The Commons: Having it both ways

Stephen Harper promises his “major transformations” will also be unremarkable


The Scene. For the benefit of the House, Nycole Turmel relayed what she’d taken from what the Prime Minister said last week when he was some 6,264 kilometres from here.

“Mr. Speaker, Canadians are bracing themselves for the deepest round of cuts since Paul Martin, cuts to services Canadians need, like the OAS and EI,” she offered.

Members of the government side audibly whined at this reference to the previous prime minister.

“These cuts will hurt people, hurt seniors, hurt jobs and hurt our communities,” Ms. Turmel continued. “When will the Prime Minister tell Canadians the bad news, on his next trip to Switzerland or somewhere else in the world?”

Last week, so far away from this place, the Prime Minister had been full of dramatic phrasing. “Major transformations,” he said. Demographics posed a “threat” to that which we “cherished.” The deep holes of Europe and the United States threatened to grow deeper. The very future of our society hung in the proverbial balance.

“In every decision, or failure to decide, we are choosing our future right now,” he surmised. “And, as we all know, both from the global crises of the past few years and from past experience in our own countries, easy choices now mean fewer choices later.”

Hearing all this, Ms. Turmel understandably sensed cause for concern. But here Mr. Harper stood, all up-turned-palms and dulcet tones, to assure everyone that nothing too remarkable was in the offing.

“Mr. Speaker, of course,” he began, “this government received a mandate to gradually reduce our deficit to zero. We will do that while protecting the social programs that Canadians cherish. That has been the commitment we have made to the Canadian people. At the same time, we will ensure that our vital programs are sustainable for the long term and for future generations.”

Ms. Turmel was unpersuaded. “Why,” she asked, “does the Prime Minister want to cut Old Age Security benefits?”

The Prime Minister was undaunted. “We do not intend to cut benefits to seniors,” he maintained.

Ms. Turmel suggested this did not answer her question. On the one hand, she said, the government was ready to spend billions on megaprisons and fighter jets. On the other hand, she continued, the government was now ready to cut benefits for seniors.

Mr. Harper suggested that Ms. Turmel did not listen to his answer. “The reality is that we will not cut programs for our seniors,” he said. “At the same time, we will ensure that the retirement income system remains sustainable for future generations.”

One might’ve asked how Mr. Harper squares the second part with the first part, but Peter Julian preferred to press a more straightforward point.

“If the Prime Minister was so concerned about cutting OAS, why did he not say anything about it during the election?” he wondered aloud, daring to stare down Mr. Harper as he finished. “Why did he hide his agenda during the last election campaign?”

On the government’s behalf, Diane Finley insisted on correcting Mr. Julian. “We are not cutting,” she insisted.

A moment later, the interim Liberal leader had his own correction. “Mr. Speaker,” Bob Rae offered, “in fact the Prime Minister did address this question during the election campaign.”

Indeed, Mr. Rae—raising his voice, pointing with his left index finger, then switching to his right—seemed to think he had the Prime Minister pegged. “The Prime Minister stated categorically during the leaders’ debate, he stated it as recently as November, that the government was not going to be touching transfers to individuals and transfers to seniors. He explicitly said that,” Mr. Rae reported. “Now, the minister comes up with the Davos answer. There is an election answer. There is a Davos answer. Which is it? Is the Prime Minister committed to sustaining seniors? Or is he committed to breaking his election promises and breaking faith with the people of Canada? Which is it? Answer the question.”

Mr. Harper attempted to assure his way out of this. “Mr. Speaker, of course, this government ran on very clear commitments and we are acting on those commitments,” he said. “That commitment is to reduce our deficit to zero, gradually, without cutting transfers to individuals or to provinces. That has been very clear.”

Clearly. And yet, Mr. Rae was unsatisfied.

“Mr. Speaker,” the man from the third party charged, “the Prime Minister of Canada cannot have it both ways.”

Mr. Rae underestimates the Prime Minister at his peril.

