Old Age Security review a crisis of misinformation
Stephen Harper dropped a bombshell in Switzerland recently, and the repercussions are being felt across Canada.
In his keynote address at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Harper said that Canada needs to find savings in the Old Age Security benefit because our aging population is growing more expensive to service. “Our demographics also constitute a threat to the social programs and services that Canadians cherish,” Harper said.
Harper’s surprise plan included a proposal to raise the age Canadians can receive the benefit from 65 to 67.
Not everyone agrees with the prime minister’s announcement. My constituency office in Castlegar has been getting phone calls and emails from people who are concerned about what proposed changes to Old Age Security might mean for their retirement income. One couple in my riding asked: “What happens to people who are bridged by their companies until age 65, and then they lose the bridge as OAS usually kicks in? Now we will have two years where our income will take a real hit,” they said. “Five hundred dollars may not seem much to some people, but to us it is huge. This is a concern I would like to see voiced.”
I was interested to learn that the government’s claims of fiscal strain are leaving some experts scratching their heads. An article in the January 30 Globe and Mail says that research prepared at the request of the Conservative government actually concluded that Canada’s pension system is in good shape, and that there is no need to raise the retirement age.
Edward Whitehouse, a pension policy researcher for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and the World Bank, concluded in a recent report that “Canada does not face major challenges of financial sustainability with its public pension schemes. There is no pressing financial or fiscal need to increase pension ages in the foreseeable future.”
Thomas Klassen is a York University political science professor who co-authored a report on Canada’s pension system in 2010. “It’s okay to look at the Old Age Security pension payments,” he said. “But I think there’s got to be a lot more evidence that there’s a problem, and I don’t see that evidence.”
It seems that the Conservatives won’t listen to advice they don’t like, and they aren’t listening to Canadians. Instead they are manufacturing a crisis to take away future benefits from Canadian seniors.
My colleague and NDP Finance critic Peter Julian also challenged Harper’s plan. “The reality is, Canadians want to see retirement security put in place,” he said. “Thousands of seniors live in poverty. For Mr. Harper to say, ‘Well, work two more years and then you can retire,’ is not appropriate.”Seniors in Mr. Julian’s Burnaby riding say they’ll never vote Conservative again if the government cuts retirement income.
The NDP is ready to fight the Harper Conservatives on pensions. Harper didn’t campaign on cutting or changing OAS in the last election. I believe that Canada should be taking practical, affordable measures to lift every senior out of poverty—not make it worse by slashing Old Age Security. New Democrats have always been clear. We want to strengthen pensions, not weaken them.
Alex Atamanenko is the MP for BC Southern Interior. He writes in this space every two weeks.