Transcript: The PM on OAS changes: ‘Absolutely, it’s being considered’

This article was published by on February 3rd 2012.  To see this article and other related articles on the iPolitics website, please click here.

First some background, then we’ll catch you up to date.

While in Davos, Prime Minister Stephen Harper gave a speech that put Canadians on warning that an austerity budget is on its way.

“One of the backdrops for my concerns is Canada’s ageing population,” the prime minister said.  ”If not addressed promptly this has the capacity to undermine Canada’s economic position, and for that matter, that of all western nations, well beyond the current economic crises.”

He went on to explain that just as Canada has moved to limit the growth of health care spending, so it will for the retirement income system. “Fortunately, the centerpiece of that system, the Canada Pension Plan, is fully funded, actuarially sound and does not need to be changed.  For those elements of the system that are not funded, we will make the changes necessary to ensure sustainability for the next generation while not affecting current recipients.”

On Sunday during CTV’s Question Period, Conservative MP Shelly Glover was asked to clarify her government’s position. Here’s the key part of that exchange:

Craig Oliver: Do you think it was wise to appear to be targeting the elderly by raising concerns about Old Age Security and changes as your first target?

Shelly Glover: The prime minister set out very clearly some general parameters to ensure that we are going to sustain this country for many, many years to come. He wants to look at long-term prosperity because he wants to make sure income security for seniors is preserved for many many, many generations. So unfortunately there have been a number of reports that were very inaccurate and highly inflammatory, but we are going to maintain seniors’ income security and we are going to take care of this country’s long-term prosperity and sustainability.

Craig Oliver: You’re going to maintain income security, does that mean there’s no intention whatsoever to extend the Old Age Security system from 65 to 67 for eligibility — none whatsoever?

Glover: There are no changes that are going to be occurring to seniors with regards to OAS at this point. …

Fast forward to Feb. 3 and the prime minister’s exclusive interview with Postmedia News.

Postmedia: I’d like to start off with the debate that is now underway because of how you framed the debate in Davos last week. That being that we are entering a period as Western nations where we have to make some tough calls and that if we don’t, for instance, on the public pension system, it won’t be affordable for future generations. You made it very clear that easy choices now could mean fewer choices later. Those were your words. There are other Western nations which long ago decided that 65 as the pensionable age needs to be changed very gradually. So I’m wondering in this country, is 65 fixed in stone, or is it an age for Old Age Security (OAS) which you are considering, very gradually, raising to 67?

Harper: Well, first of all I think we should go back to the major issue here, which goes beyond, of course, just retirement income system. And that is we are going to have a lower and lower percentage of our population that is working. This is going to be a significant economic problem. And obviously one of the things that many countries have been looking at is trying to have the incentives to keep people in the labour force and contributing. These are things that most Western nations are looking at. Some Western nations, unfortunately, are looking at them under desperate circumstances — where they are being forced to cut benefits to people when they need them. I don’t think we need to be in that position. I think we can examine these issues now and deal with problems before they are upon us. So I think these are things that do have to be examined.

Postmedia: There are Canadians who are wondering, ‘What does it mean to me?’ So that’s why I asked the question. Are you in a position to tell us whether or not the OAS eligibility is being considered as an option?

Harper: Absolutely, it’s being considered. But what we have to be clear on is that we are not looking at changes that are going to affect people that are currently in retirement or approaching retirement. We’ve been very clear on that.

Read the full transcript of the interview here.