Stephen Harper just took over $22,000 from my retirement!

By Robert Green

The Conservative Government’s recent decision to raise the age of eligibility for Old Age Security (OAS) from 65 to 67 may not seem like a big deal to many Canadians.  After all we are living longer than ever before and the eligibility is only being increased by 2 years.

Stephen Harper is certainly hoping that most Canadians will have such an apathy-producing response. He doesn’t want us to examine this too closely, for doing so reveals this policy to be not only unnecessary but carrying with it serious individual and social costs.

According to the Conservative party, this change is a necessary bit of belt-tightening that must be done to ensure the sustainability of the program. When asked by a local reporter about the hardships this change will cause for the large number of retired manual workers in Guysborough County Nova Scotia, Conservative MP Peter Mackay stated, “That is exactly why we need to make these changes to ensure that there is sustainable OAS in the future”. People must accept hardships now or else in the future there will be …hardships. In other words we should get used to more hardships on an ongoing basis.

However, as recently as February the federal government’s independent Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page reported that the existing program is not only sustainable but the government even has room to increase its spending without jeopardizing the sustainability of the program.

So what then does this program of questionable necessity mean for Canadians? Part of that question was answered by CAW economist Jim Stanford in his article “How Much Will YOU Lose from OAS Deferral??“. This is the article where I learned that as a 39-year-old, this move by Harper’s Conservatives is likely to have removed about $22,310 from my retirement. Consult the table to the right to see how much you just lost.

Stanford speculates that the disproportionate targeting of the young that this move entails is a deliberate conservative strategy aimed at avoiding the kinds of protests by seniors that derailed Mulroney’s attempt to undermine the public pension system in the 1980’s. It also conveniently avoids exacting costs on older voters who are a core constituency for the Conservatives.

But far more worrisome than its implications for an individual with a public sector pension such as myself,  are its implications for our society’s most vulnerable. In his analysis of the federal budget Bruce Campbell of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives cites pension expert Michael Wolfson’s calculation that if this change were brought in today, “the number of seniors below the poverty line would increase from 50,000 to 220,000– representing a more than doubling of Canada’s poverty rate”.

Similarly, this move has serious implications for Canadians with disabilities. This problem was described by Harry Wolbert in a recent op-ed for the Winnipeg Sun. According to Wolbert, 45 to 60% of Canadians receiving  social assistance have a disability. Because OAS coupled with the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) provides a far greater income than social assistance many Canadians with disabilities look forward to turning 65 as a reprieve from the conditions of poverty that a disproportionate amount of Canadians with disabilities endure for most of their lives. Harper’s move will force Canadians with disabilities to continue to endure this unjust situation for another two years.

If indeed there was a crisis in the sustainability of the program, one could understand such a move. However, in the absence of credible evidence that the program is unsustainable one is left with only one other explanation for this policy: ideology. Over his long political career Stephen Harper has not been bashful about expressing his disdain for Canada’s social safety net. This is just one more step in Harper’s drive to fundamentally transform Canada.

That is why having $22,310 taken from my retirement is even more infuriating; I know that as long as right-wing ideologues such as Harper are in power this added government revenue will not go to the sorts of things I value. It will not go to expanding access to affordable health care and  education or to protecting the environment or reducing inequality. It will be spent on prisons, fighter jets and ever more tax cuts for corporations and the rich.

This is why, when it comes to Stephen Harper, Canadians need to pay very close attention.

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2 Comments to “Stephen Harper just took over $22,000 from my retirement!”

  1. You’re a 39-year old teacher, so you’re relatively well paid, you participate in a pension plan, and you still have plenty of time to plan for retirement. Why exactly do you need Old Age SECURITY? You should be more than secure when you decide to hang up the chalk, errr, smartboard.

    There’s little question the changes to OAS will have a detrimental impact on lower income Canadians who really need the money. However, the griping and sense of entitlement from those who don’t is a bit much. The entire OAS system should be restructured based on need, not age.

  2. If OAS for the middle class was being cut in order to help those in need I could understand your point, but its not. Its being cut to pay for prisons, overpriced fighter jets and tax cuts for those who don’t need them. If you want to gripe about an entitled group, gripe about our country’s millionaires who have enjoyed massive tax cuts since the mid-nineties; gripe about the tax loopholes that government doesn’t seem to have the political will to close despite the fact that they deny government millions in revenu; gripe about the millions in subsidies going to oil and mining companies; gripe about the corporate tax cuts that have done little to stimulate the economy as Canadian corporations sit on huge amounts of investment capital. There’s definitely lots of legitimate targets to gripe about before going after the middle class and their so-called ‘entitlements’.

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