The Commons: The case of actions v. words

Are the Conservatives breaking an election promise by reforming Old Age Security?

by Aaron Wherry

The Scene. “Mr. Speaker, once again, I think the government has been repeatedly clear when it comes to retirement income, such as old age security,” the Prime Minister clarified.

And on that note, his second sentence. ”We have no intention,” he said, “of changing any benefits.”

Clearly. At least so far as those with no short term memory could be concerned. For the rest of those listening, there was what the government had sent up Wai Young to say no more than 90 seconds earlier. ”We will implement any changes fairly,” the dutiful backbencher reassured the House with the last intervention before Question Period, “allowing lots of time for notice and time to adjust.”

So the government has no intention of making changes. But if—for whatever reason—it should be struck with such intent sometime between now and the tabling of this spring’s budget, you are to be assured that those changes will be implemented fairly. Indeed, even with these changes existing only in the theoretical, the government presently lacking even the intent to make them, Ms. Young managed today to congratulate her side for having had the courage to change. “In fact,” she reported, “the National Post gets it with its front page headline today, ‘Tories on the right side of pension reform.’ ”

Of course, what the Prime Minister presumably means to say is something that was vaguely implied in his third and fourth sentences. “In fact, seniors would continue to receive everything that they are receiving and expecting,” he explained. “At the same time, younger generations expect us to ensure the system is viable for them. That is a responsibility this government takes very seriously.”

So if you are currently old, you’ve nothing to worry about. And if you plan on getting old, you might have to think about working a couple more years. But hopefully that’s far enough off—and the big numbers sufficiently scary-seeming—that this will all be a distant memory when the government stands for reelection in 2015.

In the meantime though, the opposition has an opportunity to make unflattering comparisons.

“The government has a choice,” Peter Julian asserted this day, his hair dramatically parted in a great swoop to the right. “A single F-35 costs $450 million. That would pay OAS benefits for 70,000 Canadian seniors. Its prison plan costs $19 billion. That would pay annual benefits for 2.9 million Canadians seniors. The Conservatives say costly prisons and fighter jets are their priority. We say seniors are more important.”

Diane Finley forced a slightly patronizing smile and proceeded to rhyme off a list of things the NDP had apparently voted against in refusing to support the government’s previous budgets. “They should have voted for the biggest increase in the guaranteed income supplement which helps our poorest seniors that we made last spring. They should have voted for that,” she scolded. “Their actions speak a whole lot louder than their words.”

This last reference was particularly inspired, the New Democrats having in fact rejected the government’s GIS increase because they felt that increase to be too small. (That difference between $300 million and $700 million being one of the reasons we had an election last spring.)

Of words and actions, Bob Rae attempted then to broker a connection.

“Mr. Speaker,” he said, “at the time of the last election the Prime Minister’s party put out an election platform that said, and I quote: ‘We will not cut transfer payments to individuals or to the provinces for essential things like health care, education and pensions.’ ”

Various Conservatives across the way happily applauded.

“Mr. Speaker,” Mr. Rae continued, “I wonder if the Prime Minister can tell us as he talked in Davos about a demographic crisis and he talked about it again today … Was the Prime Minister aware of this so-called demographic crisis at the time that he and his party made the election promise they made just a few short months ago?”

In response, Mr. Harper used the word “clear” no less than three times, but he did not answer the question.

Mr. Rae lost his temper here and failed to ask a question in between his shouting and the Prime Minister took the opportunity to mock Mr. Rae’s record as premier of Ontario nearly two decades ago.

Regaining himself, the interim Liberal leader then returned to his original question. The House went quiet and the only sound was that of Mr. Rae’s confidently spoken French. “Will the Prime Minister tell us whether he was aware of the demographic problem, whether he knew he was going to cut pensions in the future and raise the retirement age?” Mr. Rae asked. “If he was aware of these things, why has he not revealed to Canadians his big plan? Why did he decide to hide what he wanted to do and what he intends to do now?”

