When Tories, the Fraser Institute and media team up to attack plans to improve the CPP, you have to know it needs fixing!

Posted on June 19, 2016, 2:36 am
8 mins

ILLUSTRATIONS: A luxurious retirement? Do you get the feeling that ship may have sailed? Well, rich conservatives and their flunkies want you to think that a better Canada Pension Plan is a bad idea anyway. Below: Conservative Party of Canada Finance Critic Lisa Raitt.

Wow! Talk about a full-court press! All the usual suspects are pouring on their attacks against improvements to the Canada Pension Plan.

It’s almost as if they’re all singing from the same hymnbook – probably one printed in the musty basement of the Fraser Institute bunker not far down the road from Vancouver’s old Pacific Press Building, which is nowadays home to pricey, empty condos.

RiattIt should tell you something when the likes of the Fraser Institute, the remaining journalists of Canada’s shrivelling “news industry,” and the Conservative Party of Canada are all shouting at you about why improving the CPP is such a terrible idea.

And that something is not, just to be perfectly clear, that improving the CPP is a terrible idea.

On Friday, Conservative Finance Critic Lisa Raitt took to the airwaves to tell Canadians via CBC Radio that higher contribution rates would be “a drastic step of increasing everybody’s cost across the board in order to get a benefit in the future.”

A drastic step, got that? I’m mildly surprised she didn’t call fixing the CPP for the 21st Century “a radical economic experiment.” She probably will soon.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been taking the radical position that Canadians ought to be able to afford the things they need now while they try to save enough for a secure retirement. Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, who like the PM is a Liberal, has been going a step further and saying that her province will set up its own supplementary plan if Ottawa doesn’t do something about the fact no one is going to have a decent retirement on $500 a month, which is roughly the average CPP payment.

No! No! Canadians are saving enough, really they are, explained Ms. Raitt, calling the plan to fix the CPP, in the CBC’s summation of her words, “a solution looking for a problem.”

Oddly enough, these were the same words used by a former director of the Fraser Institute to describe the idea of improving the CPP. The opinion piece quotes a study by – who else? – the Fraser Institute.

Meanwhile the notorious boiler-room for market-fundamentalist propaganda on Burrard Street in Vancouver itself is churning out, well, propaganda telling us all why improving the CPP is a terrible idea, every word of it picked up and rebroadcast religiously by what’s left of the mainstream media echo chamber.

Just last Thursday, the Fraserites published a list of “Five Myths of the Canada Pension Plan,” which was quickly and hilariously debunked by the Broadbent Institute’s Press Progress.

Let’s start with the Press Progress rebuttal first – which is what we used to call “Fairness, Accuracy and Balance” back in the days I still worked for the Calgary Herald, that fearless champion of the overdog.

In summary, the Fraser Institute denies the existence of the problem by averaging wealth mostly held by the wealthy, uses research “riddled with errors” to claim solving the problem will cause a problem, wildly exaggerates the cost of the CPP, misleadingly claims returns have declined, and proposes increased savings with private investment companies as a solution for low-income seniors. Say what?

However, I actually thought the Fraser Institute’s Five Myths Documents did get effectively to one issue. To wit: The real reason all these folks are screaming about how we shouldn’t even think about changing the CPP. “Myth 2” on the list of Fraser Factoids says that having Canadians contribute a little more to their federal pension “will reduce their private voluntary savings (in RRSPs, TSFAs and other investments)…”

It probably won’t make a significant difference, but as Press Progress pointed out, a 2015 Statistics Canada study did find evidence of some decrease in private savings if government pensions are adequate. However, it qualified, “on the whole, the evidence shows ‘employer-assisted saving’ leads to ‘greater wealth accumulation’ for workers.”

But this is likely the source of all the recent sound and fury, because any forgone profit for the investment industry is going to be viewed as a problem for the investment industry, its billionaire bosses, and its legions of lobbyists. Moreover, to be blunt about this, it’s pretty obvious who the Fraser Institute, the Conservative Party and the financial media work for on issues like this, and why.

In this case of the media, this explains why, as Press Progress also noted, journalists never seem to actually check the “facts” in the Fraser Institute’s endless stream of piffle-studies.

Plus, of course, there is the matter of employer contributions to the CPP. More forgone revenue, likely to be opposed as bitterly as the idea of a $15 minimum wage.

