In his session at the 2023 Global Investment Conference, Derek Dobson, the Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology pension plan’s chief executive officer, called back last year’s conference, noting Sebastien Betermeier, associate professor of finance at McGill University’s Desautels Faculty of Management, “talked about the benefits of the Canadian pension model, which is sometimes called the maple model.

“The problem with it is that we lack coverage for the 75 per cent of Canadians who aren’t part of one,” said Dobson.

Where last year’s session focused on Canada’s largest pension plans, most of which maintain large teams of in-house investment experts, he described a broader ‘maple model’ that encompasses many of its top-performing DB pension plans. “It’s great for employees, for businesses and for our country.”

Read: 2022 GIC coverage: Canada’s Maple 8 pension funds outperforming peers

He noted people with secure retirement savings vehicles volunteer and donate to charity more while using the health-care system less. “It’s a positive feedback loop. If you have sufficient retirement savings, it benefits the whole Canadian economy. . . . But the 54 per cent of Canadians who don’t have a pension rely on [guaranteed income supplements].”

Despite his preference for DB plans, Dobson said there’s a need to significantly expand access to pension plans of any design. Allowing for some flexibility in pension design could help spur employers to expand pension access. “A DB only has about a 20 per cent advantage over [defined contribution] plans. . . . If you’re using a do-it-yourself model, you need to raise between five and six dollars for every $10 in benefits.”

At the CAAT, which has 300 organizations in its DBplus plan, employer contributions are based on a fixed rate. “There’s no way those 300 employers would ever have joined if it wasn’t that our plan uses DC accounting rules. Some would have though they wouldn’t have been happy about it.”

Read: CAAT remains 124% funded despite 2022 investment losses: annual report

Referring to Statistics Canada data that found the share of the country’s population older than 65 grew by more than 20 per cent between 2011 and 2021, Dobson said this demographic shift is making providing adequate access to pension savings vehicles an even greater priority.

To improve access, the country will need to adopt regulatory reforms, he added. “One of the bigger challenges is that Canada has 13 different pension regulators.”

Read more coverage of the 2023 Global Investment Conference.