Saturday, March 27, 2010

Families, aging and man, I'm getting old: Liveblogging Canada at 150, Day Two AM

8:38 AM: And we're back for day two of the Liberal Party's Canada at 150 conference. After some late-ish dinner and drinking by everyone last night with various Montreal hot-spots, it's good to see a large crowd here for the first session, both attendees and back here on media row. No drop-off at all that I see, and certainly most people look more fresh and rested than I feel.

Maybe everyone made sure to drag themselves out of bed for our first speaker, former Bank of Canada governor David Dodge. He's going to do the scene-set on the morning topic, "real issues for Canadian families, how do we care? Basically, retirement planning and health care.

They're doing the pre-game show now, Dodge will be up shortly. Be sure to tune-in online at Canada at 150. I heard the web traffic greatly exceeded expectations yesterday, and with it now being the weekend, we're expecting even more today.

8:48 AM: Dodge looks back to the policies that were born of the Kingston and Alymer conferences, but notes the challenges of 50 years ago and today are greatly different. Then the baby boom was entering the workforce, now it’s leaving. More women are in the labour force. And the regular increases in prosperity and earnings are now tapering off, and are trending to even drop in coming years.

It’s a troubling trend that I’ve heard from others before: we’re getting to a point where, for the first time, the next generation may have it worst than the last. It’s a sobering thought.

What do we do? Dodge says it’s essential to increase productivity, and put in place measures, tax or otherwise, to incent growth. Tax policy needs to favour job creation and investment. He wants EI restructured to remove restrictions to labour mobility created by the regional nature of the program.

Dodge We should stick to a Canadian-focused approach to regulating the financial sector, instead of buying into the international panic to solve problems that we don’t have in Canada. (Here is where I insert a mandatory reference to the regulatory decisions of Chretien/Martin. David was probably around then too… ;))

The question of how do we care becomes moot, says Dodge, if we don’t have the financial wherewithal to do so. True enough. We need a pan to deal with structural deficits he sees sticking around as long as into the next decade.

8:55 AM: Now he’s saying something about bond rates, and I’m completely lost. Go read Report on Business or something for more on that.

Now he’s back on productivity, saying we need to get more productive or we’ll have to work longer hours, which will hurt family life. A good point.

On to retirement planning now, Dodge says we need to save more, and workers need to support themselves more – the government can’t be relied on. People will be working longer, and taking a lifestyle hit once they do retire.

Average worker, to retire at age 65 with income of 70 per cent of final earnings, needs to save 11% of earnings a year. That’s sobering, and reminds me I really need to get on that one of these days.

9:01 AM: Dodge is turning to health care now, pointing out that the issue is costs but with technological improvements, medical science can do more than ever before, and we want access to those advances. It’s increasing costs by at least 1.5% year, and with population increasing 1% annually and population ageing, health care costs will accelerate even more greatly than before. Long-term care costs will also be increasing by 8% annually by the end of the decade, growing at double the rate of government revenue growth. And even the most optimistic projections won’t cover it.

What do we do? There are options. One is to way for it directly, such as a dedicated health tax. Another is to reduce the scope of the public system, forcing people to rely more on private insurance. The third is co-pays. And the fourth is pure two-tier, let the public system decline and those with the wherewithal go private.

There are no easy answers, says Dodge, but it’s time to actually have an adult debate on the topic, and fully and frankly consider these issues.

9:06 AM: Finally, he turns to long-term care. People often relied on their children to ship them off to the home or for long-term care, but Dodge notes boomers have had less children then past generations. So there will need to be a possible government role, and we’ll need to come up with new ideas on long-term care,

Concluding, he says we need to face up to these problems now, and there needs to be federal leadership: the feds can’t dump it on the provinces, and all governments can’t just dump it on people to fend for themselves. We do care as a country, and we need to act.

9:32 AM: The panel is now on retirement is up now an I'm back in the room getting up to speed, after leaving the room for a post-speech media scrum with David Dodge. Shot some video, he had some interesting things to say on the choices for government.

Speaking of video, I'm just posted one where I turn the camera on the media and ask them what they think the Liberals need to get out of the conference this weekend.

By the way, they've been very good at the conference about taking questions both in the room, but as many from the Webcast, and often via Skype video. Great interactivity to take the conference outside of this room into the many satellite events across Canada, and to people watching from home.

9:57 AM: Interesting discussion from the panel on retirement, and lots of interesting questions from the floor and the Web. I’ve been listening more than taking notes the last little bit. Interesting to see Canadian Labour Congress president Ken Georgetti on the stage at a Liberal-sponsored conference. Pretty hard to call him a Liberal partisan.

Also, just joined on press row by Macleans’ Paul Wells, totting a copy of, of course, Le Monde. CTV's Roger Smith also just came in.

10:05 AM: Lots of talk of defined-benefit plans (you get a guaranteed benefit on retirement) vs. more market-based systems where your benefit is based on the performance of the markets. Nortel is coming up often, and what happened with its pensioners through their descent into bankruptcy.

Some dissent on the panel on this issue. Obviously, we’d all prefer a guaranteed income. It seems to be an increasing anachronism, though. It’s expensive, it puts significant fiscal pressure on both management and labour, and too often plans have been allowed to drop below full-funding for various reasons, and have often been downgraded through collective bargaining. Some say we need government regulation, others say it’s a market issue.

