CARP Nova Scotia in the Halifax Herald

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Details of Ottawa’s coming changes to Old Age Security aren’t public yet but are already causing alarm in Nova Scotia.

The province’s relatively older and aging population means the effect could be felt more here than in other provinces, said Bill VanGorder, past-president of Nova Scotia’s office of the Canadian Association of Retired Persons.

The group represents people in their 50s, nearing retirement, up to the elderly, and there’s wide concern about what Ottawa has in store, he said.

“It’s a huge worry to them,” VanGorder said Monday.

“They feel insecure about their own economic prospects and generally they just don’t want what they think of as retirement security or the social safety net being attacked.”

At an economic forum in Switzerland last week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper signalled his government is looking at changes to aspects of Canada’s national retirement system that aren’t funded, those being the OAS pension and the Guaranteed Income Supplement.

Harper said the changes will ensure the system’s sustainability for the next generation and won’t affect current recipients. His government hasn’t released details of what it has in mind, but has said OAS payments, funded from general revenue, could reach $108 billion in 2030, up from $36.5 billion in 2010.

Joan Jessome, first vice-president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour, said she heard a lot of concern about the issue over the last few days as she travelled around the province.

Harper is “coming after the health care on one side of us and the old age on the other, so he’s certainly coming after the most vulnerable people,” said Jessome, referring to the future limit on health-care funding.

There has been plenty of speculation the federal Conservatives want to raise the eligibility age for OAS to 67 from 65.

Provincial Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil said he’s open to changes to the system to make it sustainable but said raising the eligibility age is a non-starter.

“It’s putting a greater burden on those Nova Scotians who can least afford to have that burden put on them.”

McNeil said a change could have an impact on other pension plans, whose benefits may be adjusted in anticipation of retirees receiving OAS payments at 65.

“Either the pension plans would be affected by it or, quite frankly, the many Nova Scotians who are not on a pension plan would be forced to work two years longer without any support.”

Jessome, president of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union, said she wants to find out if there would be an impact on the civil servants’ plan in this province.

McNeil plans to write to Harper and Diane Finlay, minister of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, about his concerns. He said Premier Darrell Dexter and Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie should do the same.

Dexter’s office would not make him or another minister available to talk about OAS. Jennifer Stewart, Dexter’s press secretary, said in an email there won’t be a comment until the province gets more details on possible changes.

A Tory staffer said Baillie was in meetings Monday afternoon.

Jessome said the provincial government should take a position on the issue because of the province’s older and aging population.

“I think they should, just given the pure demographics of this province.”