Canada Pension Plan

The Canada Pension Plan (CPP; French: Régime de pensions du Canada) is a contributory, earnings-related social insurance program. It forms one of the two major components of Canada's public retirement income system, the other component being Old Age Security (OAS). Other parts of Canada's retirement system are private pensions, either employer-sponsored or from tax-deferred individual savings (known in Canada as a Registered Retirement Savings Plan).[1] As of September 2017, the CPP Investment Board manages over C$328.2 billion in investment assets for the Canada Pension Plan on behalf of 20 million Canadians.[2] CPPIB is one of the world's biggest pension funds.[3]


The CPP mandates all employed Canadians who are 18 years of age and over to contribute a prescribed portion of their earnings income to a federally administered pension plan. The plan is administered by Employment and Social Development Canada on behalf of employees in all provinces and territories except Quebec, which operates an equivalent plan, the Quebec Pension Plan. Because the Constitutional authority for pensions is shared between the provincial and federal governments, stewardship for the CPP is jointly shared. As a result, major changes to the CPP, including those that alter how benefits are calculated, require the approval of at least seven Canadian provinces representing at least two-thirds of the country's population.[4]

Provinces may choose to opt out of the Canada Pension Plan (as Quebec did in 1965), but must offer a comparable plan to its residents.[5]:§3(1) In addition, under section 94A of the Canadian Constitution, pensions are a provincial responsibility, so any province may establish an additional/supplementary plan anytime.


The Liberal government of Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson in 1965 first established the Canadian Pension Plan.

CPP Benefits

The primary CPP benefit is the monthly retirement pension. Currently, this is equal to 25% of the average earnings on which CPP contributions were made over the entire working life of a contributor from age 18 to 65 in constant dollars. The earnings upon which contributions are made are subject to an annual limit, which, in 2018, is $55,900.[6] However, under changes being phased in by 2025, the pension benefit will rise to 33.33% of earnings on which contributions were made, and the maximum amount of income covered by the CPP will rise by 14 percent from the projected 2025 limit of $69,700 to $79,400.[7]

The CPP enhancement will serve as a top-up to the existing, or base, CPP. For individuals who work and make contributions in 2019 or later, enhanced components of benefits will be calculated and added to the base portion of the benefit. These calculations are similar, but follow different formulae.

When calculating the base portion of the CPP, there is a general drop out provision[8] that enables the lower-earnings years in a contributor's contributory period to be dropped from the calculation of the average. Since 2014, the lowest 17% of earnings are dropped in this way, accounting for up to eight years of contributory earnings.

Benefits under the CPP enhancement will be calculated based on a forty-year period, taking the best 40 years to calculate the benefit. This calculation effectively allows seven years to be dropped out of the benefit calculation (for an individual who begins contributing at age 18 and ends at age 65).

In October 2018, average monthly benefits for new retirement pension (taken at age 65) was just over $664.00 per month and the maximum amount in 2019 was $1,154.58 per month. Monthly benefits are adjusted every year based on the Consumer Price Index. CPP benefit payments are taxable as ordinary income.

The standard age to receive the retirement pension is age 65, however, individuals may begin collecting a permanently reduced pension as early as 60, or defer until age 70 to increase the monthly payment. For those who take the pension early (the majority), the reduction factor is 0.6% for each month you receive it before age 65 (to a maximum reduction of 36% at age 60). For those who defer, the adjustment rate is 0.7% for each month that one delays in receiving it up to a maximum increase of 42% at age 70. There is no financial benefit to delaying beyond age 70.[9]

The CPP also provides disability pensions to eligible workers under the age of 65 who become disabled in a severe and prolonged fashion, and a monthly survivor's pension to the spouse or common-law partners of contributors who die (having made sufficient contributions).

An application must be filed at least six months in advance in order to receive CPP benefits. If an application for disability pension is denied, an appeal can be made for reconsideration, and then to the Canada Pension Plan / Old Age Security Review Tribunals or Pension Appeals Boards (POA). All CPP benefits in pay are indexed annually to the Consumer Price Index.

