Canada desperately needs a national plan to deal with Canada's aging population

New Democrats are dedicated to developing a concrete plan to ensure that no senior is left behind as our country's demographics shift.

NDP MP Irene Mathyssen

Seniors are a priority for New Democrats and we recognize that our country desperately needs a national plan to deal with Canada's aging population. We are dedicated to developing a concrete plan to ensure that no senior is left behind as our country's demographics shift.

There are many among us who have concerns for the future; and those concerns are entirely justified. Today, only 38.5 per cent of Canadian workers have workplace pensions and nearly one-third have no retirement savings at all. More than 3.5 million Canadians are not saving enough in RRSPs for what used to be called their golden years, and 75 per cent of workers are not even participating in a registered pension plan. Clearly, the notion that retirement savings can be adequately accounted for through purchases of RRSPs does not work.

Urgent government action is needed.

The federal government announced that changes are coming to Old Age Security (OAS). By suggesting cuts or other changes to the OAS, the government threatens to undermine the income security of seniors in this country. It is in fact asking the poor to pay, while giving tax breaks to the rich. The government should be taking practical, affordable measures to lift every senior out of poverty, not making the situation worse with plans to slash Old Age Security.

Those who will be most impacted are people who have struggled to make ends meet their whole lives. The reason they have not saved is that there was no money to save. Every penny was spent on the necessities of life, raising kids or looking after family.

The truth is that OAS is not just sustainable but economically beneficial to all of society, seniors on OAS spend all of their money in their neighborhoods. That is money reinvested in our economy, in small businesses that in turn create jobs. OAS is not a burden on the economy; it is an investment in our economy. Seniors are not the liability this government pretends; they are an asset and contribute to the well-being of all of us.

The money to support seniors is readily available. Government actuarial assessments, the OECD and the Parliamentary Budget Officer have all concluded that OAS is sustainable now and in the future. We not only have the money to lift all seniors out of poverty, we have an absolute obligation to end their poverty.

Instead of investing in Canada, the Conservatives chose to saddle the treasury and Canadians with corporate tax giveaways, billions for new prisons, and the ballooning costs of new fighter jets, but nothing for the people who built this country. Impartial observers like Kevin Page, the Parliamentarybudget officer, have been very critical of these conservative priorities.

As an example, the Parliamentary Budget Officer's analysis found that the corporate tax cuts will cost the government $11.5-billion over three years; with no guarantee of a single new job. The tax breaks to big business are a frightening precedent. They mean a serious decrease in revenue for the federal government of $11.5-billion and will have profound ramifications in the future. This forfeited money is needed to address the decreasing tax base as more and more of our population become seniors and begin to retire. This presents a very real problem because the revenue available to the government decreases while demand for services continues to rise.

Seniors represent one of the fastest growing populations in Canada today. The number of seniors in Canada is projected to increase from 4.2 million in 2005 to 9.8 million by 2036. With so many more seniors retiring in the years to come, we need to have the social safety net in place now to avoid dramatic increases in the rate of poverty in the future.

The Harper government's investments are far short of what we really need: investment in home care and long term care; investment in pharmacare; increased access to resources; appropriate and affordable housing; and investment in geriatric studies. It's abundantly clear; investments in our community and in our families are what we need to prosper and to ensure the security of our social safety net.

These investments are also affordable, and in some cases, cost saving.

Our actions now will impact the treatment of future seniors. If we fail to invest and make plans for the aging population, it is our own retirement that will be in jeopardy. Future seniors must have the choice to age in their own homes, economic security and the care they require.

Seniors have worked hard all of their lives; they've played by the rules. Now they simply want access to the programs and services that their hard-earned tax dollars helped to build.

NDP MP Irene Mathyssen, who represents London-Fanshawe, Ont., is her party's seniors' critic Irene Mathyssen.

published March 9th, The Hill Times