The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to participate in the Government of Canada's consultation on ensuring the ongoing strength of Canada's retirement income system. Ensuring sufficient income in retirement is a concern for CMA's more than 72,000 physician members and the patients they serve. With the aging of the Canadian population and the decline in the number of Canadians participating in employer-sponsored pension plans, now is the time to explore strengthening the third pillar of Canada's government-supported retirement income system: tax-assisted savings opportunities. Two areas in need of government attention are tax-assisted savings vehicles for high-earning and self-employed Canadians, and vehicles available to help Canadians save to meet future continuing care needs.
Like the Canadian population at large, physicians represent an aging demographic - 38% of Canada's physicians are 55 or older - for whom retirement planning is an important concern. In addition, the vast majority of CMA members are self-employed physicians and, as such, they are unable to participate in workplace registered pension plans (RPPs). This makes physicians more reliant on Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs) relative to other retirement savings vehicles. As we saw during the recent economic downturn, the volatility of global financial markets can have an enormous impact on the value of RRSPs over the short- and medium-term. This variability is felt most acutely when RRSPs reach maturity during a time of declining market returns and RRSP holders are forced to 'sell low'.
The possibility that higher-earning Canadians, such as physicians, may not be saving enough for retirement was raised by Jack Mintz, Research Director for the Research Working Group on Retirement Income Adequacy of Federal-Provincial-Territorial Ministers of Finance. In his Summary Report on Retirement Income Adequacy Research, Mr. Mintz reported that income replacement rates in retirement fall below 60% of after-tax income for about 35% of Canadians in the top income quintile. This is due to the effect of the maximum RPP/RRSP dollar limits, which is why the government should consider raising these limits.
The CMA supports exploring ways to expand tax-assisted options available for retirement saving, particularly measures that would allow organizations to sponsor RPPs and Supplementary Employee Retirement Plans (SERPs) on behalf of the self-employed.
Such changes could allow the growing ranks of self-employed Canadians to benefit from the security and peace of mind already available to Canadians with workplace pensions. CMA members favour a voluntary approach, both for employers/plan sponsors in deciding whether to sponsor such plans and for potential plan participants in choosing whether or not to participate.
Just as the government should explore ways to modernize the rules governing registered pension plans to account for today's demographics and employment structures, so too should it explore ways to help Canadians save for their continuing care - including home care and long-term care - needs. When universal, first-dollar coverage of hospital and physician services-commonly known as 'medicare' - was implemented in Canada in the late-1950s and 1960s, health care within an institutional setting was the norm and life expectancy was almost a decade shorter than it is today. With Canadians living longer and continuing care falling outside the boundaries of Canada Health Act first-dollar coverage, there is a growing need to help Canadians save for their home care and long-term care needs.
The attached backgrounder highlights the pressing need for greater support for home and long-term care in Canada, as well as some principles and options for governments to help Canadians pay for these services. It should be noted that the introduction of Tax-free Savings Accounts (TFSAs) in the 2008 federal budget created a new savings vehicle to support Canadians' continuing care needs. The CMA was pleased to see its introduction.
Government action on these two related issues would benefit all Canadians. Expanding retirement-saving options for physicians would provide a strong incentive for physicians to stay in Canada. Similarly, by helping Canadians save for their own continuing care needs, governments could contribute to the health of elderly citizens and ease the demand on unpaid caregivers and government-funded continuing care.
Ensuring that Canadians have the tools at their disposal to save for their continuing care needs and that Canada's physicians have the right tools to save for retirement are important issues for the CMA. Canada's physicians have long been active on these issues and government action on these files would benefit all Canadians. We are pleased to take part in Finance Canada's consultations and would welcome any further opportunities to participate.
Anne Doig, MD, CCFP, FCFP
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to provide the comments below in response to Finance Canada's consultation document Pension Innovation for Canadians: The Target Benefit Plan.
The CMA is the professional voluntary association representing over 80,000 physicians across Canada. Its mission is to serve and unite the physicians of Canada and to be the national advocate, in partnership with the people of Canada, for the highest standards of health and health care.