The Stats. Pensions, 13 questions. Aboriginal affairs, five questions. Military procurement, four questions. Crime and employment, three questions each. Health care, the budget, Service Canada and the environment, two questions each. Bilingualism, the seal hunt and Tunisia, one question each.

Stephen Harper and Diane Finley, eight answers each. Julian Fantino, four answers. Tony Clement, Christian Paradis, John Duncan and Rob Nicholson, three answers each. Leona Aglukkaq and Joe Oliver, two answers each. Ted Menzies, Peter Penashue and Deepak Obhrai, one answer each.


The Commons: Having it both ways

  1. He can’t have it both ways. He can’t take the high horse and then claim the low road
    George W. Bush

    • Or he can lead the horse to water if it’s worth two in the bush…or something like that.

      • If the dog doesn’t hunt, there is always Iams… 

  2. “Now, but we will move out—we do five years at a time in the fiscal track, so in the next budget we’ll be out another year. We need to negotiate with the provinces to say how long an agreement do you want? A five-year agreement? A ten-year agreement? A two-year agreement? There will be different views, I expect, among the provinces. But our assumption is six percent”…or don’t negotiate at all.

    I swear these guys make this crap up as they go along. Steve writes it on the back of an envelope and Jumbo either loses it or forgets to remember what he did or didn’t promise last time out.

    They’re like a bunch of adolescents with attention deficit and an involuntary instinct for the great big fib

    . I can’t shake the image of Steve and Jumbo at the controls of Canada 747, both of them glaring at the manual in near panic..

    …”it just can’t be that f**king hard can it now, not if Chretien made this thing fly for 12 years!”   

    • LOL! 

    • I was going to write an evidence based rebuttal to your comment, but you and your little fantasies are sooooooo adorable it would be mean.  Carry on.

  3. You can say that cuts to OAS are affecting seniors. They are not. If you’re not a senior you are not getting OAS. Hence there are not cuts.

    • The new meme – ‘Soft on Seniors’.

  4. Of course the opposition is being too cute by half, Harper never talked about cutting payments to seniors. In fact he said the opposite. However, the opposition is making outrageous statements in an effort to scare the elderly who rely on their OAS cheques each month. Rae should be ashamed of himself but he wants the job as Liberal leader so bad he will do what his predecessors did and will say anything that he thinks will get him some brownie points. He will look foolish when the real plan is announced.

    • Harper has created this mess all by himself.  He chose to drop this little bombshell from  his Swiss Chalet but now refuses to discuss it. We’re supposed to trust him. So, please no whining that this  has caused this reaction.  It is basically  a huge gift to the opposition. 

      • What mess? There is no mess. He said in his speech it would not affect current seniors. How much clearer do you want him to be? Harper is no fool and he knows that he cannot change the rules affecting todays seniors. However, it doesn’t stop the left, the media and of course the silly opposition from making outrageous claims in an effort to scare seniors. Its disgusting.

        • I like your use of the word “current”. It’s the future seniors who wil be, well, not cut, but left hanging for a while as the goalpost gets ever further away. 66, 67, 68…

          • Are you actually saying that despite what is happening that everything must stay the status quo. That is a recipe for disaster giving our demographics etc.

            Changes need to be made and we need a government that has the b.lls to make those changes. As long as there is sufficient notice I don’t see the changes to be that drastic.

            I understand that many Canadians have trouble saving for their retirement given their wages and the current demands on them. However, the government needs to make sure the economy is humming, jobs are being created and the playing field is as level as it can be (it will never be perfect) but those that are relying on a government supplement of $500 are in for a very sparse retirement.

          • See my reply to your other comment (not sure if it’s upthread or down). No issue with the plan; just with the sneaky way he went about it.

            People should have been told exactlywhere he stood on the issue during the election, so they could make a reasoned choice. Instead, he played semantics and has given credence to the whole “hidden agenda” that he has been so often accused of having.

