On Old Age Security

Elizabeth May

There are few issues as close to our core
values as pensions.  We have universal
health care and its place as a core Canadian value is indisputable.  Our shared commitment to ensuring that
Canadians have the income support required to live our retirement years in
vitality and good health is a close second in sacred responsibilities of
governments.  Clearly, more needs to be
done.  Too many seniors, particularly too
many women, live in poverty. 
Nevertheless, Old Age Security, Guaranteed Income Supplement and the
Canada Pension Plan were never mooted as a target for new policies by Stephen
Harper in the recent election, except to commit to greater levels of support.

Following the memorable historical plunge
from a high place experienced by former PM Brian Mulroney over threats to alter
our pension plans (“Good bye Charlie Brown”), I can only imagine the shock of
Conservative backbenchers at home in Ottawa when their boss stepped out on the
ledge in Davos.  

The contradictions flew back and forth, (the
Conservatives spin machine claimed media was incorrectly interpreting his
remarks, and then clarifications ensued that pensions would be changed.  Each contradiction was prefaced with “let me
be clear.”). 

As the dust settles, it seems increasingly
clear that Budget 2012 will include a change in which retirement age shifts
from 65 to 67.  I had a more or less
clear reply from Minister responsible for Seniors, Alice Wong, on this point
when I put the question to her in the House. 
The only real question about Harper’s intent remaining is whether the
changes will be sudden or gradual and over what period of time.  My bet is that the budget will tell 50 year
olds to be prepared to work another 17 years.

The question we should be asking is: is
this necessary?  The Parliamentary Budget
Officer says “no.”  The PBO report issued
February 8 states that, having off-loaded 2 % of health care costs on the
provinces, Ottawa has room to absorb the bump created be retiring baby
boomers.  In fact, the PBO report says we
can increase OAS.

Some commentators are wondering why Stephen
Harper would risk changing basic entitlements to OAS.  Many assume he both protects his base and
keeps his election promises.  This might
be a good time for the seniors who lost their savings with Harper’s reversal on
taxing income trusts (Halloween 2006) to brief those counting on retirement at
65.  We can push back and protect Old Age
Security.  It is time to mobilize. This
is no time to retire from activism. 

published in the CARP publication CARP Action Online.