B.C. Premier Christy Clark is expressing optimism with the direction of talks to enhance the Canada Pension Plan just days before a key meeting of finance ministers.
Speaking in Burnaby at an infrastructure announcement with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Ms. Clark said it appears that key concerns about CPP reform are being addressed.
"What I heard today was that provinces are willing to be flexible and that certainly the Prime Minister and the federal government want to make sure that this is something that works for small business, that it works for jobs, that it doesn't affect what in the rest of the country is a pretty fragile economy, so that's all very positive news," she said in reference to her private discussion with Mr. Trudeau on Thursday.
"In terms of what's on the table, that's still being worked through. So you'll get a more definitive comment on Monday," she said.
Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau will meet in Vancouver on Monday with his provincial and territorial counterparts to discuss CPP reform and other issues. When they last met in December, they agreed to have officials prepare options to expand the pension plan. Mr. Morneau has said he would like a final decision on reform to take place by December.
British Columbia's willingness to consider a CPP expansion is significant because the province has largely been on the fence on the issue, expressing concern about the potential harm to employment that could result from higher payroll premiums. Quebec has taken a similar stand historically, but Quebec Finance Minister Carlos Leitao told The Globe and Mail this week that he could support a deal if it is targeted, modest and phased in over time.
Federal pressure on the provinces to accept an expanded CPP – which was a Liberal Party election promise – comes as Ottawa is delivering billions in new spending to the provinces for infrastructure. On Thursday in Burnaby, the government announced $460-million in new funding for public-transit projects in British Columbia – the first major announcement of specific projects that will be funded with infrastructure cash from this year's budget.
Mr. Trudeau suggested Thursday that positive relations between Ottawa and the provinces on issues such as infrastructure spending will help produce an agreement on expanding the CPP.
"We made clear commitments around ensuring retirement security for Canadians. We made a commitment to expand the CPP knowing full well that you don't get to expand the CPP unless you demonstrate a level of collaboration with the provinces that is necessary to do that," he said. "We're working very, very hard to deliver on those promises."
On Parliament Hill, both the Conservatives and New Democrats criticized the level of secrecy surrounding the negotiations. Conservative MPs warned that higher CPP premiums will be bad for small businesses and the self-employed, and pointed to reports that suggest an expansion is unnecessary.
"We're very nervous about this meeting," Conservative MP Gérard Deltell said. "Everything this government touches turns into higher taxes or, worse, a deficit."
NDP finance critic Guy Caron, who supports an expanded CPP, said he hopes what happens on Monday does not repeat past failures of finance ministers to find agreement on expanding the pension plan.
"This topic has been over-studied for the last 10 years. We know what we need to do if we want to increase income security for the future and the government knows as well," he said. "So I certainly hope to have more action and more commitment from the federal level and also the provincial level."