The week in Ottawa started off badly for Canadians under the age of 54 as the Conservative government voted against a New Democrat motion to keep Canada’s retirement age at 65 instead of moving it to 67 as Mr. Harper promised in this year’s budget. The exact wording of our motion was as follows; “That this House reject the Government’s plan to raise the age of eligibility for Old Age Security and Guaranteed Income Supplement from 65 to 67 years even though the current system is financially sustainable.” We had hoped that after several weeks of hearing from angry Canadians that the government would relent and reconsider their decision, but unfortunately they did not. As the old saying goes, ‘you never know until you try,’ so we did.
The truth is that the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO), the same one who the Conservatives called “not credible” when he said the F-35 jets would cost $25 billion last year, has found that the OAS program is on stable financial footing despite the large population of aging baby boomers. After a very comprehensive study, the PBO declared our OAS program “sustainable” because it is part of routine government expenditures. What it really comes down to is choices he said, and so long as the Conservatives are choosing to use the same pot of money on $25 billion worth of F-35’s and $9 billion for prisons then our OAS payments must be cut back. In other words, if the Conservatives cut those expensive and unnecessary programs (and a few more $16 orange juices, luxury hotel rooms, and helicopter trips from fishing lodges), then no Canadian would have to work to the age of 67 before collecting OAS.
The other big piece of news that leaked out this week was that the Canadian economy shrank again in February for the second time in less than a year. The rate of economic growth was (-0.2)% for the month, which was sharply lower than what the Harper government, Bank of Canada, and private lenders had expected. Most believed that the economy would instead grow by 0.2%, so this came as a real shock. With the federal government cutting about 20,000 jobs and cutting spending by 5%-10% in each and every department I would expect our economic struggles to continue. You simply can’t take that much money and that many people out of the workforce and not expect it to affect our home prices, household debt, and economic growth in the medium to long term across the country.
Bad economic news is quickly becoming par for the course for the Harper Conservative government. The Conservative talking points from the last election said the country need a ‘strong and stable’ majority government lead by Stephen Harper to steer Canada through choppy economic waters. They also said that the Harper Conservative government, in spite of being constrained by a minority parliament, was responsible for Canada economically outperforming other G7 nations during the last recession. The words ‘folklore’ or ‘mythology’ would best describe those talking points today. Since the last election, the United States’ economy has dramatically outperformed Canada’s, and that country has had a higher rate of job creation per capita. At the same time, the unemployment rate has shrank more than a half of a point south of the border while Canada’s has remained unchanged, and the Dow Jones Stock Exchange in New York has risen 3.6%, while the Toronto Stock Exchange is down (-11.49)%.
It’s hard to imagine, but just 52 weeks ago the Harper Conservatives were given a majority mandate by Canadians so that they could help our economy grow while securing our retirement and pensions. The bad news is that the exact opposite has happened with the economy stagnating and the retirement age being increased from 65 to 67 years. Is there any good news? I would say yes because Canadians also elected a strong New Democrat Official Opposition and we will continue to hold the government to account day in and day out.
John Rafferty MP
Thunder Bay Rainy River