Seniors win big in federal budget

This article is published by North Shore News on May 3, 2015. Click here to read the article.

Let’s start with the obvious.

Seniors were the big winners in the Conservative budget, a.k.a. Economic Action Plan 2015. Gone are the days when a budget from government held any real surprises. Now governments are prone to leak the details from their own budgets in advance of budget day: to wit it was no secret that the budget would contain provisions that would allow people to take less out of their Registered Retirement Income Funds (RRIFs) and to put more into their Tax Free Savings Accounts (TFSAs).

Whether you favour those changes or, more to the point, benefit from them, really depends on how much money you have. The government could have muted the criticism that those tax reforms disproportionately benefit the wealthiest Canadians by reversing their decision to increase eligibility for Old Age Security from the age of 65 to 67 or by increasing payments to low-income seniors through the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS). They did neither.

Apart from tax reform there’s money in the budget for homeowners and caregivers. There’s a new Home Accessibility Tax Credit for renovations to help seniors and the disabled stay in their homes longer, and a tax-free Family Caregiver Relief Benefit to help veterans.

Compassionate care benefits under the Employment Insurance system for Canadians caring for the gravely ill are extended. There’s even some new money, thankfully, for research into best practises in palliative care services.

Add that to the other senior-friendly measures introduced by the Conservative government over the past decade, including income splitting for seniors, to doubling the pension income seniors can receive tax-free, to increasing the basic income tax deductions for seniors, and it’s easy to see why lots of seniors are smiling these days.

There are winners and losers in every budget. Some groups, like the North Shore’s own West Coast RRIF Focus Group, were spectacularly successful in getting their message heard by government. Others were left disappointed. Organizations that advocate on behalf of seniors are coming to realize that when dealing with government they need a plan. CARP and more than 50 groups have formed Seniors Vote to campaign to promote the interests of older Canadians ahead of the upcoming federal election.

The Canadian Medical Association says that developing a seniors strategy to address issues, like healthcare, infrastructure, housing and public transportation, will become the focus of their efforts going forward.

Its Alliance for a National Seniors Strategy, which includes 35 groups, has set up a website,, to garner public support. The government wants no part of that.

When it comes to funding national strategies to address some of the most compelling health and social issues in this country the federal government pleads poverty. There’s money in the budget – $42 million spread over five years – to establish a new Centre for Aging and Brain Health Innovation in Toronto but no money to fund a comprehensive strategic plan.

A dementia strategy would cost approximately $150 million. Let’s put that number in perspective.

According to the government’s own estimates, the additional contribution room in the TFSA will cost the government an extra $1.1 billion in foregone revenue over the next five years. That’s enough to fund a national strategy for dementia, mental health, housing and more.

The lesson here is that budgets aren’t just about economics; they’re about making choices too.

With an election expected this fall, voters will have a choice to make as well.