Well, the earth moved and in late June at a meeting of provincial/federal finance ministers, Bill Morneau got the consensus he needed from eight provinces including Saskatchewan for the phase in of modest enhancements to the Canada Pension Plan. As a result Ontario has agreed to shelve its plans for a home-grown Ontario Registered Pension Plan.
The feds plan to start collecting higher premiums beginning January 1, 2019. Many details still have to be ironed out, but here are 10 things you need to know about how enhanced CPP benefits will impact both employers and employees.
The Canada Pension Plan Act says that once a sufficient number of provincial governments have indicated support, the federal government can move forward and lock in the reform with an Order in Council—no new Parliamentary debate or legislation is required. From that point forward, the expansion will be fixed in place unless amended through a subsequent agreement of two-thirds of provinces to reverse the expansion—which is very unlikely.
If you are already retired or close to retirement you will not benefit from the changes. Someone retiring in 2020 who made one year of the increased contribution would get a tiny amount. Someone retiring in 2030 would have 10 years of extra contributions.
Canadians who work a full 40 years will see their benefits increase (in 2016 dollars) to a maximum of $17,478 instead of $13,000. Therefore the replacement rate will inch up from 25% of the Year’s Maximum Pensionable Earnings (YMPE) to one-third.
The maximum amount of income subject to CPP will increase 14% from $54,900 this year to $82,700.
Increased premiums of one percent will be phased in over seven years beginning in 2019. That means depending on the income levels of individual Canadians, up to $408 will come off their pay cheques.
The refundable tax credit known as the federal working income tax credit will be expanded to help low-income Canadians offset the increase in premiums.
Changes will not impact RRSP (and SPP) contribution room.
To avoid increasing the after-tax cost of the added premiums, Ottawa will provide a tax deduction for the additional contributions rather than a tax credit.
Company pension plans are not always offered – particularly Defined Benefit plans. Therefore it makes sense that young people and mid-career employees will benefit.
Participation is mandatory and from the limited information released to date, it appears that even companies that do have a pension plan will have to make additional contributions and their employees will not be exempt.
At this point it is not clear how the Ontario Registered Pension Plan (ORPP) that will come into effect in 2017 will affect Saskatchewan says Katherine Strutt, General Manager of the Saskatchewan Pension Plan.
“I don’t believe the provincial government is interested in a mandatory pension plan,” she says.
The ORPP is a plan that will require employer and employee contributions to generate additional government benefits in excess of monthly Canada Pension Plan benefits. The average amount of CPP for new beneficiaries in January 2015 was $618.59/month. The maximum monthly CPP benefit in 2015 is $1,065.
The plan would be phased in beginning in 2017 with the largest employers. Contribution rates would be phased in over two years.
Employees and employers would contribute an equal amount, capped at 1.9% each on an employee’s annual earnings up to $90,000. Earnings above $90,000 would be exempt from ORPP contributions.
Earnings below a certain threshold would be exempted to reduce the burden on lower income workers.
Contributions would be invested at arm’s length from the government. ORPP would pool investment and longevity risk and aim to replace 15% of an individual’s earnings.
Participation would be mandatory, but workers who already participate in a “comparable workplace pension plan” would not be enrolled in ORPP. The government says its preferred definition of a comparable plan includes defined benefit and target benefit multi-employer pension plans.
Additional conversations will be held on the best way to assist the self-employed.
An article on the International Foundation of Employee Benefits Plans website aptly summarizes some of the controversy that still surrounds the new program:
“The ORPP proposal has raised concerns among many plan sponsors of defined contribution (DC) plans because the government is proposing that they may not be considered comparable workplace pension plans. Many DC plan sponsors say they already provide adequate contributions. If those plans are not considered comparable, some question whether employers will continue them and/or lower their contributions in order to fund both ORPP and a DC plan.
