Counterpoint: Is an $18,000 pension ‘gold-plated’?: Contrary to right-wing myths, public employees are hardly privileged

Try as they might, those attacking public sector unions can't seem to figure out why exactly they are so bad for Canada.

For whatever the reason - it doesn't seem to matter much - many from Canada's corporate classes insist public sector unions are a blight, and spend much time and energy mounting their hyperbolic attacks in these pages on an almost daily basis.

The threadbare nature of these arguments is best exemplified in opposition to the labour movement's efforts to expand the Canada Pension Plan as the best way to help Canadians save more for their retirements.

By gradually increasing CPP contributions made by both employees and employers, we could greatly improve retirement security of all Canadians, and help the millions who cannot afford a private retirement savings plan.

Of course, under this approach, Canada's banks and finance industry will lose out on opportunities to charge their exorbitant investment management fees. So in their logic, if it doesn't result in profits for them it must be bad for Canadians, regardless of how many Canadians will be better off with expanded CPP benefits.

Instead of offering solutions for low-income Canadians, it is much easier to falsely portray CPP contributions as a payroll tax. CPP contributions help fund a deferred salary for Canadian workers and supply no revenue to the federal government. Any genuine commentator would be obliged to admit it is not a tax.

When it comes to debating pensions, however, disingenuous arguments are commonplace. Such as corporate Canada's insistence on pointing to public sector pensions as prime examples of union-led extravagance.

The typical public sector pension - for someone who has worked for 30 years - is $18,000 per year. It is beyond any reasonable and objective person on how this can be termed as excessive. Most Canadians sure don't.

An Environics poll conducted in August 2010 shows that 80% of Canadians thought public sector pensions were at an appropriate level or too low. No matter how often the mantra is repeated, few Canadians genuinely believe $18,000 per year is a "gold-plated" pension.

The weak foundation of these pension arguments is little different than the falsities offered in favour of privatizing public services. The Canadian right's new hero of privatization, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, is similarly trying to cover an ideological position with the façade of protecting taxpayers.

Ford's promises to save untold millions by contracting out services, such as waste and recycling collection, are missing one key element: any conclusive proof it will save Toronto taxpayers one dollar. In fact, a detailed analysis of available data on costs of private waste collection in neighbouring municipalities shows Toronto stands to pay substantially more if waste collection is contracted out.

This, however, is only a footnote in the real agenda of Ford and other attackers of public sector unions, which has nothing to do with saving taxpayers any money at all. It has everything to do with wrestling away the modest power of workers.

The large majority of public sector workers are in health care, schools, social services, and local government. They are mostly women and are far from highly paid. The average annual pay of CUPE members is less than $40,000. To portray these workers as privileged stretches even the most inventive imaginations.

No position, however, is too outlandish for those looking to cast public sector workers as a plague on the taxpayer. Instead of tackling the economic policies which caused the global recession, they take up this diversionary strategy in attacking public sector workers in order to protect economic policies which are great for profits, but bad for working Canadians.

While crying out against the so-called extravagances of public sector worker salaries, benefits, and pensions, they continue to promote extending even more irresponsible and reckless corporate tax cuts to Canada's banks and the oil industry without any proof these cuts provide any of the new jobs or investments they're supposed to generate.

While claiming to be looking out for the best interests of taxpayers, those who attack public sector workers are also taking unjustified aim at our communities - large and small. Canadians are being asked to not only shoulder the deficits, but also to sacrifice the high quality public services we have developed over generations.

It is undeniable that Canada is facing fiscal challenges after weathering the global economic meltdown. Stimulus spending that kept the economy afloat during a crisis created by speculation and fraud has left a public debt.

Canadian governments have a responsibility to ensure all Canadians contribute their fair share to the ongoing recovery. Public sector workers are prepared to do their part, but the responsibility should not fall on their shoulders alone.

High-quality public services are crucial to our economic recovery and help make Canada a great place to live. They are reliable, accountable and are there for all people when they need them most. Public sector workers across the country are dedicated to these principles, and are focused on making our communities stronger for all Canadians.

Financial Post, Fri Mar 11 2011
Paul Moist is national president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees

Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.