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Prime Minister Stephen Harper responds to a question during Question Period ion Dec. 5, 2013. Mr. Harper's Conservative Party appears cool to expanding the Canada Pension Plan. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper responds to a question during Question Period ion Dec. 5, 2013. Mr. Harper's Conservative Party appears cool to expanding the Canada Pension Plan. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Conservatives appear cool to CPP expansion Add to ...

A debate and vote over whether Ottawa should support an expansion of the Canada Pension Plan will kick off the last week of the fall sitting of the House of Commons.

The NDP is using its last opposition day to trigger the debate, but Prime Minister Stephen Harper is sending clear signals that his government does not want to force Canadians to pay more in premiums during a period of slow economic growth.

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Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne pressed the Prime Minister on enhancing the CPP during a Parliament Hill meeting on Thursday afternoon. She said on Friday that she made little headway.

Ms. Wynne told reporters that the situation is “more urgent” than Mr. Harper seems to think.

“The Prime Minister takes the position that the timing is not right, that the economy is fragile and that that’s his concern,” she said in Timmins, Ont., at a meeting with local politicians, business people and First Nations leaders. “I feel much more urgency based on the input that we’ve had, that people are concerned about their retirement, that people don’t know what their retirement is going to look like. That retirement security discussion is in fact more urgent than I think the federal government is acknowledging at this point.”

Mr. Harper did not say exactly how much the economy would have to improve before he would favour CPP enhancement, Ms. Wynne said.

But she expressed optimism that the provincial and territorial finance ministers would reach a framework when they meet with federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty at Meech Lake on Dec. 16.

“There is a fundamental difference in perspective on this, vis-à-vis the timing, but there was no disagreement that it is an issue,” she said. “It’s just a matter of how to resolve that.”

Last December, Mr. Flaherty emerged from a similar meeting to say the group had “agreed on a way forward” to enhance the CPP. Officials were asked to work out the details.

Now Ottawa appears to be a strong critic of change. This week, Finance Canada attacked the NDP over CPP reform on its website.

“Despite the fragile economic environment, the New Democratic Party has proposed a radical plan to increase payroll tax, stunt our economic growth and kill up to 70,000 jobs. Its irresponsible plan would eliminate thousands of jobs and could endanger our economic growth,” stated the opinion column by Minister of State for Finance Kevin Sorenson posted on Thursday.

The Communications Policy of the Government of Canada states that the government’s values and ethics involve “informing the public about policies, programs, services and initiatives in an accountable, non-partisan fashion.”

After receiving questions from The Globe and Mail, sections of the column criticizing NDP proposals were changed on Friday so that they no longer name the party.

“This was an oversight and the material has been removed,” said Meagan Murdoch, Mr. Sorenson’s spokeswoman.

NDP MP Murray Rankin, who has put forward Monday’s motion calling for Ottawa to support “an immediate phase-in of increases” to the CPP, said the debate should not be a partisan issue.

“I’m disappointed the government would feel they had to resort to this,” he said of Mr. Sorenson’s column.

The vote will likely take place Monday evening, although it could be pushed to later in the week.

Follow us on Twitter: @curryb, @adrianmorrow

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