I’d say the old model of large defined-benefit plans provided by an employer in partnership with labour is probably outdated. It worked better in an era where someone stayed in the same job for all their lives. We’re past that, though. People now will work many, many jobs in their lifetimes. And younger workers don’t want to stay with one employer all their lives.

I think by wanting that labour mobility, we as younger workers accept certain trade-offs. Large-scale defined employer plans may be one of them. Possible solutions? I’d say among them are either the government stepping in with a large-scale defined plan, perhaps with mandatory savings, maybe expand the CPP, or just put the onus on people to sink or swim.

At a minimum, though, I think a minimal government social safety net is needed, because too many seniors live below the poverty line, and that’s only going to increase. That means fixing CPP, at a minimum.

Off for a break, then a panel on healthcare.

10:50 AM: And we’re back for a panel on healthcare, the ever looming but presently ignored elephant in our country, and indeed the world. Costs spiralling out of control, population ageing, what ya gonna do?

10:56 AM: The panel is three doctors. Certainly very learned ones, and from a variety of areas of the medical field, but I wonder, isn’t having a panel of just doctors kind of a limited perspective?

There seems to be a consensus from the doctors on shifting away from disease and more towards encouraging and managing health. That makes sense, prevention will always be cheaper than prevention. It’s the same theory the left argues on crime – better, and cheaper, to prevent crime by addressing root causes than spending a fortune jailing criminals.

Very sensible, and easy to say, but what would it mean to shift our medical system from focusing on disease to focusing on health? What would that involve, specifically? I’m not entirely sure. But preventative medicine seems like one way (and there will need to be many more) to address the issues with the system.

11:17 AM: Lots of talk on nutrition, childhood obesity, and so on. On another matter, though, also talk of service delivery. I wonder if it’s time for the left (I’m including myself here) to consider if who delivers the service is perhaps less important than who pays for it.

We do have private delivery of publicly-funded health services today, that’s a widely known but largely ignored fact. We tend to shy away from talking about it for fear or being drawn into a two-tier healthcare debate.

There are good, sensible reasons for private service delivery though: they can usually do it more cheaply and efficiently. Not always, there will always be services where its not a fit.

I think, though, that we should be less focused on who delivers the services. As long as it’s still public pay, I think the fundamental tenets of public health care are protected, and universality and access can be ensured. So let’s get innovative and creative around service delivery.

11:29 AM: Frank McKenna asks a question on health care. Well, more of a speech really – maybe he misses them. He wants the feds to do more, and he wants the feds to have the courage to do more. The lack of catastrophic drug coverage is a major hole in Canada. Also, he wants the Canada Health Act opened-up to allow experimentation around service delivery to happen at the provincial level, looking at things like more nurse practitioners, to find best practices that can be replicated in other provinces.

11:54 AM: And the health panel is wrapping-up, lunch beckons. Panel asked for one recommendation. They are: invest in innovation in new ideas. Prevention, not consequences. And nothing matters to Canadians more than their health.

The environment and the economy after lunch, new blog post then. Off to eat.

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penlan said...

Aging is crap? Wait til you get old Jeff just like many of us out here. We have serious concerns.

Jeff said...

No, not saying aging is crap. I'm saying crap, I'm getting old.

penlan said...

LOL - oh, ok Jeff, but as far as I'm concerned you're still a young "rooster".

Lindsay Stewart said...

when will we get over the notion that constant growth and increasing income is the only answer to happiness. quantity is not quality, living in the technology hub of the nation i can't get over the number of people that are utterly stressed and terminally tethered to their stupid gadgets, on call 24-7. we'd be a damn sight better off looking at sustainable growth and intelligent productivity. neither of which we are likely to see from either the libs or the cans, both being the whores of the corporate sector. i'm in the process of trying to shrink my footprint and reduce my needs. i intend to work less, consume less and be happier with the time to savour life. crazy talk i know. yours is the best coverage i've seen of clusterbunny 2017 so far jeff.

Jeff said...

Well thanks, penlan lol. My comment was driven by the talk on pensions, as it reminds me I'm no where when it comes to retirement savings. Was some sobering talk.

Lindsay, I don't know. Certainly I think there is an instinctual drive in our DNA to acquire shiny baubles. I'm sure we could all stand to live with less. Mayne we'll have to. Human instinct though largely fights against that.

And, more broadly, the notion of the next generation being less prosperous than the last. It requires a dramatic reset of expectations, and raises interesting questions, because increasing prosperity has been the rock on which our current society is built. It raises some interesting questions.

Lindsay Stewart said...

i don't have an expectation of retirement. partly because i actually love what i do, though it doesn't always provide a living. the arts sector and individual productivity is severely undervalued in this culture. the so called prosperity rock is a bit of a misnomer as well. i suspect that once, parents wanted better lives for their children they meant no wars or deprivation, better health and education. those notions have been corrupted to mean greater consumption for its own sake. we certainly do need to re-examine and reset our expectations and understanding.

given those notions, we still have the major political parties snuggling up with toxic industries in the tar sands, with the asbestos lobby and with exploitive industries like mining as they agree to deals with murderous regimes like colombia. none of these are sustainable or healthy directions for this nation. i look forward to hearing someone at this meet-up challenge the liberals on these sorts of issues.