Editorial: Conservatives weak on senior concerns

Many Canadians have learned to be skeptical about electoral promises.

Pierre Trudeau in the tight 1974 election ridiculed then Progressive Conservative leader Robert Stanfield with his plan to introduce wage and price controls during a period of galloping inflation. “Zap! You’re frozen!” Trudeau famously chimed, then after winning the election – he introduced wage and price controls!

Former Liberal leader Jean Chrétien in 1993 promised to get rid of the new goods and services tax, in his famous Red Book. After winning power, he simply changed the name to Harmonized Tax.

Still, we have a duty to compare electoral promises to help decide where to place our confidence. And seniors, who have a much higher participation rate than other demographics, should pay more attention to issues that affect them directly.

The Toronto-based Canadian Association of Retired Persons has done the basic homework for us on its website, but left it up to readers to decide which party offers more for seniors. It appears obvious, that the Liberals and New Democratic Party are way ahead in making plans to promote seniors’ interests and protect their benefits than the governing Conservatives. Voters would do well to keep this comparison in mind when heading to the voting booths.

On pensions, taxes, and the economy, both the Liberals and New Democrats have promised to restore 65 as the age to receive Old Age Security. The Harper Conservatives hiked it to 67, a regressive, punitive, and unnecessary step. Both opposition parties have promised to reverse the Conservative limit of $10,000 on tax-free savings accounts, and bring it back to $5,500.

The TFSA increase was a boost to the wealthier segment of society, and a blow to the tax revenues Ottawa needs to pay for social programs, with a cumulative impact of $1.1 billion within five years, and an estimated $15 billion a year cost within a few decades – a windfall for savers and investors, but a huge drain on government revenue.

While the Conservatives promise a new $300 tax credit for single seniors with pension incomes, the Liberals and NDP are committed to expanding the highly successful Canada Pension Plan, in cooperation with the provinces, which makes sense. The Liberals would increase Guaranteed Income Supplement benefits for single, low-income
seniors by almost $1,000 and introduce a new Seniors Price index to make sure the OAS and GIS keep pace with cost-of-living increases.

The NDP would increase GIS benefits by $400 million.

Clearly, the Liberals and NDP offer more to more seniors than the Conservatives, whose aim is to help the wealthier segments of society, the base that is the key to their electoral success.

On Health Care, Harper has promised that starting in 2017 he will tie increases in health care transfer to the provinces to nominal GDP, with a 3-per-cent-per-year floor.

That’s half the current annual six percent increases, and flies in the face of the mounting healthcare needs of our ageing society.

This should be a concern for all seniors, since, according to the Canadian Medical Association, our 5.2 million seniors representing 15 per cent of the population account for almost half of health costs. By 2036, the 65-plus demographic will account for a quarter of the population, and those over 85 will quadruple.

The Liberals and the NDP far outdo Harper when it comes to healthcare plans: The Liberals would entitle anyone caring for a seriously ill family member to claim Employment Insurance for “compassionate care” totaling six months in a year. And their projected $20 billion in infrastructure spending would include money for seniors’ residences, rent-geared-to-income housing and refurbishment of homes and facilities.

The NDP would restore provincial healthcare transfers to cash-strapped provinces to six percent, set up a $30 million fund to improve access to end-of-life resources, and pump $2.6 billion over four years to fund universal drug coverage, similar to what we have in Quebec, and boost annual payments for that purpose to $1.5 billion starting in 2019.

Access to pharmaceuticals and the ability to pay for them is essential for an effective healthcare program.

The Conservatives have offered nothing in home care, but the Liberals promise to meet with premiers, which Harper or his health minister have not done, to seek solutions to lengthy wait-times, unaffordability of prescription drugs, and unavailability of home care. The NDP promises to pump $1.8 billion into improving seniors’ care, expanding home care for 41,000 seniors, and building 5,000 nursing beds.

While the Conservatives are committed to scrapping home mail delivery, the Liberals and NDP promise to restore it.

It adds up to a clear argument: Anyone who is concerned about seniors’ issues, especially healthcare, should vote for the Liberal or NDP candidate in their riding.

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