Contribution Rates

1966 to 1996

From 1966 to 1996, the contribution rate was 3.6%. The rate was 1.8% for employees (and a like amount for their employers) and 3.6% in respect of self-employed earnings. By 1997, this had reached combined rates of 6% of pensionable earnings.

1996 reforms

By the mid-1990s, the 3.6% contribution rate was not sufficient to keep up with Canada's aging population.[10] and it was concluded that the "pay-as-you-go" structure would lead to excessively high contribution rates within 20 years or so, due to Canada's changing demographics, increased life expectancy of Canadians, a changing economy, benefit improvements, and increased usage of disability benefits (all as referenced in the Chief Actuary's study of April 2007, noted above). The same study reports that the reserve fund was expected to run out by 2015. This impending pension crisis sparked an extensive review by the federal and provincial governments in 1996. As a part of the major review process, the federal government actively conducted consultations with the Canadian public to solicit suggestions, recommendations, and proposals on how the CPP could be restructured to achieve sustainability once again. As a direct result of this public consultation process and internal review of the CPP, the following key changes were proposed and jointly approved by the Federal and provincial governments in 1997:

  • Increase total CPP annual contribution rates (employer/employee combined) from 6% of pensionable earnings in 1997 to 9.9% by 2003.
  • Continuously seek out ways to reduce CPP administration and operating costs.
  • Move towards a hybrid structure to take advantage of investment earnings on accumulated assets. Instead of a "pay-as-you-go" structure, the CPP is expected to be 20% funded by 2014, such funding ratio to constantly increase thereafter towards 30% by 2075 (that is, the CPP Reserve Fund will equal 30% of the "liabilities" - or accrued pension obligations).
  • Create the CPP Investment Board (CPPIB).
  • Review the CPP and CPPIB every 3 years.

As of 2019, the prescribed employee contribution rate was 4.95% of a salaried worker's gross employment income between $3,500 and $57,400, up to a maximum contribution of $2,668. The employer matches the employee contribution, effectively doubling the contributions of the employee. Self-employed workers must pay both halves of the contribution, or 9.9% of pensionable income, when filing their income tax return. These rates have been in effect since 2003.

2017 reforms

The Federal Government and its provincial counterparts moved to enhance the Canada Pension Plan to provide working Canadians with more income in retirement.[11] These changes were principally motivated by the declining share of the workforce that was covered by an employer defined-benefit pension plan, which had fallen from 48% of men in 1971 to 25% by 2011.[11] They were given additional impetus by moves on the part of the government of Ontario to launch the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan, a supplementary provincial pension plan intended to begin in 2018.[11]

Unlike the existing, or base, CPP, the enhancement to the Canada Pension Plan will be fully funded, meaning that benefits under the enhancement will slowly accrue each year as individuals work and make contributions. Additionally, the enhancement of the Canada Pension Plan will be phased-in over a period of seven years, starting in 2019. When fully mature, the enhanced CPP will provide a replacement rate of one third (33.33%) of covered earnings, up from the quarter (25%) provided prior to the enhancement. Additionally, the maximum amount of income covered by the CPP will increase by 14% by 2025 (projected by the Chief Actuary of Canada to be $79,400 in 2025, compared to the projected normal limit of $69,700 in the same year in the 28th Actuarial Report on the CPP[7]). The combination of the increased replacement rate and increased earnings limit will result in individuals receiving retirement pensions 33% to 50% higher, depending on their earnings across their working years. (The maximum retirement pension will increase by 50%, but will require 40 years of contributions on earnings at the new maximum). Workers earning the 2016 maximum covered wage of $54,900 a year would receive an additional $4,390 annually (approximately $365.83 monthly).[11]

To finance the expanded pensions and maintain the soundness of the plan, contributions to the CPP from workers and their employers will each rise 1% from current levels, to 5.95% over the existing band of covered earnings. This increase will be phased in over 5 years, starting in 2019. The increase to the earnings threshold will be phased in over 2 years, starting in 2024. Workers and their employers will contribute 4% on earnings in this range (which is to say earnings above the normal earnings limit and below the new increased one). To ease the impact of the increased contribution on near-term disposable income, worker contributions will become tax-deductible.[11]