An honest accounting shows that Canadian families are saving for retirement at half the rate they did a quarter century ago, and the reason is because they can’t afford to. “The best available evidence shows that half of today’s middle-income earners born between 1945 and 1970 face a drop of at least 25 per cent in their standard of living when they retire,” says the Canadian Labour Congress.

And if you’re one of those who doesn’t trust the CLC because, you know, they’re union bosses, then how about the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce? The CIBC says the same thing.

Seniors living in poverty may suit Conservatives, the Fraser Institute and media outlets like Postmedia, which has a “strategic alliance” with a company gently described as “an online provider of short-term loans.”

It shouldn’t suit Canadians.

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Postmedia schedules ominous conference call for July 7

Speaking of Postmedia, the financially troubled Toronto-based, now mainly U.S.-owned media conglomerate has ominously set up an investor and analyst conference call for Thursday, July 7, “to discuss its financial results for the quarter ended May 31, 2016.” Media will be allowed to listen in, but not ask any questions, impertinent or otherwise.

With media tip sheets like Ottawa’s Frank Magazine reporting that Postmedia plans to shed another 900 employees this year in the wake of last January’s bloodbath after the newsroom mergers in Edmonton, Calgary and Ottawa, this can’t be a good sign.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

14 Comments to: When Tories, the Fraser Institute and media team up to attack plans to improve the CPP, you have to know it needs fixing!

  1. Dave

    June 19th, 2016

    For those who have enough for a secure retirement the CPP as it stands now is just fine. But for the great majority of people who won’t have enough money for a secure retirement, improving the CPP now is needed so they can retire without being in poverty. Improvements should have been made at regular intervals perhaps in every decade.

    Yes, it will cost employers some more to help fund an improved CPP, but if regular improvements had been made in the last 50 years, the people who are their customers would have enough income to enable them to purchase goods from those same employers now. So what’s wrong with having customers with money to support their business? Instead employers are feeling the effects of weak CPP benefits.

    Reply
    • TENET

      June 19th, 2016

      Sums it up!

      Reply
  2. Farmer B

    June 19th, 2016

    Why are people saving less for retiremen than 25 years ago? I would say housing costs and I think we pay more in government taxes and user fees. Personally I am self employed and always worked on the assumption CPP wouldn’t exist when I retired. Looks like I was wrong there. From an employer perspective I think you have rapidly increasing municipal taxes, for certain industries the minumum wage increase, the upcoming carbon tax and a possible CPP increase. You can only increase costs so much and employees start getting layed off or the business shuts its doors.

    Baby boomers have dictated policy as they age and as far as CPP I would say they are doing it again. It would also seem logical that CPP needs to be looked at every so often to make it is meeting Canadians needs. Just keep in mind all levels of government are continually increasing their taxing demands at some point this stifles economic growth whether your willing to admit it or not. Have a good day:-)

    Reply
    • m

      June 21st, 2016

      There’s a lot of ideological mantras when it comes to economic growth, taxes and wage increases. For one thing, what do we mean by economic growth…on a finite planet? And doe things like weapons manufacture, and ilndustrial agriculture, clear cutting of riparian areas, and McMansions on every hill, qualify for economic growth?

      Some of these activities might make profits here and devastation elsewhere. And how about the amount of water we are destroying with in situ mining of bitumen, or horizonatal fracking? Both qualify as economic growth, but for the sustainability of our ecosphere, they might prove disasterous.

      Similarly with taxes. A tax system that favours the rich will ultimatlely destroy many good public services, like health and education, that also fuel economic growth. When people have jobs, they tend to spend money…when the service industry flounders because we only have enough taxes to maintain the highways, stagnation in the economy increases. But neo-liberal mantras see economic growth in terms of extractivist industries…profitable corporations maximmizing profit….this free market focus blinds many to the fact that government funded services, paid for with tax dollars, is a big part of a prosperous economy.

      Finally, Canadians who have worked hard all their lives, deserve a comfortable retirement. Not luxurious, but comfortable. We need to pay enough into the system during our working years to quarantee that for all of us. And of course, if seniors have a reasonable disposable income in retirement, they spend that money in the economy. If they don’t have enough to retire on the economy suffers….or we let them starve quietly.

      So the conflict between taxes and benefits may be largely a manufactured one. there is absolutely no point in being tight with CPP…such meanness of spirit will not ‘grow the economy’ or lead to individual prosperity. The Fraser institute might think so…but they subject their research to an ideological lense, that tends to distort reality.

