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Susan Eng, vice-president of advocacy for the seniors lobby group CARP, says the results of a new survey show Canadian seniors consider the Canada Pension Plan issue to be a ‘ballot box’ issue that will affect how they vote in the next election.JIM ROSS/The Globe and Mail

Conservatives are losing support among Canadian seniors for refusing to expand the Canada Pension Plan, warns a national seniors group.

On the same day that the Conservative majority voted down an NDP motion calling for CPP expansion, the seniors lobby group CARP released a survey showing Conservative support is slipping among its members.

A survey of 2,654 members found 71.5 per cent of respondents felt the government should not stay in office if it chooses not to expand the CPP. The survey also found the Conservatives had the support of 31 per cent of CARP members, trailing the 43-per-cent support for the Liberals and 21 per cent for the NDP.

The polling by CARP shows support for the Conservatives is down three percentage points from October, with all of those gains moving to the NDP.

Susan Eng, the vice-president of advocacy for CARP, said the survey results show Canadian seniors – who are more likely to vote than younger Canadians – consider the CPP to be a "ballot box" issue that will affect how they vote in the next election.

Ms. Eng said seniors feel strongly about the issue even though any changes to the CPP would be phased in and would not affect current seniors.

"They know very well that this has nothing to do with their personal lives, but they do care about what happens to their children and grandchildren and the state of retirement security for everybody," she said.

Debate over the future of CPP is heating up ahead of the annual meeting of federal, provincial and territorial finance ministers, which will take place Dec. 16 at Meech Lake, Que.

A day-long House of Commons debate Monday triggered by the NDP indicated that months of lobbying by groups such as CARP and some Canadian provinces – including Ontario and Prince Edward Island – have not won over the federal Conservatives.

The federal minister of state for finance, Kevin Sorenson, maintained his strong opposition to higher CPP premiums, warning that it would hurt employment.

"The NDP's plan would send thousands of workers to the unemployment lines and would definitely endanger economic growth," he said.

The minister noted that CPP expansion has been opposed by employer groups and think tanks like the C.D. Howe Institute.

New data released Monday by Statistics Canada show the Canada Pension Plan and the Quebec Pension Plan grew faster in 2012 than registered savings plans. The CPP and QPP reported total assets of $213-billion at the end of 2012, up 13.7 per cent over 2011. Individual registered savings grew by 8 per cent to $928-billion.

The report from Statistics Canada did not say how much of the pension growth was from investment returns versus new contributions.

NDP MP Murray Rankin, who put forward Monday's motion, said the government's position is unfortunate given the success of the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board at generating high returns at low cost.

"I just find it inexcusable," he said of the Conservative position, calling the CPP "one of those great success stories in Canada."

Mr. Rankin noted that it was Mr. Sorenson leading the government's response and not Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, who had urged the provinces and territories in 2010 to support a modest increase to the CPP but was unable to secure enough support.

Liberal MP John McCallum raised Mr. Flaherty's past comments during Monday's debate, speculating that the minister "was overruled by his boss," Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who Mr. McCallum said has long been a critic of the CPP.

"He does not like the Canada Pension Plan, so I believe that as long as he is the Prime Minister of this country, no time will be the right time for any infinitesimal increase in CPP premiums and benefits," he said.

With a report from Janet McFarland

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