Why did he do it? Why did Stephen Harper suggest we had a public pension funding problem when we don't? And why did he proclaim his concern at an international conference of all places?
Let's all repeat slowly: there ... is ... no ... funding ... problem ... with ... our ... public ... pension ... plans. Kevin Page, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, has made very clear that the Old Age Security (OAS) program is sustainable and affordable given the federal government's projected revenues and economic growth. And a recent OECD study found that "Canada
does not face major challenges of financial sustainability with its
public pension schemes." Page predicts that the OAS will rise from its current 2.2 per cent of GDP to 3.2 per cent in 2036, the baby boom peak, and decline thereafter. In other words, it will remain a minor part of the GDP for the foreseeable future. The other instrument of public pensions, the Canada Pension Plan, is fully-funded and actuarially sound.
And yet Human Resources Minister Diane Finley hysterically insists that, "We know there's a coming crisis, that's in Old Age Security, that's why
we're taking steps now before it's too late because we do not want to
burden future generations with massive, massive tax increases," and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty called Page "unbelievable, unreliable, incredible." It's true that Page indicated concern about sustainability last year but that was before the government reduced its projected health care funding.
So why is Mr. Harper's government making an issue out of something that has no business being an issue? I see two possible reasons. One, they don't speak to their Parliamentary Budget Officer or, two, they are manifesting yet again one of their defining characteristics—not allowing facts to get in the way of ideology.
We see this time and again: the building of prisons when the crime rate is falling; promoting dirty oil production in the face of climate change; spending billions on a technically suspect fighter plane to face a nonexistent threat; and of course abandoning the mandatory long form census to make sure facts don't clutter up policy-making.
Nonetheless, sometimes the facts will have their way. On the pension issue, for example, Finance Minister Flaherty seems to be backing off, reassuring the country on Friday that any changes to Old Age Security won’t take effect until at least 2020. And while Mr. Harper, the most ideological prime minister we've ever had in this country, once refused to attend the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics on a point of principle, he is now schmoozing the Chinese like a reincarnated Jean Chrétien. Even he is not immune to realpolitik.