Harper blasted on Old Age Security reform

MP dances around the Old Age Security changes questions

A backlash has been heard across the nation since Prime Minister Stephen Harper mused on changes to Old Age Security (OAS) during a recent speech in Switzerland.

Numerous media and opposition reports state Harper planned to increase the age of eligibility from 65 to 67, and then backed off after outraged Canadians and his own Conservative MPs voiced objections to the plan.

Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo MP Cathy McLeod says she can’t confirm or deny these reports.

However, she did says changes to federal pension plans will be required for sustainability in future generations, but she could not say if those will include increasing the eligible age.

“Certainly that’s a move that other countries have taken.”

The MP insists she hasn’t been notified of considerations given to increasing Canada’s OAS age limits.  “These are conversations that I am not privy to.”

However, Council of Senior Citizens Organizations (COSCO) of B.C. vice-president Gudrun Langolf says she believes Harper was “floating a trial balloon” and just testing the waters.

“I think he got his answer because there’s been a howl of objections.”

Government can’t delay the eligible age by two years without “catastrophic changes” for some people, she explains.

The seniors’ advocate adds the prime minister has lost sight of the voting strength of retirees across the country.

“He probably doesn’t remember just how outraged seniors were when the government of the day started to claw back pensions, and that government was defeated in the next election.”

Meanwhile, McLeod notes the concern is that by 2010, the OAS doled out $36 billion annually, but by 2030 costs will jump about $76 billion a year (to $112 billion.)

“We’ll go from four people working for every retired person to two people working for every retired person.”

Planning for an aging population now and in the future is “certainly a concern of government,” she says, adding Canada is not the only country looking at its retirement scheme.

Langolf says that is like comparing “apples and oranges” because all the other countries with a delayed age for social security systems have many other social services Canadian’s don’t.

“They have universal [health] care, they have programs where people don’t pay for medications, they have a whole bunch of things that we don’t have here.”

Langolf adds OAS is part of a universal social system that needs to be looked at in a holistic way.

Regarding whether McLeod voiced any resistance to the prime minister on his plans along with her Conservative peers, the MP only says caucus conversations are confidential.

McLeod says there will be no changes for those who are currently receiving benefits or are “close” to retirement.

“I just want to reassure those that are retired and those that have been counting on … the Old Age Security and the GIS [Guaranteed Income Supplement for low-income seniors] as part of their retirement plan and are close to retirement that they don’t need to worry.

“We are really looking at the long-term viability, sustainability of the plan for future generations.”

The Canada Pension Plan (CPP) is viable for about the next 70 years, she adds, and it is a self-sustainable plan that isn’t currently a subject for reform.

While employers and workers pay directly into CPP, the OAS is funded by general revenue.

Mcleod says she expects details of Harper’s proposed pension reforms will be released in the next few months.