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Ontario Labour Minister Chris Bentley (file photo)

Ontario's Liberal government announced legislation on Tuesday to ban mandatory retirement at age 65, but the law likely will not take effect until fall 2006.

About 100,000 people in Ontario turn 65 each year, and some 4,000 of those are expected to keep working after the change takes effect.

"We are extending the right to choose," Ontario Labour Minister Chris Bentley told reporters. "You don't have to work if you don't want to, but you will have the right to choose."

Ontario's move puts it on a lengthening list of Canadian provinces that have banned or are seeking to ban forced retirement at age 65.

Alberta, Manitoba, Quebec and Prince Edward Island already treat mandatory retirement as discrimination and have essentially abolished it, as have Nunavut, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories.

New Brunswick's Conservative government announced last week that it plans to ban mandatory retirement except in the case of workers in jobs involving public safety – for example, school bus drivers.

Ontario's proposed legislation is to amend the province's human

  • rights code by eliminating the age cap of 65 for employees.

    The new law is not expected to be passed until this fall and will include a one-year transition period after final approval to allow employers time to adapt.

    As in other provinces, 65-year-old police officers, firefighters and other employees where physical ability or safety is a factor will still be required to retire.

    The proposed legislation would not undermine or adversely affect existing pension, early retirement and benefit rights, Bentley said at Tuesday's news conference.

    Of the approximately 11 million people who live in Ontario, about 1.5 million are seniors. The number is expected to more than double to 3.2 million by 2028.

    NDP opposes move

    Ontario's previous Conservative government considered banning early retirement, but was thrown out of office before legislation was proposed.

    The province's New Democratic Party has vowed to fight the legislation announced Tuesday, saying the real issue is providing adequate pensions, not designing ways for people to work longer.

    Bentley dismissed suggestions from reporters that seniors would be taking jobs away from the young by being allowed to stay employed longer.

    "The labour market is going to be looking for more and more workers – workers wherever they can. There will be lots of opportunities for young people," he said.

    Advocates say the end of forced retirement could ease the financial burdens of seniors, immigrants and women who leave the workforce to raise children, among others.

    Home Depot hires seniors

    Lillian Morgenthau, of the Canadian Association for the 50-plus, welcomed the proposed legislation aimed at members of her group.

    "We have to continue to allow them in the workforce," she said. "We look forward to this turning point in Ontario history."

    Bentley's announcement was made at a Toronto outlet of Home Depot, which prides itself on hiring seniors. Some 23 per cent of its employees are over age 50, a company spokeswoman said.