      Reply
  3. Alvin Finkel

    June 19th, 2016

    “A drastic step of increasing everybody’s cost across the board in order to get a benefit in the future,” says Lisa Raitt. That’s exactly what right wingers said when unemployment insurance was introduced, when medicare was introduced, and when CPP was introduced. Shame on wealthy people like Ms. Raitt who want us to return to the period of the poorhouses and breadlines.

    As for Farmer B, with all due respect, you are wrong in almost everything you say. Taxes are lower now than 25 years ago. In 1991, the GST was 7 percent, whereas now it’s 5 percent; the top corporate tax rate, when you combined federal and corporate rates was 44 percent in Alberta; now it’s 27 percent. In 1991 the top income tax rate in Alberta, federal plus provincial, was 46 percent and you reached it at a relatively ordinary income. In 2015 the top rate was 39 percent; that will rise to 48 percent this year but only if your taxable income is a hefty $300,000. You say that increases in taxes stifle economic growth “at some point.” What point? International study after international study shows virtually no relationship between rates of economic growth and tax rates. The Scandinavian countries and Germany have some of the highest tax rates in the world but also the fastest rates of economic growth. Private employers know that they get a boost from the healthy, educated work forces that these countries provide along with excellent infrastructure. And though many private enterprisers don’t like to admit it, the more government jobs and services there are, the better you are looked after and the bigger the ultimate stabilizer in the economy: you can all chicken out from investing as you did during the Great Depression when government spending was only 10 percent of most Western economies and there is nothing to get the economy moving again. Now when you are firing all your employees and sitting on your money waiting for someone to prime the pump, all those government employees, collectors of pensions and AISH, and people getting private-sector jobs because of infrastructure spending provide the consumers that allow you to start hiring again. I realize, Farmer B, that you think that you are speaking “common sense.” But often the research shows that common sense is nonsense and in terms of economic policy would lead us where past “common sense” lead us–to Depression and war.

    Reply
    • Farmer B

      June 20th, 2016

      From 2006-2015 inclusive the average growth in GDP of Sweden was 1.9%, 140th in the world. In the same time period Canada was 1.7%,145th in the world. Germany was 1.5%,151 in the world. Norway was 1.2%,158th in the world. Denmark was .4%,175 th in the world. So your argument for fastest growing economies is a bit off. But you are correct tax freedom day does come sooner than before Stephen Harper was Prime Minister. So how do you explain Canadians saving less for retirement?

      Reply
      • Athabascan

        June 20th, 2016

        It’s not rocket science Farmer B. People save less for retirement today, because they spend more of their money on living today rather than saving for the future. they simply don’t have any money to put away.

        When the average wage has been eroded by inflation and the ass-backward myth of trickle down economics, it’s no wonder they don’t have any money left at the end of the month.

        As for Lisa Raitt, she has no credibility whatsoever. It’s easy to criticize against the need to enhance the CPP when she is the beneficiary of a platinum plated pension courtesy of the Canadian taxpayers. Anyone who is well taken care of like her should be disqualified from this debate in the first place. I guess she’s got her stash and she figures no one else is entitled to their share. That’s typical neocon ideology – All for me none for you.

        As for the argument that CPP is a payroll tax, that’s a crock based on 10 years of Harper propaganda. It is nothing like a tax. Instead, it is a social savings plan that invests in our future. Where do right-wing one percenters think that money will go once it is paid out to seniors. Here’s the answer for people like Farmer B. It’ll go back into the economy in the form of consumer spending. That’s because seniors unlike corporations don’t have the means to hoard cash.

        If more older Canadians could afford retirement with the help of improved CPP benefits, they might exit the labour force sooner thereby freeing up employment opportunities for younger job seekers.

        We finally got rid of Harper and his misleading and simplistic propaganda. Let’s not cling to it by listening to the idiotic arguments that Raitt and others of her ilk are trying to foist upon us as she personally sits on an obscene retirement plan that is akin to winning the lottery for most Canadians. She can criticize the day she rejects her MP pension and is forced to live on CPP. At least then she will have more credibility, but until then she’s just blowing hot air.

