Guarantees no guarantee, NDP warns

Originally published by the iPOLITICS on March 21st, 2011. To go to the iPOLITICS website please click here

“How do you bring yourself to the place to support a government that’s in contempt of Parliament?” said NDP seniors critic Wayne Marston in an interview with iPolitics.

Seniors issues top the NDP’s agenda. Until recently, the party appeared willing to support the budget if it met key demands. However, that possibility seems less likely in light of the Speaker’s rulings on breach of parliamentary privilege.

“The No. 1 priority for the NDP is taking care of seniors,” Marston says. The simplest way to do that would be to raise the Guaranteed Income Supplement and strengthen the Canadian Pension Plan — the first two points in the party’s four-part, retirement security plan.

NDP leader Jack Layton says these concerns were “well understood” by the prime minister during their Feb. 18 meeting.

But if the NDP was proceeding with cautious optimism in February, March has brought resignation. “I don’t think Mr. Harper will go anywhere near what our expectations would be to lift seniors out of poverty and take care of them properly,” said Marston.

David Macdonald of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives notes in a recent article that 1.6 million seniors rely on GIS. “Between OAS (Old Age Security) and GIS, seniors can collect $14,000 a year. Statistics Canada defines the poverty line at $18,000 for large cities. If you’re a senior and all you receive is OAS and GIS, you are far below the poverty line.”

Macdonald’s article also addresses CPP deficiencies. He writes that CPP was created to replace 25 per cent of a retiree’s income, with company pension plans making up the rest. This is no longer the case, obviously.

The NDP plans to explore all of these details during a lengthy caucus meeting on Monday. “We’ll do our what-if scenarios,” said Marston. “And then when the budget comes out, it’ll be evident fairly quickly.”

But, he warned, recent events on Parliament Hill have made everything slightly less clear. Many seniors agree, if a recent poll by the Canadian Association for Retired Persons earlier is any indication.

The organization, whose membership traditionally votes Conservative, saw a 10 per cent drop in support for the Conservative government “as a direct result of the government’s response to the Speaker’s contempt rulings” — with all 10 per cent going to the Liberals.

Susan Eng, vice-president of advocacy for CARP, says poll results must be taken with a grain of salt. For one thing, two thirds of their membership resides in Ontario, and though it “happens to be the election battleground,” the shift in support to the Liberals doesn’t suddenly put certain ridings in play.

Eng said a riding analysis shows their members concentrated in ridings where the Conservatives won by a large margin. “It was harder for us to say, ‘If you don’t do this for us, we’ll take you down in this riding,’” she explained.

Nonetheless, she said, it would be wrong to dismiss the results. “When you see a massive drop like this, over an issue like this — then you start to think again, because that’s the core support.”