Have you checked your RRSPs lately?

I had dinner with a friend last night.

One of those apolitical friends - the kind that notice when something big happens, like Barack Obama and the politics of hope, but doesn't monitor online news and blogs (like me) throughout the day for shocking political developments (which this election is readily providing).

My friend hadn't heard about the Conservative ad featuring a puffin pooping on the Liberal leader's shoulder. But she certainly did notice the $12,000 she lost in ‘safe' RRSP investments that are supposed to guarantee her secure retirement 20 years from now.

My friend is a single mom who has made many financial sacrifices to raise her son but always found ways to save money each year, unlike the majority of Canadians, who struggle with record levels of household debt.

Her RRSP investments represent a major sacrifice. And she's counting on them to get her through when she's old and frail. But with $12,000 disappearing into a very liquid market this summer, she is beginning to worry about her future.

Which, after checking on my own RRSP investments to make sure they're safe, got me thinking about the federal election.

We have a Prime Minister who tells the media over breakfast that he is not in politics for the ‘celebrity' but that he has a very clear vision of government.

Since his very first budget, Stephen Harper has indeed been very clear: He believes government doesn't have much of a role to play in the lives of most Canadians. Just last winter, when his government tabled its third budget, it acknowledged dark economic clouds may be on the horizon. Harper's answer to the people? Start saving, and fast.

The Harper government introduced a very expensive new tax savings vehicle, one that ostensibly allows Canadians to save up to $5,000 a year. In practice, it rewards Stephen Harper's wealthiest friends - not the majority of Canadians - because the richest taxpayers are the only ones who will find themselves with $5,000 in extra change lying around to take advantage of this tax break.

The rest of us, during hard economic times, find ourselves drawing on our personal savings (not bolstering them).

And that's if we're lucky to have savings. Canadian household savings are at an all-time low and that trend doesn't look like it's going to change in a hurry.

Oh, and here's the kicker: The program costs the public coffers $900 million over five years and is estimated to rise to $3 billion a year within a decade.

So, in practice, Harper's program does not lift a finger for middle- and low-income Canadians like my frugal friend who dined with me last night.

Instead, his program forces the majority of struggling Canadians to subsidize the savings plans of the very richest among us, further exacerbating the growing gap between the rich and the rest of us.

-- Trish Hennessy