When the federal government delivered temporary solvency relief to federally regulated pensions in its spring budget, many expressed hope that it signalled a willingness among policymakers to finally tackle the problems facing Canada’s private pension system. But we shouldn’t get our hopes too high—at least not anytime soon.

Delegates at the recent Association of Canadian Pension Management annual conference in Winnipeg heard firsthand from two people who know a thing or two about how politics work. And the news wasn’t encouraging.

“What should you expect in the next 12 months? Very little,” said David Walker, president of West-Can Consultants in Winnipeg and a former member of Parliament. With a minority government in place, current conditions simply aren’t right.

Then there’s the whole jurisdiction thing. Dennis Gartner, assistant deputy minister, Pensions, Insurance and Financial Institutions for Alberta Finance, pointed out the obvious: that “the division of powers between federal and provincial jurisdictions makes change very difficult.”

Further hindering a solution is politicians’ propensity to procrastinate, particularly on complex issues. “For politicians, if it can wait 15 years, it’s somebody else’s problem,” said Walker.

So where does that leave Canada’s private pension system?

Fortunately, there is a glimmer of hope. But the players involved first have to recognize that politicians will not take this up on their own, said Gartner, stressing the need to be proactive. Next, they have to accept the fact that policymakers are allergic to controversy and won’t come near an issue on which there is no consensus.

So, as long as employers and labour disagree on the solution, politicians are going to find other matters on which to focus their attentions.

“Stakeholders must deliver signals to [political] leaders that they are motivated to find a solution,” said Gartner. “If both sides could come together—here’s the problem, here’s the solution—my contention is that governments would happily deal with that.”

The question is whether both sides are willing to put aside their differences. As Gartner put it in Winnipeg, “There is a deal to be had here.”

On another note, we recently celebrated the 25th Anniversary of BENEFITS CANADA’s Top 40 Money Managers ranking at an event in Toronto. In this special anniversary issue, we are pleased to bring you highlights of a roundtable discussion on the changes taking place in the pension asset management industry as well as a profile of our Top 40 Money Managers Lifetime Achievement Award winner.

Finally, we are pleased to bring you the first BENEFITS CANADA Survey of Capital Accumulation Plan Members. We’ve surveyed about 1,500 employees across the country about retirement and their CAP plans. The results and analysis are contained in a special pull-out section in this issue.

Don Bisch

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