Just 13 people will decide whether to improve your chances at saving for your future. The federal and provincial finance ministers will meet on Monday, December 16th to decide whether to increase the Canada Pension Plan.
Any change to the CPP affects 18 million working Canadians and their employers, so the amending formula sets the bar high -- two-thirds of the provinces with two-thirds of the Canadian population plus the federal government must agree. But this also gives a veto to the major provinces and the federal government -- turning our retirement security into a political football.
All the federal government has to do is to convince a couple of the larger provinces to stand back and poof! - no change to CPP. That happened in December 2011 when Quebec refused to join the other provinces calling for a CPP increase - particularly disappointing because just six months earlier, the finance ministers proudly announced that there was a retirement savings problem and they were going to fix it - with a modest CPP hike and a voluntary option, Pooled Registered Pension Plans. Neither has seen the light of day - the voluntary PRPPs because no one wants them and the CPP increase because now the federal government doesn't want it.
Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty could hide behind the failure of the provinces to agree to refuse to act on increasing the CPP. Too bad, because he was the one to suggest it in the first place with a personal Letter to the Ontario finance minister.
That may change now that Quebec has signed on just days before the upcoming finance ministers meeting.
The focus shifts to Minister Flaherty who actually agrees that increasing CPP is a good idea but not now.
So if not now, when?
Even employer groups which already provide workplace pensions agree. The employer groups that vehemently oppose CPP hikes mostly don't offer any pension support for their employees.
And their arguments are increasingly hysterical. They are still calling any CPP increase a "job killer" and managed to convince the junior minister of Finance to parrot their talking points. They publish a poll they claim says the majority of Canadians don't want a CPP increase.
Respondents were asked whether they support a mandatory CPP increase but the other choices in the same question were: tax cuts to allow people to save more and a government handout to match an RRSP/TFSA contribution. Who wouldn't want free money? And from the government no less!
They ask whether an immediate CPP increase would be harmful without reminding people that today's maximum premium is $2,356.20 a year if you earn $50,000 or more. No one is proposing more than $800 a year increase for that income level, even less for lower income levels. If the respondents knew that, would they have said that they wouldn't be able to afford food and housing or feel the need to freeze or cut workers' salaries?
Anyway, most people are not buying those arguments and for many, this has become a ballot issue.
Canadians are not sitting by idly now either. Thousands have emailed Ottawa ahead of Monday's meeting.
So it has come down to the final stretch. This is the chance to improve retirement security for a generation. Whatever happens in Meech Lake on Monday, it will take place in the full glare of public scrutiny.