Mr. Harper assured the House that the government had been clear and switched to French to chastise the Liberals for their failure to be dutiful and deferential. But once again he did not answer the question.

The Stats. Pensions, 11 questions. The environment, seven questions. Military procurement, five questions. Aboriginal affairs, four questions. Affordable housing, firearms, the RCMP and infrastructure, two questions each. Health care, crime, Iran and veterans, one question each.

Diane Finley, eight answers. Joe Oliver, seven answers. Stephen Harper, six answers. Julian Fantino and Vic Toews, five answers each. Denis Lebel and Peter Kent, two answers each. John Duncan, Leona Aglukkaq, Peter MacKay and Steven Blaney, one answer each.




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The Commons: The case of actions v. words

  1. The Harper government purposely created or enlarged deficits in Canada by tax giveaways to corporations via lower corporate tax rates and to the wealthy through lower GST.  Harper pretended this would encourage job creation, but in fact it created huge cash reserves for corporate Canada and their investors.  Harper did this so that the act of reducing the deficit would provide cover for their original plan of destroying Canada’s valuable pension plans and social safety net.  This attack on OAS is the first salvo of their agenda, which certainly seems to be hidden since it was not mentioned during the last election, no details are being provided and Harper had to travel to Switzerland to annouce it. 

    • Brilliant satire!  You sound just like an authentic socialist.

      That was satire, right?

      • Obviously. Nobody could possibly think such things.

        • Believe me Stephen Harper firmly believes it.  Why else would he hide from Canadians while anoucning it and then hide from the House of Commons when debating it. 

          • He seems to be in the House listening to Bob Rae acting like a hysterical school girl. He isn’t hiding from anybody.

          • Then why has he introduced “time allocation” on a pension bill today.  Try to keep up hollinm.  Your attempt at personal attacks on Bob Rae rather than debate the issues says a lot about you.  Reading from the PMO taking points are you?

          • He introduced time allocation because the opposition are not interested in debating the merits of the legislation and recommending changes they are filibustering in an effort to stop the legislation. The time allocation simply limits the time for debate on first reading. Once that ends it goes to committee. More time for discussion. It is you who should try to keep up.

            Bob Rae is looking foolish in his over the top rhetoric. I could care less about this loser and in fact i hope that the Libs do appoint him leader.

      • Truth is always stranger than fiction.  This was not satire.  Pleae check out the FACTS at the Globe and Mail. 

        • Oh, that was brilliant!  Moar!  Grope and Flail as arbiter of truth…hilarious stuff.  Someone give this man a Leacock award!

          • OK, so you don’t like the Globe and Mail.  Here is the Department of Finance link to one of the reports I was referring to. 
            http://www.fin.gc.ca/activty/pubs/pension/ref-bib/whitehouse-eng.asp

            You will find that it says “The analysis suggests that Canada does not face major challenges of financial sustainability with its public pension schemes,” and “there is no pressing financial or fiscal need to increase pension ages in the foreseeable future.”

            So enough with your adolescent humour and try to make an adult contribution to political discourse.

          • Funny you mention that: it was the Globe and Mail which wrongly reported that Harper said the pension system was in crisis.  He said no such thing.

            Outlays for OAS are scheduled to increase significantly, our population is aging, our workforce as % of population is declining, life expectancy has increased drastically, and health care costs are skyrocketing.  Adjusting eligibility from 65 to 67 is reasonable in this context.

            GST is regressive since the wealthy save, poor people can’t, and a cut therefore benefits the poor more.  Corporate Canada is not hoarding cash – this isn’t the USA.  The GST put money in the pocket of all Canadians and did stimulate the economy significantly to the tune of $12 billion a year.  

            Flaherty proposed an increase to CPP just last year and the provinces shot it down – the very opposite of “destroying Canada’s valuable pension plans”.  There is no “attack” on OAS, it is not being cut, and the hidden agenda meme was old five years ago.  Virtually every single thing you said was factually inaccurate.

