The Commons: The Russians are coming for our pensions - Macleans.ca

The Commons: The Russians are coming for our pensions

After boasting of “major transformations” to come, the Prime Minister seems suddenly shy

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The Scene. “Oui ou non?” Nycole Turmel demanded. “Oui ou non?”

Will the Prime Minister be cutting Old Age Security benefits, she asked, yes or no? Will the age of eligibility be raised to 67, she wondered, yes or no?

“We want an answer,” she concluded.

In response, the Prime Minister had two answers. “Mr. Speaker, I was very clear. This government will not cut benefits for our seniors. I am very clear,” he declared. “At the same time, we will protect the system for generations to come.”

After jetting off to Switzerland and standing proudly before the global elite and bragging of his stewardship and boasting of “major transformations” to come, the Prime Minister seems suddenly shy. It is as if,  having scaled the rhetorical heights, he was suddenly reminded why he generally avoids high places. And so now he is attempting to stall, perhaps even soothe, with a sleight of hand.

Of course simply stalling won’t carry all the days between now and the delivery of the budget in March. So there is also scorn. Good ole dependable scorn.

“It is for the opposition to scare seniors,” Mr. Harper concluded, “it is for us to protect seniors.”

Indeed, the Prime Minister was similarly disappointed in Bob Rae.

“As I said before, the opposition is scaring our seniors,” he sighed in response to the interim Liberal leader’s first question, “our government will protect our seniors today and in the future.”

Undaunted, Mr. Rae upped his own rhetorical ante. “Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister is basically saying, ‘We are going to protect the system by cutting access to it. ‘ That is what he is saying,” the Liberal helpfully translated. “He is not only dumping on the most vulnerable senior citizens, including women who are going to be qualifying for old age security who get their old age pensions, he is also dumping on the provinces, dumping on municipalities, creating a cascade of injustice because of a totally manufactured crisis on his side. It is a well known neo-conservative tactic that the Prime Minister is engaging in. I can tell him we are not going to put up with it and neither are the Canadian people. They will not put up with it. They will not accept it.”

There was not a question here, but the Prime Minister stood anyway.

“Mr. Speaker, even The Globe and Mail said that the leader of the Liberal Party is fearmongering,” Mr. Harper chided, “and that is before all the nonsense we just heard.”

Of speaking in spooky voices, the NDP’s Peter Julian had also accused the government side of inventing its own boogie man.

“In 2032, the percentage of GDP devoted to OAS will actually be declining and yet Conservatives are trying to manufacture a crisis so they can cut benefits to seniors in the future,” Mr. Julian argued, bearing down and edging forward and staring down the Prime Minister as he lectured. “Budgets are choices. Why are Conservatives choosing to spend $30 billion on F-35s, $19 billion on prisons, but claim they cannot find $540 a month for Canadian seniors?”

But here Diane Finley, the Minister of Human Resources, attempted to put all things in perspective.

“Mr. Speaker, we do have an obligation to protect all Canadians, whether that be through our military so that we can protect against foreign invasions,” she ventured, “or, indeed, to protect their financial security.”

And when, 30 years from now, you’re not begging your Russian oppressors for a serviceable stipend, you’ll thank your lucky stars that Stephen Harper was in charge.

The Stats. Pensions, eight questions. Foreign aid, four questions. Crime, equality and education, three questions each. Aboriginal affairs, Service Canada, military procurement and National Defence, two questions each. Government spending, the environment, trade, Sri Lanka, foreign investment, infrastructure and veterans, one question each.

Diane Finley, nine answers. Stephen Harper, six answers. Bev Oda and Denis Lebel, four answers each. John Duncan, Peter MacKay and Julian Fantino, two answers each. James Moore, Tony Clement, Peter Kent, Ed Fast, Jason Kenney, Christian Paradis, Vic Toews, Keith Ashfield and Steven Blaney, one answer each.