The Canada Pension Plan enhancement deal that federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau reached with his provincial counterparts in June has hit a bump in the road.

Rather than ratify the agreement in principle, the B.C. government announced on July 15 it would “engage the public” and solicit feedback. According to media reports, the provincial government expects the engagement process to take about a month but it didn’t set a deadline.

I’ve read media reports on the announcement and none of them told me how, as a B.C. resident, to provide feedback. However, media reports prominently featured the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, which is perhaps the most vocal opponent of CPP enhancement on behalf of its small-business membership. I suspected its website would have information on the engagement process and wasn’t disappointed.

Read: Small business calls on governments to delay CPP deal

The CFIB website supplied me with an email expressing opposition to send to the B.C. government:

To: citizenengagegment@gov.bc.ca

Cc: msbc@cfib.ca

Subject: CPP Consultation – Just say no

Here is some suggested language to use when submitting to the consultation:

“Small businesses in BC are already struggling with many affordability issues. If the plan goes ahead, it will force me to consider freezing wages, reducing work hours for my staff, and could even lead to layoffs.”

“Now is the time to show me that your government values small business as a vital part of the economy.”

Those aren’t my sentiments, exactly. But then I clicked on a button that took me to the B.C. government’s engagement website. From a brief set of pages about the CPP changes, I learned the replacement rate on earnings up to $82,700 would increase to 33 per cent from the current 25 per cent by 2024, at a net monthly cost (for the first five years only) to an employee earning $54,900 per year of $7 and between $7 and $8 per month for the employer.

It sounds like a reasonable trade-off, but where’s the consultation? There is none. The B.C. government is only requesting feedback to the email address, committing to read and review every message and then present the feedback to the province’s finance minister, Mike de Jong. In effect, it’s little more than a straw poll.

Read: Despite complexities, expanded CPP the right call

I wondered next if there was an alternative path to the B.C. government’s CPP engagement process that might bypass the small-business group’s anti-CPP stance. I was largely unsuccessful in finding an alternative path, even one that might take a pro-CPP stance. With some perseverance, I finally found the B.C. government’s July 15 press release. If I clicked on a link to expand the story and read through to the bottom, it gave me the link to the engagement website.

In a nutshell, it was easy to engage in the issue via the small-business group’s website but rather difficult to do so otherwise. I predict the organization will generate a tally of emails opposing CPP enhancement unless either the B.C. government or other proponents of the deal make a more concerted effort to truly engage the public.

So what’s the potential political outcome of this straw poll? If the feedback opposing CPP enhancement overwhelms the comments in favour of it, the B.C. government will have an excuse to back out of the deal. Of course, it could still choose to ratify the deal despite the feedback. The real political issue is the next provincial election date fixed for May 9, 2017. I would counsel the B.C. Liberal party not to rely on the feedback about CPP expansion it receives.

Read: 3 reasons to talk to your employees about CPP expansion

I believe it’s highly unlikely B.C.’s small-business owners would switch their vote to the opposition NDP if the government ratifies the CPP deal prior to the next election. In fact, if it fails to ratify it, it will give the NDP the golden wedge issue of retirement income security. That’s the same issue that swept the Ontario Liberal party back into power in 2014.

Greg Hurst is a Vancouver-based pension consultant with Greg Hurst & Associates Ltd.

These are the views of the author and not necessarily those of Benefits Canada.

Copyright © 2018 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

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