          • “GST is regressive since the wealthy save, poor people can’t, and a cut therefore benefits the poor more”

            It’s funny how often statistics and economics can be made to conveniently lie.
            The wealthy save – they also buy big ticket items with the disproportinate help of GSTcuts and still save.
            Poor people don’t pay GST on rent and many foodstuffs and since they are poor derive very little real help from small GST cuts -  2 %.of not very much is well…not very much

          • It is not the Grope and Flail, as you put it, it is the Globe and Mail. Let’s communicate like adults here, not like adolescents who think they’re cute.

          • Actually it is the Mop and Pail . . .

    • I don’t think lowering the GST was just aimed at the weathly…it seems that many other Canadians took advantage of that perk as well.  They purchased alot of household goods if their household debt is any indication.
      The fact is that OAS was only meant to provide about 15 years of safety net to retiring Canadians.  Now they are living alot longer so they should work longer and retire later.  What is it that you don’t understand about too many retirees and not enough workers to support the program?  When anyone tries to explain any kind of simple mathematics to you, you accuse them of being an evangalist conservative.  I saw a comment where you accused Andrew Coyne of this in the National Post even though he came out publicly and announced his plans to vote Liberal in the last election.

      • Roughly 80% of GST is paid by wealthy Canadians and only 20% by “other Canadians”.  The GST cut was aimed squarely at the wealthiest Canadians. 

        Over the past three years the Harper government hired three well qualified throughly conservative experts to review Canada’s pension systems.  The ALL concluded there is no need to change the system or the age limits.  The All concuded that the system was sustainable even through the Hump created by boomers.  There is no crisis in our pension system, except one fabricated by Harper and his propaganda machine.

      • How many nurses will be keen to retire at 67?

        • Well, this nurse .. and the one he’s married to .. could not have
          made it to 65 let alone 67. We barely made it to a reduced pension
          at 60. But all the 40 yr. old desk jockeys who work with their 
          fingers don’t seem impressed. We’ll see.

          • I know, there are a lot of occupations that do not lend themselves to working even up to 65, let alone 67.  Just because life expectancy is up, doesn’t mean people are capable of doing what they did when they were 40. 

          • Yessss….especially in a country where physicial fitness is in such appalling decline and 40 year olds look and act like their 65. 

          • Well if you are both nurses and did not take advantage of the generous pensions offered to nurses you have nobody but yourself to blame. I hope I am wrong.

          • Aside from being a nurse I was a trustee of the pension plan
            that covered nurses. Any pension plan designed to cover a
            largely female work force through years when they were in
            and out of work ..when I started, nurses who became pregnant were required to resign .. could hardly be described
            as generous. Through years of arm wrestling the pension
            barely reached the level of adequate.
            And, wrong is your usual position. Hope will not help.

          • Sounds like you don’t have a ‘generous pension’ lined up holinm.  Don’t tell me your going to needing OAS – surely not…

          • BCLong……I am not going to argue the pros and cons of your pension plan.
            Having said that if the pension plan at work was not sufficient or had stipulations which prevented you to save adequately for your retirement then the only other options would be to make alternate arrangement i.e. RRSPs. However, relying on a government handout for your well being in retirement is never a good idea.

          • Hollinm

            RRSPs require an ability to put aside a certain amount of disposable income on a consistent basis. A glance at take up rates for the programme will tell you most Canadians can’t manage it, and a little more research will you show you why – we’re in debt up to our eyeballs; and folks like you want to takeway or reduce the little safety net there is for the poor – why am i not surprised? Conservative fiscal ideaology uber alles.  

          • I fully agree that putting in the maximum RRSP contribution is near impossible for many Canadians. Yes many (not all) Canadians are up to their necks in debt (if you include mortgage debt). I am not suggesting talking anything from anybody. However, if you think raising the qualifying age for OAS from 65-67 over 20 years is such a hardship then we have a lot more serious problem. Trouble is we cannot have a discussion in this country about anything without lies, distortions and fabrications being the order of the day.

