Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

CPP meeting ends in verbal blows, accusations

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MEECH LAKE, Que. -- A federal-provincial meeting on Canada Pension Plan reform broke up in recriminations Monday after several provincial ministers accused Finance Minister Jim Flaherty of blocking efforts to enrich the plan -- or even agreeing to further study.

Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa, who had threatened to go it alone, said Flaherty and Minister of State for Finance Kevin Sorenson left him no choice with their intransigence.

The federal ministers told reporters after the meeting there had been no consensus, but Sousa and ministers from Prince Edward Island, Quebec and British Columbia all said Ottawa was the only voice against proceeding to consultations and study.

"I'm very disappointed that they used stall tactics in order to ensure that CPP enhancement wasn't even considered at this point in time," a visibly angry Sousa said. "It shows to me that unilateral decisions are being made without consultations with the provinces. Ontario will go it alone, we will look at alternatives as we must to protect the interests of our citizens."

Sousa accused Ottawa of cutting $640 million in transfer payments to Queen's Park in order to try to balance the budget on "the backs of Ontarians."

P.E.I. Finance Minister Wes Sheridan, who has championed a specific proposal to enrich CPP, also made no attempt to hide his emotions, saying he needs 24 hours to consider his options -- and suggesting he may join Ontario.

"At this point we need to reconsider where we go from here. A made-in-Ontario solution may involve every province of Canada," he said.

CPP reform requires approval of seven provinces representing two-thirds of the population, as well as a green light from Ottawa. Most options involve a three- to 10-year phase-in period where premiums are raised to pay for a boost in benefits down the road.

Currently, employees and employers split the 9.9 per cent contribution rate on pensionable earnings up to $51,100. That pays out to a maximum benefit of $12,150 a year, although the average payment now is about $7,200.

The federal position is that any hike in CPP premiums amounts to a payroll tax that would result in fewer jobs.

Provincial officials say no one proposed raising CPP premiums now, but only after the economy has recovered.


-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 17, 2013 0

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