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Harper feels pushback on Old Age Security

Philip Murton

February 21, 2012

In late January, in his keynote speech at the World Economic Forum, Stephen Harper spoke of his government’s plans to raise the age for Old Age Security (OAS) to 67 from the current 65. This attack on the basic old age income support program, which has been in place since 1952, would particularly affect low-income seniors. The reaction to Harper’s speech was swift and clear.

Various Tory offices were flooded with phone calls and emails. The opposition in Parliament spoke clearly suggesting that such an important issue should have been raised during the recent Federal Election, not at Davos.

The NDP finance critic Peter Julian contrasted the cuts to OAS with the Harper government’s spending priorities:

“A single F-35 costs $450 million. That would pay Old Age Security 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.”

Then on February 9, the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) organized sit-ins of 21 Tory offices in Ontario to make sure the Tory MP’s got the message.

As Ontario Federation of Labour president Sid Ryan said, from the sit-in at Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s office: “Prime Minister Harper’s hypocrisy is stunning. He chose to announce his plans to cut Old Age Security in front of the one percenters in Davos, Switzerland when he knows full well that if he were to retire in 2015, he would have a Platinum-Plated, taxpayer-funded pension of $223,517 a year.”

On February 21, Human Resources Minister Diane Finley back-peddled, saying the changes would not affect current seniors, and that we will have to wait for details in the 2012 Budget, which is expected in March.

We need to prepare for a major battle with the Harper Government around pensions. The labour movement needs to take a lead in this new campaign as it will affect all Canadian workers—both unionized and non-unionized.

The Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) once had a good campaign around pensions. It is time to build a new campaign to stop Harper’s old age insecurity plan.

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