TORONTO — A New Democrat government would work with the provinces to bolster Canadians' retirement security rather than charting a course alone and saddling future generations with massive debt, Tom Mulcair said Thursday.
The NDP leader promised that if he's elected, he would convene a first ministers meeting within six months to come up with a proposal and timetable for expanding the Canada and Quebec pension plans. Business and labour leaders would be consulted, he said.
With only about one-third of Canadians having access to workplace pensions, New Democrats say the CPP and Quebec plan need to be bolstered to top up seniors' retirement savings.
"Provinces like Ontario and P.E.I. have already put proposals on the table — we're going to take those ideas seriously," Mulcair said at a campaign stop.
"I'm going to ensure that an NDP government respects provincial solutions that are already in place."
Mulcair said he would not prejudge the results of the consultations, saying that would be Conservative Leader Stephen Harper's approach, not his.
Mulcair's announcement was part of a broader NDP plan aimed at helping Canadians save for retirement and sparing younger people from shouldering what he called the "social debt" of taking care of seniors.
He has also promised to retain income splitting for pensioners — contrary to Conservative assertions — and repeated his commitment to scrap Tory plans to hike the age of eligibility for old age security benefits to 67 from 65 over six years starting in 2023.
"Whether you are just entering the workforce or nearing your retirement, an NDP government will ensure the Canada and Quebec pension plans are there for you," Mulcair said.
"We will ensure that when a Canadian is promised a pension, they get it. We will make sure that Canadians can afford to retire with dignity."
Last week, Mulcair promised to boost funding for the guaranteed income supplement by $400 million, a move aimed at lifting 200,000 of Canada's poorest seniors out of poverty.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has also promised to sit down with the provinces to try to expand the country's compulsory pension plans.
However, Harper's Conservatives have nixed any mandatory expansion of the CPP, although the idea was initially floated in 2010 by then-Tory finance minister Jim Flaherty.
Harper's refusal to consider the idea has prompted Ontario to craft its own mandatory plan for those without workplace pensions — a move the Tories have denounced as a "job-killing payroll tax."
The Conservatives did promise in May to explore allowing Canadians to voluntarily increase their contributions to the current mandatory plans. However, employers would not have to match an employee's increased contributions.
Mulcair's plan drew praise Thursday from Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger, another New Democrat, who said he would like to see CPP benefits increased gradually.
Selinger wouldn't rule out creating a provincial system but said he would prefer a national approach given the country's mobile workforce.
"By doing it through the Canada Pension Plan, you have the great advantage of being able to continue to pay into that no matter where you work in the country," Selinger said.
"So, it encourages people to go where the jobs are and be able to have that plan continuously available to them throughout their entire working life."
Unifor, which represents some 305,000 private-sector workers, said an expanded CPP would be the "best option" to help boost retirement savings. The Canadian Union of Public Employees said CPP benefits could be doubled in seven years by phasing in contribution increases of less than 0.5 per cent per year for employers and workers.
— With files from Steve Lambert in Winnipeg
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