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A few hundred people came from across the Lower Mainland to tell their stories and make the case for better retirement security at a May 3 forum on Canada’s retirement income system.

Conservative Members of Parliament Diane Ablonczy, Ted Menzies and Alice Wong heard from close to 40 people – many calling for an improved Canada Pension Plan and better protection for workplace pensions – during the three and a half hour town hall in Richmond, BC.

Trade union members spoke about the people they represent and about their own families. They shared stories about parents who have fallen into poverty after retirement, siblings who have no private savings and will rely on the public retirement system, and their concerns over the future of their children and grandchildren. They talked about members of their unions who cannot afford to raise families and save for retirement at the same time.

CUPE BC president Barry O’Neill spoke on behalf of the 80,000 members in the province, calling for more support for workplace and financial literacy programs and pension improvements. “Many CUPE members do not have pensions and most do not make high wages. But taken together, we represent a major part of our local, provincial and national economies and we spend our money in our communities before and after retirement,” said O’Neill.

Working women and men in this country suffered huge losses because of the financial meltdown. The best way to protect our futures is to strengthen the Canada Pension Plan – not by relying on private investments that have failed us so miserably.”

HEU provincial executive members Jim Barrett and Louella Vincent spoke on behalf of the vulnerable and future generations. Barrett, who is a tradesperson, said that he had the benefit of workplace pension, but said that for the many who do not, the CPP is the most affordable and stable way to protect Canadians in retirement. Vincent, a community social services worker, talked about the vulnerable people she works with, who have no extra money to put into RRSPs or other private savings.

Jesse Goodall, a young worker with the City of Surrey and a member of CUPE 402, talked about the challenges he faces trying to put himself through university and build for the future. As a 23-year old struggling to make ends meet, he saw doubling of the CPP and improving the benefit as one of the main solutions for his generation.

Many retirees came to speak as well – some talking about what it is like to live without any access to private pensions or savings.

But Angela, a single parent who is struggling to make a better future for herself and her children, summed up the feelings of many in attendance when she told the MPs: “We need change. Make the change.”

Sign the petition. Tell Stephen Harper it’s time to fix Canada’s pension crisis.