The Conservative government is considering increasing the age of eligibility for Canada's Old Age Security system, Prime Minister Stephen Harper confirmed Friday.
Harper had been less than clear on the matter since alluding to such a change in Davos, Switzerland more than a week ago, but in an interview with Postmedia News and the National Post published on Friday, the prime minister confirmed the government is exploring the idea of gradually increasing OAS eligibility from the current 65.
The OAS provides a pension to those over the age of 65 who have lived in Canada for at least 10 years.
"Absolutely, it’s being considered," Harper said. "But what we have to be clear on is that we are not looking at changes that are going to affect people that are currently in retirement or approaching retirement. We’ve been very clear on that."
Numerous media reports have speculated that the increase would be two years, raising the age to 67. Those two extra years would, in effect, keep people in the workforce longer and lighten the immediate load on the OAS system.
Harper reiterated that while no decisions have been made, the fact that Canada will have a lower percentage of its population working will become a significant economic issue.
The "aging of the population and the shrinking of the labour force is a serious economic challenge for Canada, as it is for other countries," Harper said. "But we do have some advantages. We have a more vibrant economy. We have a better fiscal situation. We have a central government pension plan — the Canada Pension Plan — that is actuarially sound."
Seeking opposition input
The prime minister has met with interim NDP Leader Nycole Turmel to discuss the official Opposition's priorities for the government's next budget, expected in the next few weeks.
Turmel says she urged Harper to focus on job creation and not to cut programs and services that hard-pressed families rely on in tough times. The NDP has opposed the idea of raising the OAS eligibility age.
While Turmel believes Harper "understood" her concerns, she said, it's unlikely he intends to act on them.
The budget is expected to slash as much as $8 billion from federal spending, which the government says is needed to erase the deficit built up during the 2008-2009 global recession and to set out a long-term path to ensure OAS remains sustainable.