The shifting sands and shifting figures offered up by Ministers Flaherty and Finley regarding the proposed changes to the Old Age Security Program raise, as usual, a number of questions. Why can’t the bureacrats in either the Ministry of Finance or those in the Ministry of Human Resources respond to direct questions. Over the last few days when asked by journalists how much will be saved by the proposed OAS changes when they are implemented Minister Finley refused to say. Finally yesterday Mr Flaherty offered a tentative estimate of $10 billion. “I’ve heard that number, I’ve heard $12 billion also. Something in that area,” Such clear responses to an issue that has been a bit of a lightning rod over the last few weeks! And yet why no clarity? Did the government not do the appropriate analysis before proposing this measure?
Yesterday Kevin Page the Parliamentary Budget Officer clearly refuted the claims of the Harperites and reaffirmed that younger Canadians should not have to wait an extra 2 years to receive the Old Age Security benefit. He repudiates the government’s position. The CBC reported that Mr Page presented the analysis in response to further requests by Members of Parliament and that in his report he concluded: “The updated analysis indicated that as a result of the change to the [Canada Health Transfer]… the federal fiscal structure was sustainable and had sufficient room to absorb the cost pressures arising from the Old Age Security (OAS) program.”
Mr. Page’s analysis echos the Finance Department’s own study on Canada’s pension sysytem which was presented in 2010 and commissioned by the Department of Finance for the federal and provincial finance ministers’ Research Working Group, Edward Whitehouse, who leads the pensions team in the Social Policy Division of the OECD, said that “long-term projections show that Canada’s public retirement income system is financially sustainable. There is no pressing financial or fiscal need to increase pension ages in the foreseeable future.” This information comes from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in their report entitled, “Undermining Canada’s Retirement Income System” prepared by Monica Townson.
So what do we make of the plans of the Harperites? We know that according to the Vanier Institute of the Family that Seniors are 17 times more likely to live in poverty now than 20 years ago. We also know according to the CCPA that:
“OAS benefits constitute a significant percentage of income for many seniors. According to one estimate, OAS and GIS combined make up 36% of the income of seniors. For low-income seniors, it’s between two-thirds and three-quarters.”
“OAS alone represents about 29% of the income of women aged 65-69, and 19% of the income of men aged 65-69.”
“About 16% of older women on their own have incomes below the low-income cut-off. It is estimated that public transfers (mainly OAS and GIS) constitute 77% of the total income of unattached low-income seniors.”
What is the bottom line? The Conservative government has not proven that the OAS program is unsustainable, whereas the Finance Department itself has proven the opposite in 2010. The OAS program is a necessary support for thousands of seniors, particularly the most vulnerable individuals. To make these proposed changes is disgraceful and damaging. Our seniors continue to pay taxes even after a lifetime of being in the workforce. I would say the lesson we learn from this present budget and these changes in policy is: that the only people exempt from attacks by this government are their corporate friends and bankers.