Another concern is that mandatory contributions will reduce take-home pay and may result in the reduction of other workplace benefits. In the paper, the government said “ . . . some employers may take stock of their current approaches and make decisions about the right compensation mix going forward . . .’”
Both the federal Liberals and NDP parties have publicly supported a CPP enhancement. If either of these parties forms the newly-elected federal government in October, Ontario might opt to hold off on ORPP implementation until a similar national program can be adopted.
Today, I’m pleased to be interviewing Greg Hurst for savewithspp.com. Greg is a pension consultant and pension innovator based in Vancouver. He’s held many roles in the pension industry with large international and small regional consulting firms and a major Canadian insurer.
He’s a member of both the editorial advisory board of Benefits and Pensions Monitor and Benefits Canada’s online expert panel. In fact, two of his articles were among the five most widely-read Benefits Canada pension articles of 2013.
Today, Greg is going to share his thoughts with us on the federal government’s surprising pre-election proposal to study allowing Canadians to voluntarily contribute to the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) to supplement their retirement savings.
Thank you for joining me today, Greg.
Glad to be here Sheryl.
Q: Were you surprised to hear of the federal government’s announcement in May that they are going to reconsider a voluntary top-up to the Canada Pension Plan?
A: It was totally unexpected. Since 2011, the federal government has consistently said it’s not the right time for changes to the CPP, and even more recently – in fact, just before the announcement – they characterized CPP contribution rate changes as a “pension tax hike.”
Q: Interesting. So, why do you think that the Minister of Finance, Joe Oliver, announced these consultations after the government and the provinces previously rejected similar proposals?
A: Well, an election is coming up. The federal Conservatives recognize that CPP expansion will be a significant election issue. In the 2014 Ontario election pensions were front and center, and Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals won with her promise of the Ontario Registered Pension Plan (ORPP), which grew out of the federal government’s refusal to consider CPP expansion in spite of a consensus amongst the provinces. Canadians have come to love the CPP. It delivers on its benefit promises and the CPP Investment Board consistently delivers good news on its investment returns.
Q: Now, in an article you wrote that was published May 27th on the Benefits Canada website, you suggest that “the devil is in the details.” The closing date for the consultations on a voluntary CPP top-up is September 10th and the election will be held on October 19th. Do you think a detailed blueprint for adding a voluntary tier to CPP will be available for public scrutiny prior to the election?
A: It is unlikely. October 19th is the next fixed election date, and that would leave less than six weeks to build and publish the blueprint. It would also require input from the provinces. It would be very irresponsible for the federal government to publish proposals for CPP changes without first consulting the provinces.
Q: Ontario has gone ahead and passed legislation to establish the ORPP. What do you think of those proposals?
A: Well, I really favor mandatory employer and employee contributions for pension benefits. It’s taken a lot of political courage and leadership from Ontario, which has been absent elsewhere in Canada for many, many years to implement the ORPP. But there again, the devil is in the details. I might have different ideas on how to build the ORPP, but I really don’t have any interest in criticizing those who exhibit this leadership in pensions.
Q: In your view, is it likely that other provinces will jump on the bandwagon once the Ontario plan is up and running?
A: I think there’s a good chance of that, particularly if the Conservatives win the upcoming federal election, because they’ve been consistently intransigent in their opposition to workplace pensions with mandatory employer contributions. But if the Liberals or NDP wins, they’re more likely to build on the leadership of Ontario and proceed with CPP expansion, which I think would make the ORPP unnecessary.
Q: Were you surprised by the federal announcement that the Harper government would not help Ontario administer the ORPP?
A: I was quite surprised. To me, it amounted to a juvenile temper tantrum. It seems to be extremely bad policy for the federal government to torpedo any provincial pension initiative, particularly in this way. Administration of contributions could easily be accommodated in the same way as provincial income tax collection. And in terms of tax deductibility, the feds could readily accommodate ORPP contributions in the current tax-assisted framework like they already do for the Quebec Pension Plan and the Saskatchewan Pension Plan.
