Home Page News Opinion Foreign Policy Politics Policy Legislation Lobbying Hill Life & People Hill Climbers Heard On The Hill Calendar Archives Classifieds
Advertising Subscribe Reuse & Permissions
Hill Times Events Hill Times Books Hill Times Careers The Wire Report The Lobby Monitor Parliament Now
Opinion

Expanding the CPP is unnecessary and counterproductive

By Charles Lammam, Hugh MacIntyre      

Put simply, any increase in mandatory CPP contributions will be offset by lower savings in private accounts. This is because Canadians choose how much they save and spend based on their income and preferred lifestyle. If their income and preferences don’t change, and the government mandates higher contributions to the CPP, Canadians will simply reduce other savings.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau speaking at a public policy forum. Mr. Morneau has championed the expansion of the CPP. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

In a column for The Hill Times, respected actuary Robert Brown responded to our criticism of the federal government’s case for expanding the Canada Pension Plan. While we’re pleased Mr. Brown has engaged collegially—in fact, despite disagreeing with our position, he acknowledges that our analysis is accurate. However, a rejoinder is warranted.

At the heart of the matter, Mr. Brown believes a “significant proportion of future Canadian retirees are going to suffer measurable deterioration in their standards of living.” He also believes that expanding the CPP will fix this perceived problem. We respectfully disagree with both the diagnosis and the medicine.

To begin, the best and most comprehensive evidence does not support claims of a widespread retirement savings problem in Canada. Any analysis of retirement readiness that fails to account for all assets available to Canadians—including those outside the formal pension system—is incomplete and will overstate the problem.

In addition to saving for retirement through the Canada and Quebec Pension Plans, Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs), and Registered Pension Plans (RPPs), Canadians also save in stocks and bonds in non-registered accounts and in their homes and other real estate, which can be sources of income when they retire. These other assets are not trivial. In 2014, Canadians held $9.5 trillion in assets outside the pension system compared to $3.3 trillion inside that system.

After accounting for all forms of savings, and recognizing that retirees tend to spend less as they age, most Canadians are actually doing a good job of preparing for retirement. The reality is fewer seniors live in low income today than at any point over the past four decades, and seniors are much less likely to experience low income than the rest of the working-age population.

That said, there are some problem areas in our current retirement income system, mainly affecting single seniors living alone (often widows or divorcees) with minimal work history. But because the CPP is a contribution-based program, expanding the program will do virtually nothing to help this group. The appropriate response is targeted policy aimed at helping this group, not a crude instrument such as expanding the CPP that will affect many Canadians who are already saving adequately.

There is, however, a more fundamental problem with CPP expansion. Forcing Canadians to save more through the CPP likely won’t increase how much they save overall for retirement.

Put simply, any increase in mandatory CPP contributions will be offset by lower savings in private accounts. This is because Canadians choose how much they save and spend based on their income and preferred lifestyle. If their income and preferences don’t change, and the government mandates higher contributions to the CPP, Canadians will simply reduce other savings.

In the end, overall savings won’t change but there will be a reshuffling, with more money going to the CPP and less to RRSPs, TFSAs, and other investments. A recent study that examined past increases in CPP contributions found that for every $1 increase in contributions, the average Canadian household reduced its private savings by roughly $1.

There are important consequences from reduced private savings such as loss of choice and flexibility. For example, money saved in an RRSP can be fully transferred to a beneficiary in the event of death. Not so, for the CPP.

And while some try to justify CPP expansion by claiming the program provides a competitive (if not high) rate of return for retirees, the reality is that individual Canadians—particularly those born after 1971—can expect to receive a meagre return on their CPP contributions. Even after expansion, the return for young Canadians is still modest, between 2.3 per cent and 2.5 per cent, depending on year of birth.

While we appreciate the response from Mr. Brown, we respectfully disagree with him on this issue. The facts remain, there’s no widespread retirement income crisis in Canada. Forcing Canadians to save more through the CPP will simply result in a reduction in how much we save privately.

More in News

‘Crystal clear’ feds have jurisdiction on $7.4-billion Trans Mountain pipeline: here’s how they could ‘reinforce’ it

There’s no doubt that the federal government has authority to approve the Trans Mountain pipeline, says a pair of constitutional lawyers, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s promised legislation to “reinforce” that right could sweep aside…

Liberals could revert to third-party status if MPs ignore constituents’ concerns, warns rookie Grit MP

News|By Abbas Rana
Liberals jumped from the third-party status to win a majority government in the 2015 general election, but they could easily revert to their pre-election status if Grit MPs don't reach out regularly to constituents before…

Senators still split on bringing outsiders onto new expense-audit committee, as Rules Committee study gets underway

Three years after Auditor General Michael Ferguson’s explosive investigation into Senate expenses, Senators still haven’t agreed on whether to include outsiders on a new committee to audit Senate spending. The Senate Rules Committee set to…

Federal spending up two per cent, hits $276.6-billion in main estimates for 2018-19

Federal spending is up by roughly two per cent this fiscal year, reaching an estimated $276.6-billion for 2018-19, with funding for the House of Commons and the Senate up by 6.5 per cent and five…

Senate seeks intervener status to back House BOIE in ongoing court battle with NDP

The NDP’s court challenge of the House Board of Internal Economy’s 2014 order for NDP MPs to repay almost $4-million in expenses continues, with the Senate now seeking intervener status to support the BOIE’s appeal…

New Liberal Party president says Grits have to fundraise hard to secure win in 2019

News|By Jolson Lim
HALIFAX—New Liberal Party president Suzanne Cowan says her party will have to step up its fundraising game at the local level in order to return the Liberals to a second majority government, as the Conservatives…

Liberals don’t need to change fundraising strategy, focus on ridings, says fundraising director at Halifax convention

News|By Jolson Lim
HALIFAX—The federals Liberals are currently behind the Conservatives in fundraising, but Liberal Party fundraising director Christina Topp says the party’s fundraising game plan hasn’t changed as the 2019 federal election inches closer. “The strategy has…

Sunny Trudeau convention speech turns into attack on Scheer

News|By Jolson Lim
HALIFAX—In a convention speech meant to fire up his party faithful before the 2019 federal election, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today touted the Liberals' progressive record and a sunnier political vision, before blasting Conservative leader…

Grits’ ‘self-inflicted wounds’ serious concern for rank and file delegates, MPs, former senior Liberals at Halifax convention

News|By Abbas Rana
HALIFAX—It's a three-day happy gathering of about 3,000 Liberal Party faithful, but one serious concern still being talked about in the hallways and backrooms is the propensity for self-inflicted wounds by top strategists and Prime…