            Relax, wait and see what the final proposal will be but talking about baloney for seniors is crass distortion. Of course that’s how the left operates in this country.

          • Funny, i was under the impression that right now that’s how the right operates in this country.

          • If you think raising the qualifying age for OAS from 65-67 over 20
            yearsmaintaining the qualifying age at 65 is such a hardship then we have a lot more serious problem.
            Trouble is we cannot have a discussion in this country about anything
            without lies, distortions and fabrications being the order of the day.

            Fixed

          • I have two nurse buddies who are still working full-time.  There is also a physician in our service who is 75 who works full-time.

          • Sorry my buddies are 66.

          • But isn’t the average retirement age of nurses something like 56?  Would you want to be forced to work past 65?

        • Funny you should ask that…..they want the Alberta nurses to work to age 73 and that request was made before any notion of changes to OAS.  Industry shortages will do that.

          • There would just be more nurses going off on disability.  It’s a ridiculous suggestion.

          • Lord save me from having a 73-year old nurse!  In SK, older nurses like my sister in law, who is 55, get offered amazing incentives to NOT retire and stay on to mentor young nurses.  But most nurses in their fifties who I know have had lengthy disability periods due to foot and back problems. 

    • “When a government starts trying to cancel dissent or avoid dissent is frankly when it’s rapidly losing its moral authority to govern.”Stephen Harper, Canadian Press, April 18, 2005

    • Exactly right. Most of the money “saved” on the GST cut was saved by people buying goods and services like yachts, new houses, fancy cars, maids, poolboys, gardners etc etc.

      Rent: No GST.
      Basic Groceries: No GST.

      GST is a percentage, so the largest collection point is on expensive items most of us don’t buy.

      It’s estimated that 80% of the revenue lost, went into the pockets of people who are among the most affluent in society.

      Frankly, I continued to be sickened by this.

  2. It is unlikely that any change in OAS eligibility will take effect before the next election, so NO, Harper did not break an election promise since Canadians will undoubtedly go to the polls first and be able to pass judgement on the proposed changes.  

    • He didn’t mention the changes….no matter when they take place.

    • He did manage to talk about benefits he was going to institute on a timeline AFTER the next election. So fair is fair. 

      • You mean we’ll cut OAS to make sure that executives who go to the gym get a tax exemption for generations to come?

    • That’s a  ridiculous reach. As Wells made clear this info concerning a bulge in the OAS 15 -20 years out has been available to 5 or 6 govts. Harper should have brought this up during the last election. He didn’t probably because the idea only popped into his head once someone told him he needed a legacy project.  

      • Bingo. Dead on as usual KCM2.

        It doesn’t even make sense. The cost of OAS will rise less than a percent of GDP in the next 30 years for pete’s sake. Even then we’d have the lowest percent of any of the G7 in this regard.

        To me, cutting the tiny pension benefits of the poor elderly is pretty sick. Most of us will not collect OAS in our lifetimes one way or another.

        • To be fair Wells also made the point that $12 billion a year will remain unfunded, this will require atention. no?
          Still, i wonder to what extend a growing economy will have whittled down that figure somewhat?

          “Most of us will not collect..”.is that entirely true? The clawback starts at $68,000 or so – shouldn’t it be lower or at a higher rate of clawback? I’ve even heard the programme described as wefare for well off senior citizens – is that even remotely true? I still support the concept of universality but  we should also use of resources efficiently and fairly.

          • Well if that’s the case then I agree it should be clawed back for those making such incomes. My main interest is protecting those making less than $30K or so.

            Changing the age requirement doesn’t help at all.

    • Canadians do not “pass judgement” on individual measures. Instead they’re inundated with daily announcements in flowery language designed to sound important, but not actually discussing anything of note to any degree of specifics worth mentioning..

      Frankly I tire of governments claiming they have a mandate for everything under the sun that they happened to mention here or there, sort of, kind of.