The base CPP is funded on a "steady-state" basis, with its current contribution rate set so that it will remain constant for the next 75 years, by accumulating a reserve fund sufficient to stabilize the asset/expenditure and funding ratios over time. Such a system is a hybrid between a fully funded one and a "pay-as-you-go" plan. In other words, assets held in the CPP fund are by themselves insufficient to pay for all future benefits accrued to date but sufficient to prevent contributions from rising any further. While a sustainable path for this particular plan, given the indefinite existence of a government, it is not typical of other public or private sector pension plans. A study published in April 2007 by the CPP's chief actuary showed that this type of funding method is "robust and appropriate" given reasonable assumptions about future conditions.[12]

The enhancement to the CPP will be fully funded, such that each generation will contribute and pay for the benefits they receive. Contributions made to the enhancement will be directed into a separate account.

The chief actuary submits a report to Parliament every three years on the financial status of the plan. Future reports will report on both the base and enhanced components of the Plan.


As noted in the 27th Actuarial Report on the Canada Pension Plan, if one uses the 'closed group approach', the Canada Pension Plan has an enormous unfunded liability. As at December 31, 2015, the unfunded liability was $884 billion, which is the difference between CPP's liabilities of $1.169 trillion and the CPP's assets of $285 billion.[13]

Unfunded liability

The unfunded liability is increasing at a rate of about $25 billion per year. The unfunded liabilities reported in the last few Actuarial Reports are:

YearActuarial ReportUnfunded Liability
199717th$428 billion
200018th$443 billion[14]
200321st$516 billion
200623rd$620 billion
200925th$748 billion[15]
201226th$829 billion[16]
201527th$884 billion[13]

Using the 'open group approach' ("one that includes all current and future participants of a plan, where the plan is considered to be ongoing into the future, that is, over an extended time horizon") the plan is reported to have assets in excess of $2.5 trillion.[17] This approach uses a different definition of the term "assets". "Assets" are the sum of: (i) the CPP's current assets and (ii) the present value of future contributions for the next 150 years, totalling $2.544 trillion.[17]

Unlike most pension plans, the unfunded liability is not reported on the balance sheet of the Canada Pension Plan's financial statements.[18] Consequently, the balance sheet reports that the CPP's assets exceed its liabilities by $269 billion as at March 31, 2015.

Fluctuations in the projected CPP contributions

The projections in the actuarial reports fluctuate over time. For example, as at Dec 31, 1997 the projected contributions for the year 2040 were $170 billion.[19] However, in the Dec 31, 2015 actuarial report the projected contributions for the year 2040 were only $117 billion.[20]

The projected CPP contributions for 2040 were:

  • per 1997 Actuarial Report - $170 billion [19]
  • per 2000 Actuarial Report - $146 billion [21]
  • per 2003 Actuarial Report - $136 billion
  • per 2006 Actuarial Report - $132 billion [22]
  • per 2009 Actuarial Report - $130 billion [23]
  • per 2012 Actuarial Report - $127 billion [24]
  • per 2015 Actuarial Report - $117 billion [20]

Similar reductions were reported for all other forecast years.

Fluctuations in the projected return on investments

The projected return on investment on CPP assets has decreased over time. The projected long-term returns were:

  • per 2000 Actuarial Report - 7.15% [25]
  • per 2003 Actuarial Report - 6.81% [26]
  • per 2006 Actuarial Report - 6.72% [27]
  • per 2009 Actuarial Report - 6.33% [28]
  • per 2012 Actuarial Report - 6.21% [29]
  • per 2015 Actuarial Report - 6.02% [20]

CPP Investment Board

Under the direction of then Finance Minister Paul Martin, the CPP Investment Board (CPPIB) was created in 1997 as an organization independent of the government to monitor and invest the funds held by the CPP. In turn, the CPP Investment Board created the CPP Reserve Fund. The CPP Investment Board is a crown corporation created by an Act of Parliament. It reports quarterly on its performance, has a professional management team to oversee the operation of various aspects of the CPP reserve fund and also to plan changes in direction, and a board of directors that is accountable to but independent from the federal government. The board reports annually to Parliament through the federal Minister of Finance.[30]