            I’ve never trusted him so I’m not surprised – and as I said, I think it’s good policy [hope your heart medication is nearby!]. But as the joke goes: “How can you tell if Harper is lying? His lips are moving.”

          • Is there every a right time to say he is going to change OAS. That is small potatoes to me. The fact is he said it and now has to deal with the fallout.

            Yes sure he was going to give the opposition and the media the whole election campaign to badmouth him and spread lies and distortions. No politician is going to do that. He was elected to govern the country for the next four years. The fact that he is tied to what was said in an election is facile.

            Quit getting caught up in the process, tactics and strategies. It serves no purpose.

          • Keith,

            To your point below:

            If any politician, (who truly only wanted to do what he/she knew (and most educated people knew) was best for the country), talked about the painful decisions at election time, they would guarantee their own electoral defeat. Too many people can be easily swayed by the media, and still others vote for what is best for them personally, not what is best for the country.

            That above mentioned politicians’ opponents would eat them for breakfast. The sad truth of a democracy is that we collectively cannot make a tough decision until forced. (see Europe)

            The CPP has to be updated; tell me which politician would have been elected for honestly bringing that point up? The majority of seniors would have voted to keep the money – to hell with the country 30 years from now.

          • Now the CPP has to be updated too.  What is Harper up to?  And there we go with the Greedy seniors meme. 

          • The CPP is one of many things that needs to be updated.

            Not saying that seniors alone are greedy – I am saying anyone who is getting anything from the gov’t is loath to vote to reduce it. That is why most democratic countries are in the mess they are in.

            If anything, seniors bear most of the blame, as they have been voting longer. . .

            Please, Jan, don’t tell me you think that the federal gov’t could continue the way it is now, with no changes, forever?

          • Ah, so you subscribe to the Kim Campbell philisophy of campaigning [i.e. an election is no time to discuss serious issues]. Such a sad commentary on your opinion of the electorate.

          • It is sad, but I am a realist.

            You think people will vote against their own personal self interest.

  5. Option 1:  we can take money from the young and give it to the old.
    Option 2:  we can take  money from the old and give it to the young.
    Option 3:  we can take as little money as possible from either, and instead worry about the things for which government is consented to by the governed:  things like public safety, rule of law, and national defense.  

    It’s disturbing that the debate isn’t about what would be best, but rather about whether Option 1 is being pursued with sufficient vigor.

    • Are one and two not consented to by the governed?

      • Perhaps they are. I must confess that I don’t know, since it is apparently generally assumed that options 2 and 3 aren’t even options.

        BTW it is good to read your posts again.

        • BTW, I was glad to witness your return to this stage.  I’ve made a comfortable residence for myself in the audience, but I still enjoy the show.

          Regarding the second option: what it brought to mind for me was education.  Would that not be considered a transfer of monies from the old to the young?  Or maybe just a transfer from the anyaged to the teachers’ unions?

          • Most education in my experience involves a transfer of knowledge from the old to the young, generally in exchange for money in the other direction. Then there is what happens in most schools/universities, which is exactly as you describe it and has little to do with education except insofar as it acts as a guide for the rest of us on how not to form a mind.

    • Nice to see some common sense again. :)

      • Don’t get used to it.  I’m sure I’ll be back to my usual foolishness before long.

    • Some expert: OAS is a general revenue funded supplement separate from pensions, the article you link to correctly notes that Canada’s PENSION system (CPP) is in good shape.  Two different things.

      The article quotes Kevin Milligan, an exceedingly partisan public sector unionized academic, as saying OAS is just fine. His commentary is worthless and his analysis is embarrassing.

      No serious – as opposed to partisan – economist disputes 1) that our population is rapidly aging, 2) that having fewer workers supporting more seniors will in fact make it more difficult to finance OAS and other programs, and 3) that people are living much longer than before so it makes sense that Canada does what other countries have already done: raise the age limit for programs to support seniors.

      From StatsCan: “Life expectancy among seniors at the age of 65 has also been on an upward trend for several years.

