May 13, 2011 – The election has come and gone and it should not come as a surprise that older Canadians were undeniably in the spotlight. From pension reform to caregiver issues, this election proved the growing importance of older Canadians to political and policy issues. Most importantly, politicians are getting the message, older Canadians pay attention, they care, and they vote.
So where does this leave us now? The Conservative Party has been given a majority mandate and the NDP has been cast as the official opposition for the first time in its history. The Bloq was rebuffed in Quebec, and the Liberal Party is neither the government nor the official opposition for the first time in its history.
Most importantly, it leaves us with a modicum of certainty in procedure and expectations. For one, there won’t be an election for four years. More importantly, the new federal government has a mandate to act and Canadians have the right to expect action. Likewise, the new opposition received strong support contingent on its ability to push the government on issues such as retirement security, healthcare, and poverty.
CARP’s message remains the same: all Canadians deserve safe and robust means to save for retirement, help in proving caregiving duties, freedom from financial insecurity, the right to live without abuse or neglect, and the right to work as long as they are willing and able.
Each of the five issues below represent CARP priorities and reflect promises made by the incoming government and the new opposition. We now know the intentions of each party, and CARP will insist that promises are honoured and meaningful action is taken on the issues that matter to all Canadians as we age.
1. PENSION REFORM
When the election writ was dropped, Pooled Registered Pension Plans – voluntary, defined contributions plans were on the table to fill the retirement savings gap. However, as private sector plans, they may carry high cost and investment risk. The NDP has the stated goal of doubling the CPP, but there doesn’t appear to be to much provincial or federal will for CPP expansion.
CARP members are not impressed with a voluntary fund run by the private sector and said so in our surveys. A public option is needed – allow people to buy into a separate fund run by the existing not-for-profit pension funds like the CPP, OMERS, provincial Teachers Funds and the like. With their size and experience, they can offer low-cost, reliable defined benefit pensions – which, coincidentally, is what we’ve been asking for.
The pre-election budget gave an important nod of support for family caregivers but is worth only up to $300 of non-refundable tax credits under the existing categories of caregiver tax credits for live in spouses and parents. If a dependent does not live in the same household, they have to be financially dependent on the caregiver. This non-refundable tax credit would not significantly benefit low income caregivers or those who had to quit work to look after a loved one.
The opposition platforms contained refundable tax credits worth up to $1500 per year along with important changes for compassionate leave and would go much farther to support the millions of Canadians who are providing informal care to an older loved one. CARP has long asked for financial support, work reprieve, and recognition by the formal health system.
3. GUARANTEED INCOME SUPPLEMENT
The pre-election budget promised a $300 million boost to GIS directed at seniors at the lowest levels of income, amounting to a maximum of $600 for single seniors and $840 for couples. The increase will help those with very low incomes, but the amount of the top-up will be reduced gradually and will be completely phased out at an income level (other than Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement) of $4,400 for singles and $7,360 for couples above OAS/GIS.
$300 million is a start, but more has to be done to reduce financial insecurity among older Canadians. The current proposal targets a small sub-set of GIS recipients, but everyone currently receiving GIS is, by definition, in real financial insecurity. The NDP have campaigned on a promise eradicating of old-age poverty and the new majority government has more opportunity now than in the previous five years to boost the GIS.
4. ELDER ABUSE
The Conservative Party campaigned on a promise to crackdown on elder abuse. Specifically to amend the Criminal Code to add vulnerability due to age as an aggravating factor when sentencing those who commit crimes against elderly Canadians. The NDP, the new opposition, promised to do the same.
In advance of the election, CARP specifically called for exacerbating sentencing in cases of elder abuse. CARP has also called for a comprehensive approach to punish the most egregious manifestations of elder abuse but to also prevent the abuse in the first place.
5. MANDATORY RETIREMENT
The practice of mandatory retirement in federally regulated industries should end soon, if the government keeps its promises made in both 2011 budget and the election campaign.
CARP has long advocated for the elimination of mandatory retirement. Most recently by supporting a Private Member’s Bill that made it to third and final reading before the recent election. We’ll be watching closely to ensure that the elimination is made promptly and that older Canadians will in fact have greater control of their careers.
Keywords: pension reform, caregivers, income, mandatory retirement, abuse