Q: Do you believe a voluntary supplement to the CPP should be an option for Canadians to save for retirement? Is this something you would use to increase your retirement savings?
A: Well, to answer questions about the concept of a voluntary CPP supplement, I first have to suspend my disbelief that the federal government – and particularly a Conservative government – would actually choose to compete with the financial services industry, which already has a wide spectrum of products and services designed for retirement savings.
I think that the expectations amongst the public with this announcement are that it would be a savings and investment vehicle, in which case my answer would be, no, I wouldn’t use it to increase my retirement savings and, no, I don’t think they should bother.
Q: Why do you say that?
A: Well, although many Canadians might be excited by the possible opportunity to share in the investment results that the CPP Investment Board has achieved — particularly if the cost of investing is similar to the Board’s current cost — that’s not what they would get from a voluntary supplement under the CPP. It would require a different investment mandate from the CPP Investment Board, with the degree of difference dependent upon how much administrative flexibility the plan has. It would be far more expensive at the end of the day and would likely not have much to differentiate it from retirement investment options already available in the marketplace.
Q: And what about the design of a potential voluntary top-up? What do you think? Should the money be locked in? And should there be basic required contributions, or some variability? I mean what should this thing look like?
A: Well, you know, it depends on how they actually design it. They could do it as a standard savings and investment vehicle, or they could do it as a prepaid annuity vehicle, which might be more interesting. So, I think, first off, Canadians would generally choose good, old-fashioned RRSPs over CPP supplements as a savings and investment vehicle, unless the CPP had the same flexibility with no locking-in, in which case the cost would be almost the same as traditional RRSPs. But if a voluntary CPP supplement were designed around the prepaid annuity concept, contributions could be flexible so you could buy as many prepaid annuities as you want, perhaps within some limits; and full locking-in would perhaps be appropriate under that kind of a design.
Q: Now, in a previous question, you referred to the integration of a voluntary CPP into the current income tax rules. Do you think that that’s problematic, or it would be fairly easy to do?
A: I think it could be fairly easy to do within the current income tax rules. If you really wanted to make it work as a prepaid annuity concept, you could put it on top of the existing RRSP limits. It would just be another added-value pension saving that wouldn’t impact your RRSP limits.
Q: That might make it more attractive to particularly people who have topped up their RSP limits already.
Q: So, who do you think should be responsible for investing the contributions made to a voluntary CPP supplement?
A: If it was designed around a prepaid annuity concept, it would be the CPP Investment Board.
Q: How important is keeping costs low to the success of this proposal?
A: Well, it’s fundamentally important if it’s a savings and investment vehicle, which means that it would be very difficult to do without having some sort of subsidy from the government. MERs aren’t really applicable to paid up annuities. But certainly the cost would then likely be comparable to the current costs of the CPP Investment Board services.
Q: When you discuss a “prepaid annuity,” what do you mean? Do you mean that it would operate like a defined-benefit pension as far as the consumers are concerned?
A: Yes. Once you purchase it – so, you come in with “this is the amount of contribution I have. This is my age.” And then that would purchase a certain amount of fixed pension payable at your retirement date of age 65, or maybe 67, assuming that becomes the new normal retirement date. So, when you buy the annuity, you would know how much you’re getting when you reach that retirement date — like a defined-benefit plan.
Q: Do you think that this voluntary top-up to CPP is ever going to see the light of day? Will that depend on who forms the next government?
A: No. Even if it’s a prepaid annuity, I don’t think there will be enough of a market appetite for the concept to proceed. If it were a saving and investment type of program, it would have costs that are too high to really compete with the current, private-sector marketplace. But if the Liberals or the NDP form the government, I believe then we’d see a mandatory form of CPP expansion.
Q: Thank you very much, Greg. I really appreciated talking to you today.
A: My pleasure, Sheryl.
This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted by telephone in July 2015.