Boost CPP benefits, premiums: Layton

NDP Leader Jack Layton is turning his attention protecting seniors' pensions and boosting the guaranteed income supplement as the parties head into the second week of the campaign.
NDP Leader Jack Layton speaks to supporters in Toronto on the issue of protecting pensions. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

NDP Leader Jack Layton is turning his attention to protecting seniors' pensions and boosting the guaranteed income supplement as the parties head into the second week of election campaign.

Layton unveiled the latest portion of his campaign platform at a rally in Toronto.

The NDP leader said that he'd gradually double the benefit seniors get from the Canada Pension Plan and the Quebec Pension Plan over seven years if elected prime minister. Under the Layton plan, the federal and Quebec pension would pay as much as 50 per cent of the income a person earned before retirement.

The national pension program currently pays as much as a quarter of Canadians' pre-retirement earnings.

In order to double CPP and QPP benefits, Layton said companies would have to pay an additional nine cents per hour per employee.

He told a news conference in Toronto the added cost to companies is "something that can be absorbed."

Workers, he said, would end up paying roughly $3 a week more to allow for the increase in pension benefits.

Employees and employers each currently contribute to the retirement plan up to a maximum of $2,217.60 a year each.

The maximum retirement benefit for someone retiring at age 65 is $960 a month, or $11,520 a year.

Federal statistics, however, have shown the average CPP retirement pension that Canadians actually received in late 2010 was just $504.50 a month — a little over $6,000 a year.

The CPP fund had more than $140 billion in it at the end of 2010.

Conservative Jim Flaherty said during his March budget speech the federal and provincial governments were looking at "a modest enhancement" to the CPP and that any changes must "reflect the need to protect Canada's economic recovery."

However, Flaherty said at a meeting of finance ministers in December that the federal government did not think it was time to raise the mandatory CPP premiums, because Canada's economic recovery was still fragile.

At that meeting, Flaherty and provincial finance ministers said they were working on a plan to implement a pooled registered pension plan.

Guaranteed incomes

The NDP plan would also allow Canadians to add to their guaranteed public pensions with funds from their personal savings, aiming at younger Canadians who don't have a company pension.

"This would be a low-cost, guaranteed alternative for Canadians who are fed up with high mutual fund management fees and who want a more stable option when it comes to retirement investment," Layton said in a speech.

The NDP leader is also renewing his call for $700 million more to be invested each year in the guaranteed income supplement. The NDP had called for the injection of funds prior to Stephen Harper's budget that was introduced in March.

The Conservative budget, which was introduced but not passed before the election was called, included an immediate $300-million increase to the guaranteed income supplement.

Layton also announced a plan on Monday that would automatically enrol seniors for guaranteed income supplement and old age security programs. The NDP would also extend retroactive benefits to 36 months from 11 months.

The retroactivity clause is new to the NDP platform. Layton said it is important to make a provision so that seniors can apply for benefits that they previously didn't know they were entitled to receiving.

"So that we don't have so many seniors left behind from their government programs when they need them," he said.

The NDP is also pushing legislation that would allow pensioners to be put to the front of the line when it comes to recouping funds from companies that face bankruptcy or insolvency.

"When companies plunge into bankruptcy, employees who spent years paying into workplace pensions saw their savings simply wiped out," Layton said.

"And Stephen Harper's response is to simply ask Canadians to double down on the private plans that all too often have failed them in the past. It is not good enough."

'Who do you trust?'

Layton has been fighting to gain a higher profile in the campaign so far. Conservative Leader Stephen Harper has often discussed how he is fighting against a coalition led by Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff.

During a campaign stop in London, Ont., Monday evening, Layton criticized both of his rivals, but lashed out at Ignatieff in particular, accusing him of supporting the Harper government over the years and criticizing the Liberal leader for voting in favour of the HST.

Layton also used the opportunity to reinforce his party's platform, including improvements to health care and a cap on credit card fees.

When making his pitch to help seniors, the NDP leader tried to differentiate himself from his two chief rivals. He said the issue boils down to whom Canadians think they can trust.

"I will be asking Canadians: who do you trust to fight for your pensions?  Who do you trust to give your family a break?" Layton said.

"The New Democrat pension plan is practical, it's affordable, and it will give an immediate boost to the retirement security of Canadian families."

Meanwhile, Ignatieff has not given up on the fight for a one-on-one debate with Harper, which would exclude other party leaders.

When Ignatieff launched the Liberal party's campaign platform on Sunday, he also committed to boosting the Canada Pension Plan and the guaranteed income supplement by $700 million.