      On average, a 65-year-old man could expect to live an additional 18.1 years in 2005-2007, an increase of 2.0 years from the previous decade. A 65-year-old woman could expect to live an additional 21.3 years, up by 1.3 years.
      Gains in life expectancy among seniors during the past decade have accounted for about 70% of the increase in life expectancy at birth.”

      An evidence-based analysis shows that Harper’s proposal makes sense, and there is no shortage of partisan academics who are unionized and on the public teat and have a financial incentive to sacrifice their own professional reputations by saying factually inaccurate things to take a cheap quick partisan shot at Harper.

      • If I needed the PMO talking points I could get them straight
        from the horse’s mouth. I don’t need them from another part
        of the horse’s anatomy.

        • Why do Libs always resort to the old talking point ploy when they receive a logical and truthful reply —-I will assume they have no logic or truth to reply.

      • Wow – you guys are targetting Kevin Milligan?  Did you miss Stephen Gordon describing the GST cut as stupid?  The universities are a veritbale  hotbed of anti-Harper sentiment, you really should start cracking down. I think a roundup is in order – isn’t that how Iran handles dissidents?

        • No need to round them up but we certainly can expose them for the left leaning opinions. Oh I forgot Conservatives are suppose to keep their mouths shut and let the left do all the talking. Not going to happen Jan.

          • It must hurt up on that cross.

          • If there is anybody up on a cross it is the left along with their buddies in the media and of course the leaderless opposition parties as they sputter and spout their usual drivel.

      • Gee, McGee, if government were to make evidence-based policies, it would start paying CPP at age 67 for men and at age 70 for women – or would that be discrimination on the basis of gender?

        As for the cheap partisan shots, I have never in my over sixty years of life received more disgustingly partisan mailings from an MP than I have these past six years.  My  MP is in the Conservative caucus.

        Should you want to take a cheap shot at me personally, note that I am a working person, and have been a working person, for more than 40 years, full-time, non-unionized and strictly in the private of sector . 

        • I read your reply to McGree and I don’t understand why you were so angry with him and accused him of an attack. He simply stated facts that have been reported. Then you go off on mailings from your Conservative MP.

        • it would start paying CPP at age 67 for men and at age 70 for women – or would that be discrimination on the basis of gender?”

          For every dollar a man contributes to CPP, he gets $1.60.  For every dollar a woman contributes, she gets $2.60.  When CPP was last tweaked an analyst from SOW red-flagged the changes because it *reduced* this discrepancy.  You can see why I am not a feminist.

    • I did not see any evidence which says why they are sustainable. A $100 billion is a lot of money in anybody’s books.

  6. Canada doesn’t have a pension problem, much less a crisis.

    Harper’s talking through his touque again

    • Sweetie, we’re not talking about pensions, we’re talking about OAS.  Two very different programs.  For an alleged 65 year old yous seem strangely ignorant about government programs for seniors.

      • Well, lambchop…the OAS is a pension.

        And I’m 65, not allegedly 65.  LOL

        We have no problem, much less a crisis.

        • It’s not a pension in any way shape or form.  Pensions are funded by contributions, OAS is a supplement and is funded out of general revenues, like the GIS.  You’re entitled to your wrong opinion, but not to your own facts.

          • The OAS is and always was…a pension.

            And every Canadian is entitled to it….having contributed all their lives.

            Trying to change definitions at this late date is a waste of time.

          • Recipients may use it as a form of pension, but it is not structured as one. That’s the point he’s trying to get at and which you, as you are wont to do, are blithely ignoring.

            I’m not a fan of TTDM’s politics, but he is right on this point.

          • Yeah, even the government refers to it alternately as a program and as a pension:

            But unlike the CPP it is not a funded pension and so “program” is the more correct term as far as its structural set-up goes. To recipients, though, I’ll grant you it’s toMAYto, toMAHto.

