This article was published in the Vancouver Sun December 2nd 2009
OTTAWA — British Columbia is rolling out the welcome mat for other provinces to join a western-led effort to help fatten the retirement income of many Canadians.
B.C. Finance Minister Colin Hansen said Wednesday he wants to kill talk the province’s plan to create supplementary pension plan could morph into a regional plan open only to westerners.
“The more we can develop a pan-Canadian plan the better,” Hansen said in a telephone interview with Canwest News Service.
Hansen said he has asked his western counterparts to stop talking about a “regional plan” because it implies provinces east of Manitoba could not sign on to it.
“And that’s definitely not what we want,” he said, arguing such regional plans would impede labour mobility within Canada.
Hansen said any plan produced by one or more of the provinces should be “designed in a way that would allow other provinces to sign on in the future.”
The B.C. government has promised to unveil a new pension option as early as next year that would allow residents without workplace pensions to supplement the benefits they can anticipate from the Canada Pension Plan.
The initiative is aimed at those earning between $30,000 and $100,000 a year, and who, according to recent research, are not saving enough for a comfortable retirement, Hansen said.
Though the B.C. plan is still on the drawing board, the governments of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba have said they would be interested in joining the initiative if Ottawa and the provinces cannot agree on a national approach at a meeting of finance ministers later this month in Whitehorse.
The prospect of western provinces rallying around a supplementary pension plan has sparked worries in some quarters that Canada could end up with a two-tier pension system under which western employers and employees would have a leg up on their counterparts elsewhere in the country.
Like many of his provincial counterparts, Hansen said his first choice is to have Ottawa and the provinces to agree to build a supplementary plan atop the CPP framework — one that would be open to employers and employees wanting to bolster their retirement income.
If there is no national consensus, however, the provinces will act to help the six of 10 people without workplace pensions, he predicted.
“There is a growing consensus among provinces that there is a significant pension deficiency in Canada that is going to become increasingly serious in the years to come,” he said.
“It’s already a challenge and I think it’s incumbent upon provinces to move forward fairly expeditiously on this.”
Ted Menzies, a junior cabinet minister and the Harper government’s point man on pensions, has declined so far to state a preference on how to proceed.
The provinces and territories expect to get a better read on the federal position at the Dec. 17-18 meeting in Whitehorse, which will be attended by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, as well as Menzies.