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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 accuses Harper of putting prisons before seniors Add to ...

The opposition sharpened its attacks on Stephen Harper Tuesday, accusing the Prime Minister of denying baby boomers future pension benefits, hiding his real agenda and having his priorities so skewed he favours prisons and fighter jets over Canadian seniors.

It was heated Tuesday in Question Period as the pension issue dominated for the second consecutive day.

“If you’re born in 1955 or you’re born in 1956 or you’re born in 1957 ... there isn’t a soul out there who knows exactly how they’re going to be taken care of by this Conservative government,” charged Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae. “You are deep-sixing benefits for people who thought they were going to get them.”

The Prime Minister wasn’t immune to trading barbs, however, firing back at Mr. Rae and his record as NDP premier in Ontario during the recession in the 1980s. He dared Mr. Rae to compare his record of taking care of Ontarians with the Conservative government’s record of taking care of Canadians during this recession.

A firestorm over the pension issue erupted last week after the Prime Minister told the World Economic Forum that Canada is looking to reform its Old Age Security program because changing demographics will make it unsustainable. Although he provided no details, there was immediate speculation the government would raise the age of eligibility from 65 to 67. But the Prime Minister has promised that no senior collecting OAS now will be affected by reforms.

The Prime Minister’s choice of venue for making this surprise announcement has infuriated the opposition as much as the government’s musings about reforming pensions. The issue was not discussed in the May election campaign.

NDP finance critic Peter Julian accused the Prime Minister of “forcing seniors to work” two more years before they can collect their pensions. He asserted that takes $30,000 away from low-income seniors.

“A single F-35 costs $450-million,” he said. “That would pay OAS benefits for 70,000 Canadian seniors. Their prison plan costs $19-billion. That pays annual benefits for 2.9 million Canadian seniors. Now Conservatives say costly prisons and fighter jets are their priority. We say seniors are more important.”

And then he invoked the words of Solange Denis, the elderly protester who in 1985 famously forced then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney to drop his plans for OAS reform.

“If they keep down this road it’s ‘goodbye Charlie Brown,’ ” warned Mr. Julian.

The Prime Minister was pressed, too, by Mr. Rae as to the timing of his announcement, especially given he promised during the May election campaign not to cut transfers to individuals or to the provinces for essential services.

“Was the Prime Minister aware of this so-called demographic crisis at the time he and his party made the election promise he made?” Mr. Rae asked. “If he knew that, why did he not reveal to Canadians his great plan? Why did he decide what he wanted to do?”

In addition, the Prime Minister’s contention that the OAS will eventually be unsustainable has been refuted by the government’s own research. It has shown that the country’s pension system is in good shape and there is no need to raise the age of eligibility.

But the Prime Minister isn’t buying this. He repeatedly said his government has “a responsibility to future generations.”

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