TO: Tony Clement
President, Treasury Board
FROM: A. Policy Wonk
According to Canada's Auditor General, public service pension plans are at risk and currently face a $152 billion liability that could easily increase in the near future. I know you said that you have no immediate plans to deal with the problem and prefer instead to concentrate on converting sick leave to a new short-term disability plan. But there are things we can do now to tackle this looming problem. Things like:
* Transfer back the $30 billion pension plan surplus used to reduce the national debt back in 1999. The public service unions challenged that transaction but the courts said the government was free to make that move essentially as a bookkeeping exercise. Presumably we're also free to reverse that accounting entry and immediately reduce the pension liability by 20 per cent. (Hey, just kidding, Tony.)
* Allow the pension plans to invest in high risk investments. With interest rates so low, it's impossible for those funds to get ahead of the curve and generate a surplus. Sure, there's always the chance the plans will lose money but we both know you can't make a retirement omelette without breaking a few investment eggs.
* Change the law. Yes, the pensions are guaranteed by statute but statutes are amended or repealed all the time. It's not like pensions were guaranteed by an enforceable contract. Although it might seem unfair to change the rules of the game for retired folks who rely on fixed incomes, federal government pensioners have long been easy targets. All we need do is describe the pensions as "gold-plated" and the recipients as wealthy, underworked ingrates. It's a sure fire formula for success because public servants are everyone's favourite punching bag. And, with any luck, you and your cabinet buddies won't even have to address the irony of having your own platinum-plated pension plans.
* Encourage public servants to resign now and reduce the government's pension commitment. We've already made great strides in reducing workplace morale and raising stress levels but surely we can do more. Little things can help push employees to their limit and get them to leave voluntarily. Decreasing cubicle size, restricting natural light and reducing fresh air intake are just a few of the steps that will have employees handing in their notice and thereby saving us billions in future pension liabilities.
* Reduce the length of time pensioners collect. The Auditor General noted that one of the biggest problems with the pension plans is that pensioners are living longer and collecting more and more benefits. It's not likely they will be willing to voluntarily give up their entitlements but steps can be taken to lower their life expectancy. Doubling their health insurance premiums was a small step in that direction.
* Consider other stressors de-indexing the pensions or even reducing them outright. Just as some have proposed upping the qualifying age for the Canada Pension Plan, let's consider implementing a cut-off age for government employees' plans. Let's face it; if someone's still receiving pension payments after age 80, they're just being greedy.
* If government retirees still tenaciously cling to life after all that, it's always worth considering personal harassment programs which can easily be contracted out. And speaking of contracting out, as a last resort, pensioner death squads could always be implemented but hopefully it won't come to that. After all, we are still a civilized society, right?
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