The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Opposition to pension plan may haunt Harper in 2015 election: Wynne

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PICKERING, Ont. - Prime Minister Stephen Harper's refusal to address the retirement income crisis may haunt him when he goes out on the campaign trail in 2015, Ontario's premier said Friday.

There is a lot of support for enhancing the Canada Pension Plan or, as she has proposed, creating a supplementary made-in-Ontario scheme to ensure that people are saving for retirement, Kathleen Wynne said in an interview along the campaign trail.

"I certainly think it will be a question he will be asked in the next election," she told The Canadian Press.

"If we have been able to come back to Queen's Park and be able to implement our Ontario pension plan, then I think it will be something that will be on people's minds and it may very well be an issue that becomes part of the federal campaign," she added.

"I certainly hope it does because as I've said, there are other provinces that are taking part in our technical working group, who are watching very carefully, who are not in any position to do this on their own."

Harper panned the proposal last week, saying people prefer tax breaks as a reward for saving for retirement, rather than having their taxes hiked to force them to save.

The Tories argue it would be harmful to increase contributions from workers and employers until the economy gathers steam.

But Wynne insists people aren't able to save for retirement and the Ontario plan wouldn't hurt the economy because it would be phased in gradually starting in 2017.

The Ontario Retirement Pension Plan is a centrepiece of the Liberals' platform in their re-election campaign. And Wynne hasn't been shy about confronting the federal Conservatives about their opposition to the plan.

Even before the June 12 election was called, Wynne called Harper's antipathy towards pension reform "offensive and inexplicable." She repeated her grievance in Ottawa on Thursday, sparking a war of words with Treasury Board president Tony Clement, who called it a "huge tax grab."

He also took the unusual step of wading into the Ontario election campaign, something the Tories didn't do when Quebec's former sovereigntist premier Pauline Marois was running for re-election in March.

Clement said he wanted Wynne to lose the Ontario election and hoped his former provincial cabinet colleague — now Progressive Conservative leader — Tim Hudak will be premier.

"I personally do," he said Thursday. "But we'll work with anybody who forms a government, of course, in the national interest and in the provincial interest."

Wynne said she was taken aback by Clement's comments, adding "it wasn't what you'd expect from a federal minister.

But she's not surprised, she said. There's an ideological divide on the issue and Hudak sides with his former Tory buddies, she said.

"I suspect that this question is going to come up for him and I'm certainly going to continue to raise this issue," she said Friday.

"Whether we start to implement the Ontario pension plan or not, I think it is a national issue that needs to be kept on the front burner."

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