Finance ministers get festive greeting

CALGARY -- Provincial finance ministers were met by a group of festive protesters at the Calgary International Airport Sunday, calling for the Canadian Pension Plan to be expanded.

Dressed as Santa Claus, Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan led the two-dozen strong protest by handing out presents to finance ministers in favour of expanding CPP contributions but had lumps of coal for its opponents, including Alberta's Ted Morton and federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty who failed to make a scheduled press availability.

Morton was followed by the protest group out of the Delta Hotel at the airport, who sang the modified Christmas carol "Let It Grow," while McGowan presented his gift of coal.

"Any changes to CPP would fall under federal jurisdiction," said Morton, who managed to maintain a smile.

"So it would help to have them as an ally."

The finance chiefs are in Calgary ahead of a Monday meeting in Kananaskis.

With nearly half of Canadian seniors without private savings, changes are desperately needed to CPP, said McGowan.

The AFL is calling for a 60% increase to premiums, which he said will double the fund in 40 years.

"This is one of the biggest issues currently facing Canadians because if nothing is done, we face a future of increasing poverty for seniors," he said.

"The maximum annual payout you can get from CPP is $11,000 and the average is about $6,000 and that's not enough to live on."

Manitoba's Rosann Wowchuk, who supports the expansion of the current system, landed on the union's "nice list."

"Although we are coming out of the recession it is still a fragile economy and we have to look at ways we can move forward and one of the most important issues on the agenda is dealing with pension reform," said Wowchuk."

"I'm hopeful with the number of provinces supporting modest changes to Canada pension, moving forward I'm hoping we can make some progress."

Instead of expanding CPP, Flaherty has tabled his own plan in a letter to his provincial counterparts last week, which would see pooled registered pension plans administered by a third party -- likely a bank.

Flaherty was scheduled to speak to reporters Sunday afternoon in Calgary but that was cancelled due to what spokesman Chisholm Pothier described as "logistics."

Toronto Sun, Sun Dec 19 2010
Byline: Dave Dormer

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