While measures like eliminating the penny are getting little attention, changes to Old Age Security contained in Thursday’s federal budget are drawing ire from many sectors, nationally and here in Penticton.
“I’m just totally disgusted,” said Brigid Kemp, a member of the South Okanagan Labour Council. Kemp was speaking as a private citizen and a senior — the labour council is still going through the budget, and Kemp expects they will be issuing a report next week.
Raising the age at which Canadians can receive OAS to 67 is probably one of the most controversial aspects of the budget. Kemp said that even though it won’t take effect for a decade doesn’t make it any easier to take.
“More people earn low wages than earn big wages. What is this going to say to our children and grandchildren, that you are going to work all your life and you are going to have to save more? There are better ways of doing this.” Kemp said. “The fact that the proposal is to start in 2023 and then phase in is like a slow death.”
Okanagan Coquihalla MP Dan Albas admits he has had a lot of feedback about OAS since Prime Minister Harper announced the possibility of changes earlier this year. He defends the change as a necessary one, pointing out that when it was introduced in 1940, there were about seven working taxpayers for each senior receiving OAS. Projections over the next couple of decades, he said, show that ratio dropping to as low as two taxpayers per OAS recipient.
The decade-long interval, Albas said, should give people time to adapt.
“We also know that we are living longer and healthier,” said Albas. “There are changes coming, but they have significant time to make change in their behaviour as appropriate.”
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has described the 2012 budget as moderate one, with overall spending being reduced by $5.2 billion, which, compared to the size of the budget, is not a large amount.
“I think if we focus just on the savings, we miss the primary focus of the plan, which is a plan for jobs growth and longterm prosperity,” said Albas. “People want to make sure we are reforming areas of government to make sure that Canadian businesses will invest in their research and development,”
One area of targeted strategic spending is in innovation and research and development, which Albas expects will help the economy in the South Okanagan, which is home to two major research centres, the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory and the Pacific Agri-food research centre.
“We know that not only are there tangible jobs from that, but also our next products, whether it’s the commercialization of a new technology, whether it is a new plant variety, whether it is working with the private sector to develop a new shipping system,” said Albas.
Kemp, however, has concerns that the spending reductions come on the backs of those who can least afford it while giving tax breaks to big business.
“By giving corporate tax breaks, they will create new jobs. Practice doesn’t follow that,” said Kemp. “It’s just really very hard to see how this is going to help the country, help the citizens, help the communities.”