commitment to older Canadians. Bill C-400, “An act to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians” was presented for a vote on Feb. 27, 2013. The vote turned out 129 for and 153 against with all votes against coming from the Conservative party. Further evidence, John said, includes Bill C-501; “An Act to amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act”. The bill which would entitle employees to termination, severance and pension moneys ahead of other creditors did not become law. He also outlined how a proposed increase to the Canada Pension Plan which has garnered broad support, has not been implemented. In the last budget the eligibility for Old Age Security was delayed from age 65 to age 67 without any financial justification. “This budget showed that Canada does not act upon the requested advice of experts,” John said. In November 2006, the Special Senate Committee on Aging was created with a broad mandate to review a wide range of complex issues to determine if Canada is providing the right programs and services at the right time to the individuals who need them. One of the recommendations suggested the government “provide leadership and coordination through initiatives such as a National Integrated Care Initiative, a National Caregiver Strategy, a National Pharmacare Program and a federal transfer to address the needs of provinces with the highest proportion of the aging population.” “Addressing issues in these categories would resonate with Canadians number one concern, which is Health Care,” said John. “One positive move was to provide $305 million over five years to enhance Broadband in rural areas.” John said. “This is at least recognition of the issue but the announcement is not big on details. 5mb per second would not be welcome news to anyone living in an urban centre.” “We will see if this is enough to enable aging Canadians in rural areas to have the access to information at a reasonable cost that residents of large municipalities have,” he said. “This federal government has again chosen to deny aging Canadians the care and respect they deserve today. We will see this government play Santa Claus before next year’s federal election.” The election results will tell them clearly that they were “a day late and a dollar short,” John said. Further information relating to the National Pensioners Federation will be posted on the website, nationalpensionersfederation.ca, following the official launch this Friday. We are happy to announce this launch as the site will allow for a more simplistic and user friendly experience. We encourage all members and the public to regularly visit the site for events relating to the National Pensioners Federation and newsworthy updates when available. -30- Contact Herb John President, National Pensioners Federation (519) 350-3221