The CMA has participated in, and made recommendations to, Finance Canada over the course of the government's multi-year consultation process on Canada's pension framework. Indeed, in light of the importance of the pension framework to our membership, the CMA has been an active participant in previous consultations regarding the pension framework. The CMA's participation in the current, multi-year initiative included responding to the 2010 consultative paper Ensuring the Ongoing Strength of Canada's Retirement Income System as well as participating in the legislative and regulatory consultation on the Pooled Registered Pension Plan (PRPP) framework.
While the CMA recognizes that this consultation is focused narrowly on the federally regulated pension plans governed by the Pension Benefits Standards Act 1985, the CMA supports additional consultation on Canada's pension framework. The CMA recommends that Finance Canada expand its consultation to explore options to address weaknesses in Canada's pension framework, including a focus on the third pillar: tax-incentivized savings vehicles.
As part of a consultation on the third pillar, the CMA recommends that Finance Canada explore three issues, as elaborated further below:
* Increasing the combined contribution limit for registered retirement savings plans (RRSPs);
* Enabling well-governed professional organizations that represent a particular membership as pension plan sponsors; and,
* Possible impacts of registered retirement income funds (RRIF) mandatory drawdown rates.
Like the Canadian population at large, physicians represent an aging demographic - 42% of Canada's physicians are 55 or older - for whom retirement planning is an important concern. In addition, the vast majority of CMA members are self-employed physicians and, as such, they are unable to participate in workplace registered pension plans (RPPs). This makes physicians more reliant on Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs) relative to other retirement savings vehicles.
The Summary Report on Retirement Income Adequacy Research presented to the F/P/T Ministers of Finance in 2009, suggests that higher-earning Canadians may not be saving enough for retirement. This report highlighted that income replacement rates in retirement fall below 60 per cent of after-tax income for about 35 per cent of Canadians in the upper income quintile. This is related to the effect of maximum contribution limits on tax-incentivized retirement savings vehicles.
Tax-incentivized private saving vehicles are a critical element of Canada's pension framework. As highlighted in the 2010 interim report of the Senate Banking Trade and Commerce Canadians Savings for Their Future: A Secure Retirement, the introduction of the RRSP framework in 1957 sought to address a tax inequity due to the ineligibility of private savings for tax-incentive in comparison with registered pension plans. From 1972 to 1991 the RRSP contribution limit was set at 20 percent of earned income and in 1991, the government reduced the contribution limit to 18 percent of earned income; further, over this time period the real value of the absolute dollar limit reduced significantly. Recent increases to the absolute dollar limits have been strongly welcomed.
To ensure that contribution limits do not pose a barrier to saving for future retirement income needs, the CMA recommends that Finance Canada initiate a consultation on future increases to the RRSP contribution limit, both absolute and percent of earned income.
As part of the 2010 Finance Canada consultation and as reiterated during the legislative and regulatory consultation period on the PRPP framework, the CMA highlighted its support for exploring measures to enable organizations to sponsor plans on behalf of the self-employed. During the PRPP consultation, the CMA recommended amending the legislation such that well-governed professional organizations representing a particular membership are able to sponsor and administer PRPPs for their own members, including self-employed members. Once again, the CMA supports an extension of this recommendation to the broader pension framework.
Finally, the CMA has taken note of the concerns regarding the registered retirement income funds (RRIF) mandatory drawdown rates expressed in the C.D. Howe Institute's recent pension policy e-brief Outliving our savings: Registered retirement income funds rules need a big update. The CMA recommends that Finance Canada include RRIF mandatory drawdown rates as part of a consultation.
The CMA appreciates the opportunity to provide comment as part of Finance Canada's consultation on enabling target benefit plans within the federally regulated pension framework. The CMA supports further consultation on Canada's pension plan with an aim to ensure optimization of the third pillar, tax-incentivized savings vehicles, to ensure it enables adequate savings levels by self-employed individuals for their future retirement income needs.