Old Age Security wrong thing to cut, NDP say

The NDP says federal government budget cuts should avoid reducing retirement income for seniors, pointing instead to money planned for F-35 fighter jets, new prisons and corporate tax cuts.

Party using opposition day to force debate on OAS

The NDP, led by interim leader Nycole Turmel, led House debate Thursday on a motion calling for an end to seniors' poverty. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

If cuts must be made to the budget, the federal government should cut spending on corporate tax breaks, new F-35 fighter jets and prisons — not pension programs, the NDP said Thursday.

Seniors are terrified about losing their Old Age Security, NDP MPs said after introducing a motion in the House on eliminating seniors' poverty.

"OAS is not money that’s saved. It’s money that’s spent in the community. It’s spent on the daily necessities of life," NDP MP Irene Mathyssen said.

The party says oil and gas companies in Canada, for example, get $2 billion in subsidies every year. The figure comes from the party's calculation of tax breaks for the industry, an NDP spokesman said.

"There are indeed choices. This government is refusing to make the right choices," Mathyssen said.

The House of Commons spent much of the day talking about retirement income, with the NDP putting forward a motion calling on the government to reduce seniors' poverty.

Thursday is an opposition supply day, meaning an opposition party can table a motion for debate.

The NDP motion states: "That this House rejects calls by the prime minister to balance the Conservative deficit on the backs of Canada's seniors by means such as raising the age of eligibility for Old Age Security and calls on the government to make the reduction and eventual elimination of seniors' poverty a cornerstone of the next budget."

The motion is not binding on the government.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a speech a week ago that he wants to look at retirement income and make sure it's sustainable in the future, stoking fears that cuts would be coming.

The Prime Minister's Office has provided numbers that show the number of retired people will skyrocket by 2030, driving the cost of retirement income to 3.16 per cent of GDP (in 2011 it was estimated to be 2.37 per cent). But the cost as a percentage of GDP will decrease by 2040 to 2.93 per cent, and by 2060 to 2.35 per cent.

Harper said in question period that the budget, expected to be a harsh austerity budget, would be tabled in due course and wouldn't say what to expect in it for 2012.

He said current programs for seniors would be protected.

"At the same time, Mr. Speaker, the government is looking well beyond the life of this Parliament at how we can make sure our programs are viable for future generations," Harper said.

Human Resources Minister Diane Finley was also tight-lipped Thursday when she appeared on CBC's Power & Politics and didn't reveal what kinds of changes might be made to Old Age Security.

"We're looking at a wide range of options," she told host Evan Solomon. Any changes the government makes "will not affect current retirees or anybody who is nearing retirement," Finley said.

The minister added that the government is going to make sure that "Canadians all have the time to adjust their retirement savings programs, their personal ones, to any changes that come about."

Finley said she wouldn't speculate about what is in the budget and she said the NDP's motion "is totally wrong" because any changes have nothing to do with cutting the current deficit.

No changes in this year's budget

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said on Power & Politics on Wednesday that cuts wouldn't come in this year's budget. The next budget is expected to be tabled in early March.

"There will certainly be nothing in this budget that will affect anyone receiving any benefits, OAS or any other kinds of individual benefits from the government of Canada at the present time," Flaherty said.

"Any suggestion to the contrary is just flat wrong."

But the government could outline what it wants to do with retirement income in the future, he said.

"We could take some steps, we could, in the budget to say, all right, here are some of the things that could be done in the future in order to make sure that these programs are sustainable in the long term."

"We are looking across the board at retirement income issues in Canada. They are not going to be solved in one budget."

In a conference call Thursday from Tel Aviv, Israel, where he's spent most of this week, Flaherty reiterated what he said Wednesday night and wouldn't offer any idea of what type of cuts may be in the offing.