The Liberal government's call for an expanded Canada Pension Plan is expected to get strong support from most provinces this weekend when federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau and his provincial and territorial counterparts gather in Ottawa.
However, it is not yet clear whether Ottawa will achieve the threshold of provincial support required to go ahead with reforming Canada's national pension plan.
New political parties in power in Ottawa and Alberta represent a major shift in the political landscape when it comes to reforming CPP, which requires the support of two-thirds of the provinces representing two-thirds of the population, as well as the support of the federal government.
In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Alberta Finance Minister Joe Ceci said he intends to be a supportive and active participant when the federal promise is raised during the two-day meeting.
"I think an expanded CPP could be a benefit to all Canadians," he said.
Mr. Morneau will play host to his finance minister colleagues in Ottawa Sunday evening. That will be followed by a formal meeting Monday at Finance Canada headquarters. It marks the first face-to-face meeting of finance ministers since the October federal election, providing an opportunity for ministers to discuss issues like the state of the economy, the future of federal transfers, infrastructure spending and pensions.
For several years now, finance ministers have debated CPP reform at their annual December meeting but the required level of support has not materialized. Alberta had opposed the idea at times under the leadership of the Progressive Conservatives, while the federal Conservatives shifted from supporting it to strongly opposing CPP enhancement.
Some provincial finance ministers say Quebec has quietly expressed some concerns recently about the federal Liberal plan, meaning it is not clear where the province stands. Quebec Finance Minister Carlos Leitao declined a request for comment.
Mr. Morneau told reporters Tuesday that CPP reform will be an "important" issue on the agenda.
While there is general consensus that many Canadians should be saving more for retirement, the debate in public-policy circles has focused on whether the problem is limited to middle- to higher-income Canadians who lack a workplace pension or whether the problem requires a more broad-based response.
The federal Liberals have sided with those who say the current CPP does not pay enough in retirement and that a modest, mandatory increase in payroll premiums is required in order to provide more generous retirement benefits. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business, a small-business lobby group, warns higher premiums will hurt employment and has been touring the country urging provincial ministers to oppose the plan.
Mr. Ceci said it appears from his conversations that there is now the required level of support to move ahead, but added that it will only be known for sure once the ministers gather face to face.
The push for CPP expansion has largely been led at the provincial level by Ontario. In an interview, Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa also said it appears there is enough support to move ahead but that he was not certain.
"I'm more encouraged now," he said. "The biggest hurdle before was the fact that the federal government then had no appetite for even having it as an issue for discussion. So that's a big change."
Frustrated by the lack of progress at previous meetings on the topic, Ontario has announced plans to go ahead with its own supplementary program called the Ontario Registered Pension Plan. However, Ontario has presented that as a second-best option to a national CPP expansion.
Mr. Sousa said his government is currently moving on "two tracks" and the meeting could determine whether the province chooses to focus on its provincial plan or a new national plan.
"If there's apprehension, if there's delays, if there's stalling that's going to put things in jeopardy, well, we're going to have to continue moving forward on the Ontario plan," he said. "We'll see what happens. I don't know how it's going to go."
Manitoba Finance Minister Greg Dewar said he's "excited" about the discussion on CPP reform and will be supporting the federal proposal.
"Quebec has some issues with the federal government's approach, but our approach here in Manitoba is we support the new government's plan to enhance the current Canada Pension Plan," said Mr. Dewar.