          • The terms have been used interchangeable for years. However, I agree that technically it is not a pension plan hence the term Old Age Security. It is a program to help people in their retirement but nobody envisioned it as a program that could never be changed and it being the only income one has in retirement along with CPP if they qualify.

            However, the anti Harper crowd on this board and of course the opposition parties are playing games here in an effort to scare the crap out of today’s seniors. It is disingenuous and really objectionable. They are hoping for the same reaction that Mulroney got. However, this is different. Harper is doing nothing to reduce the current OAS. Mulroney wanted to de-index current receipts.

  7. Another option would be to means test the crap out of OAS.  Currently it isn’t means tested up to $67K.  That aside, most seniors own property and many have investments and RRSPs.
    It does not make sense to tax some 20 year old pulling down $11/hr at Starbucks to finance cutting cheques to a senior making $50K, who owns a quarter million dollar home, and is sitting on tens of thousands of dollars in RRSPs.  It’s regressive as hell, and at a time when people are concerned about inequality we should be talking about means testing handouts to well off seniors. 

    • Well hey….the principle of universality is just a principle after all…..so you get right out there on your soapbox and rant about it.

      Meantime, I’ll have a vanilla latte son…and hurry it up.

      • Sweetie, it’s already means tested, it’s not universal and never was.

        You’re new at this, eh?  

    • Interesting that the  Harper income splitting he brought in 2007 actually works against the existing clawback mechanism.  But, those were the votes to get then not now, apparently.That and the Income Trust reversal and now the OAS , retirement planning becomes a bit of a crap shoot. 

    • Is someone earning eleven dollars an hour even paying income tax?

      • Yes. Not much, but it’s not exactly the high life either.

  8. They won’t make cuts to seniors. They will redefine the current definition of “senior citizen” – 70 is the new 65. Same level of payment; you just have to wait an extra number of years before you can start collecting. You haven’t been cut; you’ve been de-seniored.

    • You would not argue that those who are 70 years of age today do not look and act like the 70 years of 10 years ago. I can attest to that from first hand knowledge.

      Given the historical context 65 was an arbitrary age established based on the best information at the time. Times have changed.

      We have to find a way to allow Canadians to save on their own for retirement so that they can have the type of retirement they want. However, to have to rely on a government cheque each month suggests they have not done the responsible thing during their working years.

      • I don’t disagree. It’s just that it seems awfully weaselly; one gets the feeling that his comments up to now were all carefully designed to avoid mentioning any change in definition of “senior” re age requirement so that he could live up to his promise of “no cuts to seniors” while leaving a loophole big enough to fly a 747 through.
        People whose retirement plans included the OAS as part of that planning may not have been as keen to vote CPC if they knew they’d be pushing their retirement back a few years as a result.

        As Wherry notes after quoting Rae’s line about not having it both ways: “Mr. Rae underestimates the Prime Minister at his peril.” Apparently, with some very crafty, lawyer’s-fine-print planning, one can.

        • Once again the term seniors is changing on its own. People are living longer and as a consequence those that were considered old are no longer put in that category.
          If people are relying on OAS for their retirement they are in for a big surprise. It will mean a meagre retirement. The OAS should be considered as a bonus. Unfortunately many cannot afford to save for their retirement and that really is the issue here.

          • “Unfortunately many cannot afford to save for their retirement and that really is the issue here.”

            Completely agree.

      • Oh, and I forgot to mention: I think it makes sense to push back the age of qualification. Whether Harper does it or someone else later on, it will almost certainly have to be done at some point if we are to keep it at all. It’s jus that the devious way he went about it tends to lend credence to the “hidden agenda” believers.

        • Just like the hidden agenda of the Libs when they said they would cancel NAFTA and eliminate the GST. They had no intention of doing either.So if you want to call it devious you can but like I told you don’t be sidetracked by discussions about strategies, tactics and process. The key is what action is he taking? Is it in the best interest of the country? Is he showing leadership? That’s the only thing that will matter in four years. The fact he made the announcement in Davos will not enter the picture. If Harper f.rts sideways the opposition and some in the media they will call it signs of a hidden agenda. The fact is if Harper does anything he will be criticized ad nauseum.

