Here's what you need to know: Every 3 years, the Chief Actuary of Canada publishes an Actuarial Report on the financial health of the CPP fund. These reports follow the same sorts of actuarial methodologies that for-profit life insurance companies employ to confirm that they are charging appropriate rates for their life insurance customers. Of course such reports require dealing with many unknowns about the future, but short of inventing a flux capacitor and pumping 1.21 gigawatts through it, this is the best anyone can do.
What The Report Says:
The latest report (the 25th) is from December 31, 2009, (well into the Great Recession/New Depression) and can be found here (sorry, PDF). You're encouraged to read it, but let me jump to the conclusion, from page 12:
Thus, despite the projected substantial increase in benefits paid as a result of an aging population, the Plan is expected to be able to meet its obligations throughout the projection period and to remain financially sustainable over the long term.(Emphasis added because this statement needs to be said over and over until people get it). The "projection period" by the way is 75 years (p10), which means that by the best professional projection techniques available, CPP is believed to be healthy until 2084. I'm 36, and I fully expect CPP to be there for me when I retire sometime between maybe 2036 and 2046. Babies born today can rely on CPP being there.
Note as well the line about the increase in benefits paid due to the aging population. I included that because things like the aging boomers, the rise in retirees to workers expected, or smaller family sizes are frequently cited by ordinary people in explaining why they "know" CPP won't survive. The people running CPP know about these things too, and adjustments have been made over the years to guarantee the health of the program in the face of changing demographics. Note above this is the 25th actuarial report, CPP's non-partisan officials have been checking into this for quite some time.
How Credible is the Report?
I'm not an actuary so of course I won't offer a personal opinion on the techniques employed in writing these things. Luckily, the authors take steps to get second opinions. Here's what they did to assess the competency of the 25th report:
A panel of three independent Canadian actuaries, selected by the United Kingdom Government Actuary’s Department (GAD) through an arm’s length process, reviewed the Twenty-fifth Actuarial Report on the Canada Pension Plan. The external panel’s findings confirm that the work performed by the Office of the Chief Actuary (OCA) on the Report meets all professional standards of practice and statutory requirements, and states that the assumptions and methods used are appropriate and reasonable.I suppose if you're the kind of person who believes that 97%+ of the world's Climate Scientists are arrayed in a massive conspiracy to rig the science to keep their government research grant gravy river flowing, you might believe that Canada's actuaries are conspiring to hide evidence of CPP's imminent downfall from us, but really aside from rampant reality rejection, I don't see how you can do much better than this.
CPP is healthy. Don't let anyone tell you differently, and if that person is a supposed expert (like some think tank analyst or a politician involved in the pension file) and they don't deal with the Actuarial Reports, you should recognize they are liars trying to con you out of your retirement safety. By all means, save for retirement if you have the luxury of an income that supports doing so (yes, a "luxury": half of Canadians live on less than $29,000 a year, which doesn't usually leave much room for RRSPs and TFSAs) but remember CPP is vital to providing a dignified to many Canadians and there's no sound economic reason to take that away from them.