Federal policy changes in the works for seniors are no coincidence

Originally published by the Canadian Press on July 11th 2010 and was subsequently published in several newspapers accross the country. To go to the Canadian Press website click here

OTTAWA – The federal Conservatives are contemplating key policy changes for seniors, including eliminating the mandatory retirement age, at a time when the demographic is of growing importance to the party’s future.

Workers with federally regulated companies must still retire at age 65. Diane Ablonczy, the minister of state for seniors, says the government is looking at wiping that from legislation with the exception of some specific cases.

She also says that the government has its eye on income support for impoverished senior women who have lost their husbands and do not have decent pension income.

And Ablonczy is studying ways to make the labour force more welcoming to older workers, so that seniors have better options for remaining in the workforce if they choose.

“There’s going to need to be some adaptation in the business community,” she said.

Ablonczy points out that Ottawa has already started down the road of significant pension reform, with proposals targeted at soon-to-be seniors and their post-retirement income.

The government has dramatically increased the amount of money seniors can earn without giving up their Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) — a key demand from seniors’ advocates.

But the biggest challenge for seniors’ policy is one of mindset, Ablonczy said in an interview this week after meeting with her provincial counterparts in Fredericton.

For so long, the mentality of policy makers has been that the labour market does not need seniors, and that seniors don’t want to work. Changing demographics mean that in the future the labour force will need the skills of older workers, and older workers will likely want, and need, to keep working well past the traditional retirement age of 65.

“For decades, our thinking has been completely the reverse,” Ablonczy said.

“We’re going to have to completely rethink a lot of our perceptions of how things work, and how programs are delivered, in light of demographic reality. As you know, people don’t do that overnight.”

Broad increases to seniors benefits such as the GIS or Old Age Security (OAS) are not on the drawing board however, Ablonczy said.

That’s because poverty among seniors has declined dramatically in the past 20 years, and because raising the GIS or OAS is very expensive.

“It’s an issue that has a lot of fiscal consequences at a time when, as you know, fiscal resources are under strain.”

It’s no coincidence that the Tories are beefing up their seniors’ agenda as talk of another election is in the air.

“It’s hugely important,” from an electoral point of view, the minister said.

As Ablonczy points out, the number of Canadian seniors is expected to double over the next 25 years. Between 2015 and 2021, the number of seniors is expected to surpass the number of children in the Canadian population.

For the federal Tories, these trends mean opportunity. Already, the Conservative voting base relies disproportionately on older voters, and the party sees its fortunes improving by tapping into its existing voting base further, said pollster Allan Gregg, chairman of Harris Decima.