Pallister can only take one position on CPP changes

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In the world of Manitoba politics, who is the real champion of working people?

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/06/2016 (2423 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

In the world of Manitoba politics, who is the real champion of working people?

In many respects, that is a difficult question to answer.

Both the former NDP government, the remnants of which now toil in Opposition, and the new Progressive Conservative government make daily claims to being the party of working people.

Premier Brian Pallister says his government needs more time to look at the CPP agreement before signing it.

The NDP will point out that when it was in government, it raised the minimum wage on an annual basis and attempted to institute a middle-class tax cut balanced by a surtax on higher-income earners. That plan died when the NDP lost the April election.

The NDP will gleefully point out that the Tories have shown no interest, to date, in raising the minimum wage, something the NDP did annually throughout its time in office. And in their first budget, the Tories significantly reduced seniors’ education property tax credits. Add these things together, and the new Progressive Conservative government is, in NDP eyes, an enemy of current and former working people.

Not surprisingly, the Tories argue they are doing far more to improve the life of working Manitobans than the NDP ever did.

They have pledged to roll back the PST to seven per cent, and to index income tax brackets, a move that satisfies a long-standing complaint by many taxpayers. In the future, the Tories want to make significant increases to the Basic Personal Exemption, a measure that could help the buying power of the lowest wage earners in the province.

The debate currently raging in the legislature is proof that no single political party consistently acts in the best interests of working Manitobans in everything they say and do. This ambiguity extends to many areas of program and policy, like the future of the Canada Pension Plan.

This week in Vancouver, federal and provincial finance ministers met and decided to increase employer and employee CPP premiums to fund a significant increase in benefits down the road. The proposal originated with federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau, and had the support of most of Canada’s largest provinces.

Changes to CPP require the support of seven of 10 provinces representing two thirds of the country’s population. When the meeting was over, all but two provinces signed a letter of support for the new CPP plan: Quebec, which already has its own supplementary provincial pension plan; and Manitoba.

Manitoba’s decision to abstain from signing the letter has not been well explained to this point. Finance Minister Cameron Friesen left Vancouver without talking to reporters, which is odd in and of itself. When asked on Tuesday, Morneau said Manitoba’s new government needed additional time to consider the proposal before making a final decision on whether to sign on. Morneau added that he thought Manitoba would, in the end, get with the program.

Whether that is the case remains to be seen. On Tuesday in question period, the NDP accused the Tories of turning their backs on working people by balking at the national agreement. Both Premier Brian Pallister and Friesen would only say the new government needed more time to assess the impact of the CPP changes.

This is an awkward response by the new government. Manitoba cannot stop the changes to CPP premiums now that the threshold for provinces and population has been reached. However, there is some suggestion the Pallister government may stall in a bid to demonstrate its opposition for the increased premiums.

But is that wish-washy posture likely to satisfy anyone interested in this issue?

No one likes to pay more payroll tax, and even the $400 more per year that this will cost the average wage earner in 2023 represents less disposable income. Those concerns must be balanced by the fact that for many millions of Canadians, the government pension and other supplements are often their only source of income in retirement. Enhancements to those benefits are, therefore, important to that segment of the population.

Economists looking at this issue believe that an increasing number of Canadians will rely solely on government retirement benefits in the future. It is perhaps for those reasons that in a Forum Research poll this week, a strong majority of Canadians (60 per cent) said they supported higher premiums. You would think that might help inform Pallister on which position to take. Unfortunately, it seems Pallister may be listening to another constituency.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business released its own poll, showing that more than 80 per cent of small business owners oppose the higher premiums. Many claim that if imposed, it will force them to lay off employees and pay lower wages.

When you consider the support of citizens, and the opposition of business owners, it is perhaps not surprising that Pallister would ultimately back into the CPP agreement as a reluctant supporter. He wants to be a champion of working people, but he also wants to be a loyal friend to business.

In the end, however, Pallister can only take one position on the CPP changes. The longer he and his finance minister go without making a definitive statement, the greater the chance he will be seen neither as a friend nor a champion.

dan.lett@freepress.mb.ca

Dan Lett

Dan Lett
Columnist

Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.

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