      The simple fact is that in this country we give majority governments to parties with minority support, and they do as they please while using vague statments from the election to justify it.

      It’s nonsense, and none of us should fall for it.

  3. Who needs to worry about pensions or old age security with all the intrepid dynamos that are coming into Canada via mass immigration? That was the whole point of mass immigration, as politicians of all stripes have reminded us. All these diligent 3rd world folks were going to replace aging Canadians and shore up our social programs…you know the drill. Unfortunately it turned out that the vast majority of newcomers from the past 25 yrs are actually taking way more out than they are putting in, thus making things much much worse. Will any politician stand up and say we need an immediate moratorium on all new immigration? If we don’t stop it soon, OAS is not the only social program that will go bust.

    • Do you have any stats to back that up? 

    • Actually the various experts the government hired to study Canada’s pension system the past three years concluded that one of the reason Canada;s pensions are in good shape is that immigrant workers have been and will continue to make economic contributions that offset the costs attributable to boomers retirement.  Try to keep up FPSC.   

  4. Strategic lying from Harper and Finley…what’s new. And we still ask why there’s so much cynicism around modern politics? The ends does not always justify the means particularly when the means are so unethical. 

    “Mr. Speaker,” Mr. Rae continued, “I wonder if the Prime Minister can tell us as he talked in Davos about a demographic crisis and he talked about it again today … Was the Prime Minister aware of this so-called demographic crisis at the time that he and his party made the election promise they made just a few short months ago?”

    Bingo!

    Given PW’s article today revealing that the last 5 or 6 govts has been aware of this issue.

  5. First, why would Harper go to Switzerland and make such a controversial announcement on pensions?  Why?  How does that further his agenda?  What is his agenda?  Controversy?  And then, why would he come home and deny what he said in Switzerland?  Why do that?  What is the matter with him? Why would anyone listen to him, trust him, or ever vote for him?  Honestly, I don’t get it.

    • Nine consecutive questions.  Impressive.  Did you play goalie for the Montreal Canadiens in the 70s by chance?

      • I don’t like what you have to say on this or almost any subject but that was a very funny rejoinder nonetheless.

  6. Personally I’m sickened by this attack on the poor elderly. The OAS is collected mostly by the poor in our society. According to the statistics, the cost of OAS is only set to rise less than a percent over the next three decades!

    Even then we’d still be spending less than the rest of the G7 in this regard.

    Honestly, is this some kind of diversion? It makes you wonder.

    • The OAS is collected by 98% of seniors, many of whom make > $50K a year and hold sizable investments.  You are confusing it with the GIS.  

      It’s set to rise nearly a percent of GDP, not just one percent – about $12 billion.  The rest of the G7 is in serious doodoo and have undertaken similar measures, ie France raising retirement age.Has any socialist commenter here ever gotten a single fact right?

      • Fair enough. Then lets clawback the money from those with sizeable incomes rather than hitting everyone.

        My concern is for the poor. Changing the age requirement hits them more than anyone.

        • I suppose on the bright side, the poor don’t live as long — and if we keep cutting what little they have, they’ll live for even less time, which means if we cut it down enough, we’ll be primarily cutting it on the ones with the sizable incomes.

          See? It all works out, don’t worry about it. Trust Steve.

          • Seems to be what we’re headed for at this rate.

            Gee, and I thought classism was supposed to be dead?

          • Yes, there’s a correlation between longevity and standard of living – the poor tend to die younger.  So if we  bust unions, scrap the minimum wage etc. the less affluent will die sooner and not be a burdern on the rich.   

        • Agreed, let’s claw it back instead of raising the age requirement, but then it would be a duplication of the GIS, and the Liberals and NDP would still be accusing the government of “stealing pensions”, as Judy Sgro is wrongly alleging.  

          I’ve raised this issue here before and the left wing commenters here seem opposed to clawbacks for the wealthy – social justice is just a game for them, they don’t care a whit about the poor.

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