As parties feud over Canada Pension Plan, one constant: we’re not saving enough

Federal political parties may be quarrelling over how best to expand the Canada Pension Plan, but they seem to agree on one thing: Canadians should be saving more for retirement.

OTTAWA — Federal political parties may be quarrelling over how best to expand the Canada Pension Plan, but they seem to agree on one thing: Canadians should be saving more for retirement.

The Harper government, long opposed to expanding the CPP, has suddenly decided to consider giving people the option to funnel more earnings into the program in order to grow their nest eggs.

“Obviously, we always want Canadians to save more,” Employment Minister Pierre Poilievre said Thursday in Ottawa.

The debate over retirement savings is already shaping up to be a major ballot-box issue for the election campaign slated for this fall.

Opposition parties have said a voluntary expansion of the plan doesn’t go far enough to ensure people are in good financial shape when they enter their golden years.

Both the Liberals and the NDP have promised that they will, if elected, pitch a mandatory CPP add-on to the provinces.

Any tweaks to the CPP would require the support of two-thirds of the provinces representing two-thirds of the country’s population.

The federal Liberals have said they will propose a compulsory expansion of the CPP, just like the one introduced by their provincial cousins in Ontario.

“I think the majority of Canadians agree — certainly the majority of Ontarians showed that in the last (provincial)election — that we need to expand the CPP because Canadians are not saving enough,” Liberal MP John McCallum, a former bank economist, said Thursday.

The New Democrats have long supported a compulsory increase to the national pension plan.

The Conservative government has shared scant details about their voluntary plan since Finance Minister Joe Oliver made the surprise announcement earlier this week in the House of Commons.

The proposal represented a 180-degree pivot for the Tories on the subject of the CPP.

On Thursday, Oliver addressed the fact that in 2010 his predecessor, then-finance minister Jim Flaherty, opposed the idea of a voluntary CPP increase.

“Mr. Flaherty was concerned about the administration of a voluntary CPP,” Oliver told reporters on a conference call from Germany, where he’s a attending a meeting of G7 finance ministers and central bankers.

“We now believe it is workable.”

He declined to elaborate, other than to say it would provide a new, flexible savings choice for Canadians.

Oliver also defended the timing of the announcement, which came only a few months before the election campaign and was not included in last month’s federal budget.

Rivals have said they doubt the Tories will ever follow through on CPP expansion, calling the government’s move political opportunism.

“We’re not going to stop looking at ideas that will benefit Canadians just because an election is coming by,” said Oliver.

Unlike his cabinet colleague, Poilievre, Oliver was more cautious when asked if Canadians had saved enough for retirement.

He said a recent study by the McKinsey and Company consulting firm found that 83 per cent of Canadians were headed for a comfortable retirement.