NDP timely on pensions

TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorial – NDP timely on pensions
Published On Fri Jan 15 2010

Give Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath credit for seizing the initiative on pension reform at a time when so many others are conspicuously silent or running for cover.

On the evidence, the provincial New Democrats have done their homework with a proposed Ontario Retirement Plan. This supplementary pension would apply to the six out of 10 Ontario workers now lacking a private plan (unless they opted out). It would be publicly run with the help of existing pension giants such as OMERS (the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System), which says it stands ready to help with any final plan that goes forward.

The NDP’s plan would offer up to $700 a month and be portable when workers change jobs. Employees and employers would finance it through phased-in contributions.

However embryonic, Horwath’s idea is a start and a timely contribution to a debate that otherwise seems stalled in this province and across Canada. A much-anticipated meeting of federal and provincial finance ministers in Whitehorse last month yielded nothing more than a plan to consult again and meet once more in May.

Canadians are more concerned about their retirement savings than they have been for decades. Corporate bankruptcies and plunging stock valuations have punched holes in the conventional framework for retirement that counted on robust RRSPs and enduring defined-benefit private plans, neither of which are proving so durable.

Yet, there is still no sign of a national pension summit that would bring together Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the premiers. That leaves the field open for Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and his finance minister, Dwight Duncan, to breathe some life into the pension reform process they initiated a few years ago.

B.C. and Alberta have been the most vocal, but it’s time for Ontario to step up to the plate, both in terms of policy development and political will. Abdicating responsibility to Harper or waiting for pointers from the NDP’s Horwath – however constructive – is no way to lead.

Now, as Horwath puts it, “no one – including the other provincial premiers – has any idea where Dalton McGuinty stands on this vital issue.” She raises a good question. Time for an answer.

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