British Columbia has decided not to meet the July 15 deadline for approving major changes to the Canada Pension Plan and is opting instead to hold public consultations.
The province's move is raising questions as to why the federal government is not conducting similar consultations, given that Finance Minister Bill Morneau's March budget promised to consult the public on any CPP changes.
The B.C. Finance Ministry announced the consultations on Friday, which is the same day that Ottawa had said was the deadline for all participating provinces to pass cabinet orders adopting the plan agreed to by finance ministers at a June 20 meeting in Vancouver.
B.C.'s online consultations – which are expected to last about a month – do not appear to put the province's support of the deal into question. The official notice of consultations said the province "is committed to engaging with stakeholders in advance of ratifying the agreement in principle."
But they are raising hope among critics of the CPP expansion plan that a small chance has emerged to derail the deal.
"We have a new sense of hope with B.C.'s decision to consult," said Laura Jones, who is based in Vancouver and is executive vice-president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. "It's irresponsible for finance ministers to proceed with this agreement without consulting and understanding the economic consequences of going down this road."
The small business lobby group will be encouraging Ottawa and the other provinces to hold similar consultations.
Mr. Morneau issued a statement on Friday announcing that eight of the nine provinces that signed the June deal have met the July 15 deadline. Quebec did not sign the agreement, but promised to apply some of the changes to the Quebec Pension Plan, which is similar to the CPP but is managed independently.
"The process remains on track for the government to table federal legislation in the fall, as planned," Mr. Morneau said in his statement, adding that B.C. Finance Minister Mike de Jong is still supportive of the deal.
"Minister de Jong of British Columbia played an important role throughout these negotiations and has reaffirmed his support of the agreement in principle signed in Vancouver," he said.
The agreement reached last month would see a gradual increase in premiums that would begin in 2019 until 2025. Over time, those who pay the higher premiums during their working years will receive higher CPP benefits in retirement.
The new maximum of $19,900 a year in CPP benefits – an amount that will rise with inflation – will be available only to Canadians who paid the higher premiums for several decades.
Many questions have yet to be answered in relation to the deal, including how the change will affect government programs aimed at low-income Canadians and how the billions in new premium revenue will be invested by the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board.
Mr. Morneau's March budget said the government's goal was to reach a national deal on CPP reform "before the end of 2016" and that the government "will launch consultations to give Canadians an opportunity to share their views on enhancing the Canada Pension Plan."
When asked about the promised federal consultations, Mr. Morneau's spokesman, Daniel Lauzon, said that would be accomplished through the annual prebudget consultations.
Conservative finance critic Lisa Raitt said that would fall short of what Ottawa promised. "Good for B.C. for pushing the pause button," she said. "We're only in this position because Bill Morneau decided he was going to ram through what he thought Canadians should care about in retirement."