Quebec Pension Plan (QPP)

Quebec is the only province in Canada that opted out of the CPP. The Quebec Pension Plan, or QPP, (French: Régie des rentes du Québec; RRQ) is the province of Quebec's own version of the Canada Pension Plan and is managed by the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec. Closely mirroring the CPP, the QPP is a contributory earnings-related pension plan that pays benefits in the event of the earner becoming disabled, retiring, or dying. Both Quebec and the federal government tax benefits paid from the QPP.

Increase in Contribution Rate

The contribution rate was 9.9% prior to 2012. In accordance with the 2011-12 Budget of the Government of Quebec, the contribution rates were increased by 0.15% per year for six years from 2012 to 2017. Consequently, the contribution rate increased to 10.8% for 2017 and subsequent years.[31][32][33]

See also


  1. "Canada's Retirement Income System". Archived from the original on 2009-06-09.
  2. "CPP Fund Totals $328.2 Billion at Second Quarter Fiscal 2018". November 10, 2017. Retrieved November 10, 2017.
  3. Thompson, Jennifer (May 18, 2017). "Canada Pension Plan triples returns on global markets rally".
  4. Finance, Government of Canada, Department of. "Backgrounder: Canada Pension Plan (CPP) Enhancement". Retrieved 2017-12-19.
  5. "Canada Pension Plan (R.S.C., 1985, c. C-8)". Retrieved 2019-11-16.
  6. Service Canada. Canada Pension Plan Retirement Pension (booklet - March 2014), ISPB-147-03-14E.
  7. "Actuarial Report on the Canada Pension Plan". p. 28. Archived from the original on 18 October 2018. Retrieved 18 January 2019.
  8. Please select all that apply:. "Canada Pension Plan - Eligibility -". Retrieved 2019-01-18.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  9. Service Canada. Canada Pension Plan Retirement Pension (booklet - March 2014), ISPB-147-03-14E
  10. "18th Actuarial Report on the CPP" (PDF). p. 51. Retrieved 18 January 2019.
  11. McFarland, Janet; McGugan, Ian (5 January 2017). "A new premium on retirement". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 6 March 2017.
  12. "Optimal Funding of the Canada Pension Plan: Actuarial Study" (PDF). Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions Canada. p. 7. Retrieved 18 January 2019.
  13. "27th Actuarial Report on the Canada Pension Plan" (PDF). p. 48 (bottom footnote). Retrieved 18 January 2019.
  14. Page 113 of the 18th Actuarial Report on the Canada Pension Plan
  15. Page 73 of the 26th Actuarial Report on the Canada Pension Plan
  16. Page 48 (bottom footnote) of the 26th Actuarial Report on the Canada Pension Plan
  17. Page 48 of the 27th Actuarial Report on the Canada Pension Plan
  18. Page 6.61 of volume 1 of the 2015 Public Accounts of the Government of Canada - Archived 2016-08-03 at the Wayback Machine
  19. "Actuarial Report" (PDF). p. 13. Retrieved 18 January 2019.
  20. "27th Actuarial Report on the Canada Pension Plan" (PDF). Government of Canada. p. 31. Retrieved 20 October 2016.
  21. See page 35
  22. See page 23
  23. See page 26
  24. See Page 23
  25. "18th Actuarial Report on the Canada Pension Plan" (PDF). Government of Canada. p. 35. Retrieved 20 October 2016.
  26. "21st Actuarial Report on the Canada Pension Plan" (PDF). Government of Canada. p. 32. Retrieved 20 October 2016.
  27. See page 30
  28. See page 33
  29. See Page 30
  30. "Canada Pension Plan mulls Yahoo buy, report says - Business - CBC News". 2011-10-20. Retrieved 2014-06-04.
  31. See page 16 - "Meeting the Expectations of Quebers of Every Generation"
  32. Government of Quebec
  33. "The Québec Pension Plan". Province of Quebec. Retrieved 27 August 2017.
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