Pension activists from across the country drew energy and inspiration from the national convention pensions forum.
Pensions should be a social program like Medicare, lawyer Murray Gold told a packed room. “We want universal coverage and universal access,” he said. He urged members to make better pensions “the Tommy Douglas issue of our times.”
Like Medicare, says Gold, a decent retirement income should be “a right of Canadian citizenship and part of what it means to be Canadian.”
Gold praised public sector pensions as models of success because they are delivered on a not-for-profit basis, are highly efficient and highly effective.
Speakers emphasized the need to expand the Canada and Quebec Pension Plans and protect defined benefit workplace pensions so all workers can have a secure retirement.
CUPE researcher Leanne McMillan made the case for an expanded CPP and QPP. “What’s going on is that the one per cent broke the promise they made…when CPP was created.”
In the 1960s, social movements pushed for a retirement system that would provide 65 to 70% of workers’ income, but corporations and employers lobbied for a much lower rate. “We got snowed…it’s time to bring the CPP back to the table, because RRSPs and workplace plans aren’t delivering,” she says.
A better CPP is a youth issue, says McMillan. “With high student debt and no jobs, it’s impossible to save for retirement. We need the CPP.”
With seven finance ministers on side, McMillan is clear the fight isn’t over, even after Stephen Harper threw a wrench in the ministers’ plans for CPP reform.
The head of Ontario’s health care workers’ pension plan made a succinct and compelling case in favour of defined benefit pension plans.
Defined benefit (DB) plans deliver the highest payout per dollar, have lower operating costs, and don’t leave individuals to make complex investment decisions alone, says HOOP CEO Jim Keohane.
He pointed to Australia, which introduced mandatory defined contribution (DC) pension plans that transfer all risk and responsibility to individual workers. Today, half of Australian seniors are living in poverty, and only 30 per cent of retirees will have any money left at age 75.
Pension actuary Don Smith urged CUPE members to keep educating its members and the public on the value of good pensions. “CUPE, as Canada’s biggest union, has a huge role looking at the greater interest of society and look at [the need for better pensions] in the long term,” he says.
“Help create the pension system of the future. The difference between no pension and a good pension is massive,” says Smith.