A federal task force wants to hear ideas from Canadians about ways of improving financial literacy.

The Task Force on Financial Literacy announced Monday it will hold public hearings in 15 communities across the country in April and May as part of a three-month national consultation process. The group is also encouraging people to submit written comments by mail or through its website.

The task force was a byproduct of last year's federal budget — a time when consumers were helplessly watching their investments and retirement nest-eggs plunge in a sharp market downturn.

"While people have always had to make some difficult financial decisions, the challenge today, compared with the past, is that there are so many more decisions to make — each seemingly more complex and urgent than the last, and each with long-term consequences, both for the individual and for society as a whole," a consultation document says.

"A financially educated population will be better able to weather economic downturns, as well as benefit from periods of growth," it says.

Last year, research carried out by Statistics Canada for the task force found that almost a quarter of Canadians were weak in keeping track of their finances, planning ahead and staying informed about financial matters. Thirty per cent were not planning for retirement.

"More than one in three Canadians are struggling or cannot keep up with their finances," task force chair and Sun Life CEO Donald Stewart told a news conference. "It is time to make financial literacy a priority."

To jump-start the discussion, the task force released a discussion paper that outlined the key issues it wants Canadians to think about in areas as diverse as retirement, saving, debt, home ownership, paying for post-secondary education and financial fraud.

Some of the questions the task force invites Canadian to answer:

  • What would you recommend to improve and/or build on existing financial literacy programs and initiatives in Canada?
  • What do we need to do to make financial education universal, relevant and accessible to all Canadians?
  • What strategies would you recommend to help consumers who are overwhelmed by the number and type of financial products that are available to them?
  • What changes do you believe could be made to help people make more informed choices when it comes to debt and borrowing?
  • How can we make Canadians aware of the financial information that is available, and capture their attention and interest?

The 13-member task force includes members from the financial industry, credit counselling agencies, academia and financial planners.

It hopes to present its recommendations to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty by the end of the year.