        Reply
        • Alvin Finkel

          June 20th, 2016

          Farmer B, just a reply to your stats re average growth of GDP in various countries. You choose the time period, 2006-15, which includes a major world recession. But if we look at a longer period and simply see where each of these countries has ended up by 2015, we find that they are all ahead of Canada, Norway, the only other oil country in the group substantially so, the others modestly so (whether you use IMF or CIA or World Bank figures). All of these countries, with their high taxes and redistributive programs, boast a much better distribution of wealth than Canada as measured by their “Gini coefficients,” the measure used to compare wealth of different income groups. Of course the U.S., though behind Norway, is ahead of the rest of this group of countries. So I’ll simply reiterate the point that I made initially that research shows “virtually no relationship between rates of economic growth and tax rates.” By contrast there is a clear relationship established between economic equality in terms of crime rates, obesity rates, mental health, and reported happiness. You can check out a book called The Spirit Level by Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson. We may think that having government off our backs and leaving us to our own devices will make us happier. All the evidence suggests the opposite, whether it is evidence that compares different countries or even that just compares different U.S. states.

          Reply
          • Maryinga

            June 25th, 2016

            Yes. I’ve read The Spirit Level, and the evidence is conclusive. There is something pathological about living in societies with great income differences, have’s and have not’s create a culture that is detrimental to both high and low earners.

            We worship money too mindlessly; value felicity, trust in each other, mutual respect and nurturance too little. Sexism helps in this regard, but so too does all the propaganda designed to tell us our worth equates with our bank account.

            In reality, our worth equates with how we care for each other. Tommy Douglas knew this when he said, ‘all that matters about us is how we take care of each other.” In societies that abandon that truth in favour of competition and winner take all philosophies (to use that term loosely), we end up with all kinds of pathologies, addictions and social ills.

            Pay it forward for goddess’ sake; stop being so niggardly, so penny pinching and so damn mean. It serves no purpose; and its not good economics either.

      • Alvin Finkel

        June 20th, 2016

        HI Farmer B. When you are not attacking tax rates, you identify an important reason why retirement savings are not rising: the vastly increased cost of housing over the past 25 years relative to incomes. People are paying for mortgages far longer than they once did. The huge decline in defined-benefit pensions versus defined-contribution pensions means as well that for most people any private pension they might have provides unstable income. We also live longer than people did one and two generations ago and so retirement incomes need to last longer. And as the piece below, from the quite conservative Conference Board of Canada makes clear, median incomes in Canada have risen only a smidgen since 1976 thanks to growing income inequalities (not as bad as the U.S. for sure, but still a negative trend).

        http://www.conferenceboard.ca/hcp/hot-topics/caninequality.aspx

        Reply
  4. jay

    June 20th, 2016

    Wow, spending more now to gain a benefit in the future. What a disgrace. CPP reform would help future generations, but conservatives only seem to care about our grandchildren when they’re advocating cuts to education or healthcare

    Reply
    • Maryinga

      June 21st, 2016

      An equalitarian world is not in their interests. Everybody should know that by now.

      Reply
  5. David

    June 20th, 2016

    The real problem is not housing costs or taxes, although these are significant costs younger people face (more so housing costs, taxes have gone up and down over the years, but housing costs seem to have mostly steadily gone up).

    The problem here is that there are a lot fewer employer pension plans than 20 to 30 years ago. In an effort to reduce costs, many corporations have quietly (or not so quietly) reduced or eliminated pension plans over the years. What used to be provided has been mostly offloaded, but no one has picked covering it so it now falls to government to deal with it.

    The existing solutions are piecemeal and do not address the problem well. RRSP’s are not really designed for low income people and really work best for those in the middle and upper income. The much oversold TFSA, also does not provide much benefit or incentive for lower income to save. For instance, the annual tax savings from a TFSA for someone in the lowest tax bracket (who puts in the maximum amount, which is unlikely) is about $0.50/day. In comparison, someone in the top tax bracket who makes the maximum RRSP contribution gets a tax refund of over $25/day.

    I suspect the real reason conservatives fear increasing CPP is not because employees will have to pay more, but because the same corporations that cut pension benefits over the years may now have to pay more in matching contributions. Of course the Fraser Institute is reluctant to make this argument too strongly, even if it is their main concern, as putting shareholders first does not get much public support.

    Reply
  6. Peter Harris

    June 24th, 2016

    Wow! I am supposed to be upset because my employer and I are going to be contributing a little more into the best performing retirement plan around, over the next ten years, so that I can be assured of a better-than-today mediocre retirement benefit? Who are these neoliberal idiots at the Fraser Institute trying to kid? I wish I could be part of a CPP plan that allowed me to contribute more.

    Reply

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