Canada’s seniors will need to rise up

Here I thought Stephen Harper had set a new low in the annals of elder abuse

Memo from the Prime Minister’s Office:

Subject: Old Age Security

“Media are speculating that the federal Government may make changes to Old Age Security. Our Government is committed to ensuring the retirement security of Canadians. The Harper Government will ensure that seniors maintain ALL the benefits they currently receive. To be clear: there will be no changes to the benefits seniors currently receive.”

Here I thought Stephen Harper had set a new low in the annals of elder abuse and it was just those irresponsible, ink-stained media wretches creating havoc on the fly.

Hang on a second. Halfway around the world and safely isolated from the rage of Canadians, the PM strutted onto the world stage in Switzerland and baffled the globe’s political and industrial elite by declaring that Canada’s elderly have become a fiscal pain in the butt.

In a swaggering speech to wealthy, world-weary delegates at the Davos World Economic Forum, Harper said Canada’s increasing elderly population is threatening the country’s “social programs and the services that Canadians cherish.”

Harper bragged, “We’ve already taken steps to limit the growth of our health care spending. We must do the same for our retirement income system.”

Back home in the PMO, panicked staff quickly assembled the damage control team. Talking points were hastily blasted to freaked out Tories across the land: Elder abuse, no; media hype, yes.

Let’s just pause for a moment to reflect on Harper’s long-distance message to Canadians. Essentially, it is this: Canada’s elderly, who have spent their working lives helping build a rock-solid economy that is the envy of the world, are suddenly a millstone around the nation’s neck.

Have I got that right? I think I do. Harper says Canada’s old-age security program is unsustainable. Unlike the well-funded Canada Pension Plan, there is no pool of money to support OAS.

Proposed changes to OAS were never articulated by Harper; nevertheless, the mere hint that OAS cuts are being considered strikes fear in the hearts of tens of thousands of low-income seniors.

There is no question that in the medium term there are going to be fiscal challenges funding OAS. It’s expected that by 2035, the ratio of working Canadians to those over 65 will be two-to-one. Currently, that ratio is four-to-one. The government predicts the cost of pensions, currently about $35.6 billion, will triple by 2030.

The NDP calls Harper’s stunt a “slap in the face” to Canada’s elderly. Peter Julian, the opposition finance critic, suggests that seniors will soon be forced to work until they are 67 to qualify for OAS.

Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae says Harper hasn’t been clear with Canadians on his approach to the pension issue and he criticizes the PM for not bringing his intentions about pensions to the public during the last federal election campaign. “He didn’t have to go to his alpine perch to let us in on the news … he should have told Canadians before the election.”

One thing is obvious to Rae and anyone else with the brains that God gave a goose — Harper would not enjoy the majority he has today if pension slashing had been an election issue.

I hope Canada’s seniors, and those who respect their contributions to this country, rise up and challenge the prime minister’s callous insensitivity. M

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