Michael Ignatieff unveiled the third major plank of his campaign Wednesday, announcing a new program that would allow Canadians to top up their retirement savings through the Canada Pension Plan.
The Liberal Leader is calling it the "Secure Retirement Option" and it would, according to a Liberal background document, allow Canadians to save an extra 5 to 10 per cent of their pay in a retirement fund "backed by the CPP."
Seventy-five per cent of Canadians in the private sector do not have pension plans. The Liberal plan would serve as a new, tax deductible public savings option and would be in addition to what they already put in CPP.
"Let's be clear here," Mr. Ignatieff said. "This is a case where the federal government has to step up and provide leadership on pensions."
The big wrinkle - and it could be a large hurdle - is that a Liberal government would have to negotiate all this with the provinces. A party official said the Liberals would convene a federal-provincial meeting on the issue, if elected.
"We've had no leadership from Mr Harper on pensions in five years," Mr. Ignatieff said. "So what we want to do is sit down with the provinces, make a clear Liberal commitment to strengthen our public pension system and work out with them how we get there."
Mr. Ignatieff made the announcement at a Vancouver pharmacy where employees do not have pension plans.
He said the program would be portable and instead of contributing to an RRSP, individual could put money into the Secure Retirement Option. Contribution limits would be in line with what is now allowed for RRSPs.
In addition to the retirement piece, Mr. Ignatieff pledged that the Liberals would increase the Guaranteed Income Supplement by $700-million. This is aimed at helping low-income seniors - especially women and those with disabilities.
Thirdly, the Liberals would enhance and improve basic CPP benefits.
The Conservatives immediately criticized the Liberal proposal.
"The idea that he is proposing has been pretty much rejected by all the provinces," a Tory war-room strategist told The Globe. "It's very cumbersome to administer, it's expensive and no one seems to be interested in it."
And Jack Layton, whose New Democrats have endorsed an identical increase to the Guaranteed Income Supplement, said it was apparent that the Liberals have been reading his party's platform.
"When people start endorsing your ideas you have to take it as a compliment," Mr. Layton said in Brampton, Ont. where he was promoting his party's job creation policies. "I am thankful that finally seniors are drawing the attention. The Liberals were in power for an awful long time and the seniors were not getting the help at that."
Reporters asked the NDP Leader if the similarities between the platforms of the New Democrats and the Liberals were not a reason for the two parties to co-operate together in a more formal arrangement.
"Well as long as they keep reading from our platform and making announcements from it, you're going to find a lot of similarities," Mr. Layton replied. "Of course, we've seen this before from Liberals. They do tend to make announcements that are potentially progressive and turn around and go the other way."
With a report from Gloria Galloway in Brampton, Ont.