          • More whining.

          • Process and tactics matter to me. They are a reflection of the honesty and integrity of the government. Your “ends justifies the means” attitude jibes well with the CPC, but rubs me the wrong way entirely.

            This one admittedly little deception on its own doesn’t really change my opinion of Harper; such deceptions are SOP for Harper & this government. This is just one little thread in their massive web of lies. Harp’s very first act as PM was to break an election promise on a matter of principle, and he’s been lying to us ever since. And the “all parties do it” line doesn’t cut it; up until he actually had power, Harper was all about principle and integrity. That’s what he campaigned on. Then tossed it all aside the moment he grasped the reins.

            He may never have gotten my vote, as we are too far apart on too many issues. But if he had  actually stuck to his principles, he’d have had my respect.

            But I’m way off the core topic here. Let’s just say that, as much as I dislike him and his government, I am able to recognize and support good policy on those rare occasions when they present such. This is one of those times. Enjoy it while you can.

  9. People who need OAS as part of their retirement would not vote for anyone who might have cut it. And people getting any sort of Gov’t money would probably be in the same boat.

    It is a fundamental flaw in a Democracy; people don’t always vote what is best for the country – they sometimes vote for what is best for them, even if it is bad for the country.

    • That will always be the case. Its all about one’s self interest always taken on a short term horizon.

    • What about the fundamental flaw of politicians doing things just to get votes, with no thought of what is best for the country.  The GST cuts comes to mind.

      • Tell that to the poor who you profess to care about so much. I am sure they were quite happy to get a break on their utility bills and everything else that GST applies to.The cut probably eased the impact of the recession.
        Would I have done the GST cut ? No I would prefer a broad based tax cut or change in marginal tax rates. However, I will have to save that for when I become PM:-)

        • Just admit it was a stupid thing to do and it is why he is desperate to replace the lost income. 

          • I will do no such thing. He made the decision and it is now history but you and many like you keep wanting to revisit history. We could go back and revisit Liberal history and I would suggest and many people would agree that introducing the long gun registry was a stupid thing to do.

          • Try dealing with the here and now. 

          • Same holds true about the GST cut. Move on!

          • Same holds true for the GST cut. Move on!

          • We are dealing wit the hole it made NOW. Sorry, but you can’t just wish it away.

          • You are right we are still dealing with the $2 billion gun registry and the annual costs of $ 1million. So we can keep going back and forth but that is useless.

          • Thanks for bringing that up – I forgot how much we were told the savings from shutting the LGR  – it was supposed to be substantial – we can use it to offset the OAS costs, right?

      • Jan, I think we can agree that almost every politician, in every country, has done that. They all want to get elected.

        I would prefer that the GST were totally gone, and that other taxes were lowered as well. That you don’t like it doesn’t mean that it is wrong. I have heard the talk that it was a ‘good tax’, but frankly, the less money that the gov’t brings in, the less it can waste, and the less that we all can argue.

  10. I am amazed that most of what is being discussed here is that Harper is wrong to change CPP, unless it is to make it more beneficial to seniors.

    How come we, as a country, cannot even talk about making a benefit smaller? Why is this such a bad thing? Why can’t people throw out some good ideas and suggestions, rather than shooting any politician who wants to change something?

    • You are right. There is to be no discussion in Canada unless it is from the left side of the political spectrum. They all say they want policy to be discussed but when you do this is a good example of what happens. The opposition and some in the media go on the attack. What is happening in this discussion is not rationale. It is all about trying to scare the seniors about today’s OAS payments which is not the case.

      • For God’s sake stop whining.

        • For God’s sake quit being such a Liberal partisan hack. Then maybe I will stop whining.

          • Whining is how you hack,  dear.  Makes you sound like a wuss.  Do carry on. 

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