Annual meeting of premiers praises co-operative attitude of new federal government

by Robert Benzie

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hoped to crash the annual premiers conference but was unable to do so because the deal enhancing the Canada Pension Plan has not been finalized, sources told the Star.

In a dramatic break from tradition, Trudeau wanted to swoop into the Council of the Federation meeting ó his first since being elected last October ó to sign the accord bolstering the national pension scheme.

Provincial and territorial officials said plans for a splashy photo op with the prime minister and the premiers were derailed because British Columbia will not finish its public consultations on the CPP until later next month.

That means the accord will not be ratified this summer though there is little danger of it being scuttled before federal legislation expected in the fall.
The premiers gather each summer in a different province ó this yearís summit is the first to be held in a territory ó and no prime minister has ever attended a COF meeting.

Over the past decade under former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, the annual sessions often descended into Ottawa-bashing with premiers from across the country using it as a forum for airing their various federal grievances.

Premier Kathleen Wynne, who proposed the complementary Ontario Retirement Pension Plan in 2014 after Harper refused to improve the CPP, led the charge in thundering against the federal government of the day.

But with Trudeauís Liberals winning power, Wynne said “we have a federal government that is interested in engaging us.”

Indeed, four weeks ago, federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau and the provincial and territorial treasurers achieved a provisional agreement to enrich CPP with premiums for employees and employers beginning to rise in 2019.

That surprise move allowed Wynne to abandon her controversial retirement benefits scheme that would have impacted every employee and employer without a workplace pension plan starting in 2018.

CPP payouts, which currently max out at $13,110 a year, will rise to $17,478 under the revamp, which is not quite as lucrative for contributors as the ORPP would have been.

While the draft deal was supposed to have been formally endorsed by the provinces – excluding Quebec, which has a separate pension plan – by last Friday, B.C. Premier Christy Clarkís consultations will not be completed until late August.

Clark, who supports boosting CPP, is facing an election next spring and wanted more time to sell British Columbians on the enhancement.

“We want to make sure that small business and the public . . . know what the changes are (and) what’s been proposed,î she said in an interview Wednesday.

“There’s been a real mixed message out there. Some people think it’s going to be extremely expensive, some people think itís going to be quite modest. My view is itís going to quite modest,” Clark said.

“We signed onto the agreement in principle because it was our finance minister (Mike de Jong) who took the lead in ensuring that we ended up with a much more modest proposal. In all likelihood we’re going to get there, but itís important to take the time to include the public in these things.”

Cameron Ahmad, Trudeau’s press secretary, said the prime minister “was unable to attend due to
scheduling conflicts this week.”

“But I would highlight the strong emphasis placed strengthening bilateral relationships with all the provinces and territories ó both by the prime minister personally, and by the entire government,” said
Ahmad.

“Last month – fulfilling a key promise to Canadian – the federal government reached a historic
agreement with the provinces to enhance and strengthen the Canada Pension Plan for future generations, and ensure a dignified, secure retirement that Canadians expect and deserve,î he said.

“We believe that Canada works best when its governments come together to achieve progress for
everyone.”

While they were denied an audience with Trudeau – at least until a first ministers meeting expected in Ottawa this fall – the premiers met Wednesday with indigenous leaders.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde said thereís no need to wait until the upcoming public inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls to act on preventing violence.

“Governments can make investments to end violence amongst our people . . . and deal with investments in housing, in education, in training, in daycare, in shelter, in detox centres, and wellness centres. We all have a role to play as indigenous governments as well to make sure that men are healthy,” said
Bellegarde.

Native Women’s Association of Canada President Dawn Lavell-Harvard said “indigenous peoples are not looking for a handout – we’re looking for a hand up.”

“We’re looking for an opportunity to provide for ourselves, for an opportunity for our people to not just survive on a day-to-day basis, but to actually thrive because we have the economic development opportunities, we have the education and development opportunities,” said Lavell-Harvard.

Copyright 2016 -Torstar Syndication Services

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