Strikes highlight Canada's pension problems
Published Wednesday, June 15, 2011 7:29PM EDT
One of the key sticking points in both the Air Canada and Canada Post strikes is pensions, an issue that experts say is going to take on more prominence for Canadians in the near future.
With more Canadians facing retirement age, many corporate pension plans are strained, and some have massive shortfalls because of the recession.
Air Canada says it has a $2.1-billion pension shortfall, and the company is now supporting more retired employees than it has current ones. Canada Post has a pension deficit of $3.22 billion.
Peter Merrick, author of "The Essential Individual Pension Plan Handbook," says that with Canadians living much longer after retiring, pension plans are increasingly strained.
"These plans were never put into place to actually support people for 30 to 40 years. It's not maintainable or sustainable," he told CTV's Power Play.
"This is something many individuals as they approach retirement are going to be looking at: ‘Are my pensions properly funded?' And right now they are not."
The average life expectancy of a Canadian is now about 81 years old.
Jim Stanford, an economist with the Canadian Auto Workers' union, says pension plans can recover from the hit they took from the recession.
"When the stock market is doing well, many pensions are in great shape . . . . There's a bit of a boom and a bust factor," he said. "These things can be solved over time, what you don't want to do is throw the whole system out, which is what employers right now are trying to do."
Air Canada wants new employees to accept a defined contribution pension plan, rather than the defined benefit pension plan that is in place for current workers.
With a defined benefit plan, employees have a predictable income, but the airline is on the hook for additional costs if the pension fund's assets can't pay for the benefits.
But less than half of working Canadians have any sort of workplace pension plan. For those that do, the majority work for the government.
Merrick says Canadians need to put greater emphasis on personally planning for their retirement, either through RRSPs or other investments.
"No longer can we rely on big government or big corporations to provide us for the rest of our lives," he said.
Stanford is calling on Ottawa to expand the Canadian Pension Plan.
"Unfortunately, the Harper government, instead of expanding the CPP, is putting more emphasis on individual saving methods," he said.