Parties scramble to court seniors’ vote in advance of election

Below is an article published by iPolitics on April 20, 2015.  Click here to read the article.

A tax credit for families who take care of sick or elderly relatives should be made refundable as a means to help poorer households, Canada’s major opposition parties said Monday.

The $2,058 Family Caregiver Tax Credit, introduced in 2011, doesn’t currently refund a family if the tax owed is less than the credits used. A political alliance of the country’s largest senior organizations has called on the federal government to provide more financial help for caregivers.

During a news conference held by the alliance and attended by several MPs Monday afternoon, the NDP and Liberals offered a refundable tax credit as their solution.

“It does nothing if you can’t afford it at all,” said Irene Mathyssen, the NDP’s seniors critic and MP for London-Fanshawe.

The alliance, called Seniors Vote, delivered its list of requests for the coming election during the news conference. The event was intended to draw attention to pressing policy needs for seniors, from homes to health care to pension plan expansion. News reports suggest that the Harper government will target the seniors vote in Tuesday’s budget.

“If you want the seniors vote, this is what we’ll be asking you to talk about,” said Susan Eng, vice-president of advocacy at the Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP), the main organizer behind Seniors Vote.

Ottawa has noted the mounting role of caregivers in the economy recently but has yet to announce new funding for them. In February, Employment and Social Development Canada published a report on the private sector’s ability to handle more workers taking time off as caregivers. The report didn’t lead to any immediate changes in government funding or programming.

The seniors’ alliance wants the federal parties to fill the gap in national homecare policy as well. The provinces and territories pledged to examine successful homecare policies nearly two years ago but have yet to come up with proposals.

Seniors Vote wants national homecare standards — something none of the parties in attendance committed to on Monday. The NDP and the Green Party, however, referred to their promises for a national housing strategy.

Specifically, the Greens would like to see the return of tax benefits for purpose-built housing, said party leader Elizabeth May.

“The government needs to get back into the business of housing policy,” said May.

Much of the event’s time was spent poring over slight policy differences between the NDP and Liberals. The Liberals support bulk drug purchases on a national scale — another of CARP’s requests from federal parties. But they would like to embed the scheme in a broader pharmaceutical strategy that would include a new arm’s-length body that would monitor drug use, said MP and health critic Hedy Fry. The NDP have long called for a national pharmacare program.

Both parties also support returning the age of eligibility for Old Age Security (OAS) and the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) back to 65 from 67. The Conservatives, who made the change in 2012, didn’t send an MP or minister to the Seniors Vote event. Instead, a staffer from Minister of State for Seniors Alice Wong’s office attended.

Canada Pension Plan (CPP) payments to seniors should be expanded, and the number of people it covers and collects premiums from should be expanded as well, said NDP MP John Rafferty.

“I’m talking about people who are self-employed,” said Rafferty.

The Liberals also support an expanded CPP. But Liberal MP and seniors’ critic John McCallum demurred when Eng, the CARP vice-president, asked for the size of the expansion the party would like to see.

The Liberals are in talks with the Ontario government about that province’s past proposals for a bigger CPP and the party wants to grow those talks nationally, he said.

“This is not a federal government only thing. This is an area where the government needs to form a consensus,” said McCallum.