Monday, 9 June 2014

Pensions an important part of our economy

Among my books I have a copy of the Discipline of the Methodist Church in Canada dated 1886. It’s part service book, part church rules, part yearbook and part statement of faith.

What’s so fascinating about it is that in the well worn pages is the constitution of something called the Superannuation Fund.

As I dug a little deeper, I realized that this fund was the Methodist Church’s pension plan for retired ministers. It was the ancestor of the United Church of Canada’s own pension plan, which I was required to join before being ordained a United Church minister.

Pension plans have a long history in Canada. The very first were provided by the railways in the 1880's. In those days, because of the horrific accident rate among railway workers, railways felt an obligation to provide in some way for the families of those injured on the job. It was calculated in 1890 that eight of every thousand railway workers would die from work-related causes in a given year. Pensions were thought of a a good recruiting tool and a way to recruit good workers. After all, if you died, your family would be taken care of.

Unfortunately early pensions were dictated and funded by the company. Disqualifications were frequent for things like union activity or a bad report from the boss.

Today, pensions are very different. They are regulated by law and provide a significant amount of financial security and stability to the individual worker.

That’s why it troubles me when our politicians refer to "gold plated pensions". It simply proves they have no idea what they are talking about nor understand the contribution that pensions play in our economy.

At their very best, pension plans are mandatory savings plans. You pay so much per month, your employer contributes a similar amount, which should be seen as part of your compensation. At the end of your working career you collect a defined amount of money. It is called a Defined Benefit pension. The Canada Pension Plan is that type of plan. It is simple, elegant and solves many social issues.

I spite of the ignorance of some politicians, pension plans and contributions are not taxes, nor should they be called a tax. They are mandatory savings plans. And given Canadian’s poor record of savings, they make sense.

A recent study by some of the largest pension plans in Canada suggest that such plans contribute significantly to the national and local economy.

In cities like Orillia, 25% of the income in the local economy comes from pensions. This is secure spending which will not go away for many years.

But the impact of pension plans is not just on the local economy. Pension plans invest the money they receive in the larger global economy. Because they are so large and can take risks as well as take a global focus, they can obtain investment returns which are simply not imaginable to the small, individual investor.

Let’s not end up in what has been called "pension envy". Let’s work for fair and just retirement practices, such as defined benefit pension plans for all of us; pensions that give people dignity and security. After all, isn’t that what our golden years should really be about?

Rev. David Shearman is the minister of Central Westside United Church, Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County, Cable 53.