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Canadian seniors in focus as election campaign enters second week

The Globe and Mail with Tammy Schirle 18 September 2019

 

Older Canadians became a policy focus for the Liberals Wednesday as the party promised to invest billions more in the old-age security program if they’re re-elected.

Moving into the second week of the campaign for the Oct. 21 election, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau pivoted from a focus on millennials and young families to seniors, and pledged that his party would increase Old Age Security benefits by 10 per cent for people 75 and older.

Speaking in Fredericton, Mr. Trudeau said the change would give eligible seniors $729 more each year, for those making less than $77,580.

It would cost $1.63-billion in 2020 and rise to $2.56-billion in 2023, the Liberals said – although they did not provide non-partisan costing information from the Parliamentary Budget Officer, as other parties have done when making announcements.

The change would lift 21,000 seniors out of poverty by 2024, approximately two-thirds of whom would be women, according to University of British Columbia economics professor Kevin Milligan. He was asked to do the analysis by the Liberal Party, but was not paid for the work.

He said the policy is noteworthy because it benefits the “oldest old,” where the “risk of falling into poverty increases substantially,” rather than everyone over 65 years, who qualify for OAS.

But former Bank of Canada governor David Dodge cautioned about the high costs of the program. In the past decade, spending on OAS increased by 60 per cent, to $53.4-billion in 2018-19. To rein in those costs, former prime minister Stephen Harper planned to raise the age of eligibility for OAS to 67; the Trudeau Liberals reversed that.

Mr. Dodge suggested it be raised to 69 or 70.

The Liberals also announced plans to increase Canada Pension Plan and Quebec Pension Plan survivor benefits for seniors whose spouses have died, from 60 per cent to 75 per cent of the deceased contributors’ monthly pensions. Delivering on the promise, though, would require agreement from the provinces, who share control over the program.

Mr. Trudeau said the change would give surviving spouses “much-needed breathing room” as they adjust to a new life.

Tammy Schirle, an economics professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, warned changes to the CPP would spark a “difficult conversation” with the provinces. She added that the change could exacerbate a problem in the current structure where contributions are transferred from dual-income couples to single-income couples.

The NDP and Conservatives have not yet released their plans for CPP and OAS.

According to the daily tracking survey released by Nanos Research on Wednesday, the Conservatives were at 37-per-cent support and the Liberals were at 36 per cent. The NDP stood at 14 per cent, the Greens at 7 per cent, the Bloc Québécois at 4 per cent and the People’s Party at 2 per cent.

Chief data scientist Nik Nanos said Canadians appeared to be coalescing in support around the two front-runners at the expense of the smaller parties.

The poll was sponsored by The Globe and Mail and CTV, with a total of 1,200 Canadians surveyed from Sept. 15 to 17. It has a margin of error of 2.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. Respondents were asked: “If a federal election were held today, could you please rank your top two current local voting preferences?” A report on the results, questions and methodology for this and all surveys can be found at http://tgam.ca/election-polls.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh was in Sudbury Wednesday, where he provided more details about his proposed dental-care plan for people whose households make less than $70,000 a year. The party also pledged a “sliding scale” of coverage for people in the $70,000-to-$90,000 salary range.

Mr. Singh said 4.3 million Canadians do not have access to dental care. The party is looking to deliver a government insurance plan, he said, calling the plan “an immediate solution.”

The PBO said the promise would cost $824-million once fully implemented; however, in the program’s first year, it’s predicting a spike in need that would cost $1.8-billion before evening out in the subsequent years.

In Hamilton, Andrew Scheer said a Conservative government, if elected, would slash $1.5-billion in funding to large corporations. Mr. Scheer said he would review all business-subsidy programs to find the $1.5-billion in savings.

“You shouldn’t have to be a billionaire to get your government’s attention,” Mr. Scheer said.

Mr. Scheer said he would also review innovation programs to ensure they are supporting Canadian companies with patents, technologies and economic benefits that stay in the country.

Tammy Schirle is an economics professor at Wilfrid Laurier University.