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Prime Minister Stephen Harper addresses a session at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, January 26, 2012. (CHRISTIAN HARTMANN/Christian Hartmann/REUTERS)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper addresses a session at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, January 26, 2012. (CHRISTIAN HARTMANN/Christian Hartmann/REUTERS)

Opposition fire back against Harper 'threats' to pension system Add to ...

Opposition parties reacted furiously to Stephen Harper’s warnings that major changes are coming to the country’s retirement pension system, with the NDP calling it a “slap in the face” to the country’s seniors.

Peter Julian, the official opposition finance critic, also characterized the Prime Minister’s words as “ominous.” Liberal finance critic, Scott Brison, meanwhile vowed that his party will “fight every step of the way” any cutbacks to benefits for low income seniors.

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The opposition outrage is over a speech the Prime Minister made Thursday to delegates at the Davos, Switzerland World Economic Forum in which he noted that Canada’s increasing elderly population is threatening the country’s social programs and “services that Canadians cherish.”

“... one of the backdrops for my concerns is Canada’s aging population,” he 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 then went on to address Canada’s retirement systems, noting the Canada Pension Plan is “fully funded, actuarially sound and does not need to be changed.”

But, he added, “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.”

Although, he did not detail what those measures will be, there are issues with the sustainability of the Old Age Security System as the population grows older and older.

“Now, he’s threatening ... seems to be trying to precondition us to cuts to the OAS, which is there to help the lowest income Canadians,” charged Mr. Brison. “At a time when other global leaders at Davos are addressing income inequality not only is Harper ignoring it he’s threatening to make it worse.”

Mr. Brison asserted the OAS is “very important for low income seniors and one of the reasons why Canada is successful economically is because we are progressive socially and we help vulnerable people.”

“If Harper is hinting that he intends to cut benefits for low income seniors we will fight that every step of the way,” he said.

Mr. Julian suggested Mr. Harper is hinting that seniors would have to work two more years - until they are 67 - to qualify for OAS.

In addition, Mr. Julian remarked on the timing of Mr. Harper’s remarks, saying it’s “odd to hear a Prime Minister speaking to the world’s billionaires in Switzerland and talking about transformative change to our pension system even before holding that discussion here in Canada.”

The WEF attracts the world’s leaders, big thinkers and a very wealthy business crowd. The gathering has been criticized as a “cabal of the global elite.”

“For Mr. Harper to say ‘work two more years and then you can retire’ is “not appropriate,” said Mr. Julian. He said the NDP wants to raise seniors out of poverty.

Government figures indicate that OAS will increase from $36.5 billion in 2010 to as much as $108 billion by 2030.

Opposition parties are bracing, too, for the Harper government’s budget in late February or early March, one that promises deep cuts to government spending.

But Mr. Brison says his party is concerned that the government in its efforts to “cut fat it doesn’t cut into bone and muscle.”

“This is a government that has no problem with big spending on their ideological priorities like prisons and they will go to great lengths to protect their ideological islands of profligacy,” says Mr. Brison. “So our fear is that they will make their cuts based on ideology not evidence.”

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