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What the future holds for Canada as boomers age

Health care discrepancies between provinces

Atlantic premiers argue they should get more health care cash because their populations are older. Meanwhile Alberta is able to afford new health services like expanded home care. Tuesday's census data shows that the very different realities provinces face will strain Canada's promise of offering comparable health care from coast to coast.

Ontario is currently trying to get all provinces to join its effort to reduce doctors' fees, a plan doctors are resisting.

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All provinces are under pressure to squeeze their health budgets now - not just because of aging populations, but because Ottawa has set a cap on how much it will spend in the future.

Work force replenished too slowly

The 2011 census drives home a central concern of federal and provincial governments. The large baby boom generation is starting to leave the work force and there aren't enough taxpayers coming on line to replace them. Persistently low birth rates will mean future taxpayers will have to carry a heavier load. One option would be to increase immigration dramatically. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney recently told The Globe and Mail that moving too sharply in this area risks an anti-immigration backlash. "Only 10 to 15 per cent of Canadians are in favour of raising immigration levels," he said.

Pensions threatened

Pensions are by no means just a worry for government. Changing demographics are a prime concern for many employers, particularly those who offer defined benefit pensions to their employees. Many employers have recently moved away from traditional pensions that offer a guaranteed payment to retirees, in favour of defined contribution plans in which the employee carries the investment risks. Individuals must also factor in Ottawa's plans to raise the eligibility age of Old Age Security from 65 to 67, delaying a benefit that currently pays out an average $6,122.52 a year.

Consumer spending to shrink

Older people have higher accumulated savings per head than younger people but are likely to spend less on consumer goods as they enter retirement. This is compounded by the fact that many boomers, unlike previous generations heading into their 50s and 60s, are encouraged by low interest rates and an entrenched culture of spending and are entering retirement carrying debt. A report last year found the 65-plus age group was racking up debt at three times the average pace. That debt, along with a fixed income, will be a big incentive to curtail consumer spending.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

A member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery since 1999, Bill Curry worked for The Hill Times and the National Post prior to joining The Globe in Feb. 2005. Originally from North Bay, Ont., Bill reports on a wide range of topics on Parliament Hill, with a focus on finance. More

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