Skip to main content

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is shown in her office at Queen's Park in Toronto on Dec. 12, 2013.PETER POWER/The Globe and Mail

A new Ontario pension plan would likely use a defined contribution system, allow workers the choice to opt out and be run by an independent organization at arms-length from the provincial government.

That, at least, is the model Queen's Park is mulling as it moves forward with plans to create a retirement savings system to supplement the Canada Pension Plan.

Premier Kathleen Wynne on Tuesday appointed a panel of academics, finance experts and pension advocates to recommend the specifics of the fund, which will be unveiled in the budget this spring and could become a top issue in a snap election.

And for the first time, she revealed some details on what the plan will look like. For instance, it will oblige both employees and companies to pay in.

"We need to set up a structure so that people can save their own money and they can make an investment, along with their employers, in their future," she said. "There needs to be a mandatory aspect to this to have the number of people involved that makes this a viable plan."

The government is considering a system that would register all workers by default, but allow them to opt out if they feel they are saving enough already.

Panel member Keith Ambachtsheer said the new pension should be managed by an agency separate from government, likely as a non-profit.

"The key is to have an arms-length organization with a separate board, separate governance, a clear mandate and peopled by people that understand that business," Mr. Ambachtsheer, director of the Rotman International Centre for Pension Management, said in an interview.

Unlike CPP, the provincial pension would not guarantee an exact level of benefits, but would instead have targets in the amount of money it would try to return to retirees, he said.

The system Ontario is considering is very similar to the National Employment Savings Trust in Britain, which provides pension plans for workers whose employers do not already offer one.

Ms. Wynne decided to move forward on an Ontario plan after the federal government rejected her call to increase CPP.

Ottawa argues that forcing companies to pay more for their employees' retirements will cause businesses to shed jobs. Instead, the federal government is pushing voluntary Pooled Registered Pension Plans, which Ontario has not yet adopted.

"Ontario should stop dragging [its] feet on implementing Pooled Registered Pension Plans," junior federal Finance Minister Kevin Sorenson said in a statement.

Ms. Wynne argued Tuesday that PRPPs are not enough, since they depend on people to sign up for them voluntarily. Finance Minister Charles Sousa said he was still considering whether to adopt PRPPs, and could provide no guarantee he would bring them in.

Progressive Conservative finance critic Vic Fedeli took a similar tack as his federal counterparts, arguing that any new mandatory pension system would hurt the province's.

"It's a job killer," he said. "It's a shiny bauble that doesn't cost the government any money and makes it appear as if they … care about people."

The New Democrats, meanwhile, support a provincial pension, but accused the government of dragging its feet by referring it for further study instead of simply implementing a plan.

"The Liberals have a great track record when it comes to announcing panels and committees, but a lousy track record when it comes to getting results," NDP House Leader Gilles Bisson said in a statement.

Any new pension would have to be approved by the province's legislature, where the Liberals do not have a majority of seats. If the opposition parties vote down the budget, the province will face an election, likely this spring.