Harper, Layton offer competing pledges for seniors

Stephen Harper and Jack Layton announced rival campaign pledges aimed at seniors on Thursday, with the Conservative leader offering tax cuts and the NDP leader promising to boost the number of home-care spaces.
Conservative Leader Stephen Harper greets a group of senior citizens following a news conference in Trois-Rivieres, Que., on Thursday. ((Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press))
Stephen Harper and Jack Layton announced rival campaign pledges aimed at seniors on Thursday, with the Conservative leader offering tax cuts and the NDP leader promising to boost the number of home-care spaces.

Speaking from a seniors' residence in Trois-Rivieres, Que., Harper said the Conservatives — if re-elected in the Oct. 14 election — would increase the amount of income that seniors can claim tax free under the senior age credit by $1,000.

Less than an hour later in Winnipeg, Layton advocated a $1-billion home-care program for seniors, saying "Stephen Harper has let down many Canadian families."

He said an NDP government would provide funding to allow 100,000 more seniors to be cared for in their homes instead of institutions.

Harper said his party's proposal would save low-income seniors about $150 a year each, while costing the federal government $400 million annually.

"We should do more to allow seniors to keep a larger part of the money that they have worked hard to earn," Harper said.

"This new measure is part of our long-term economic plan. It's modest, but it's affordable and responsible and credible."

The senior age credit is available to Canadians aged 65 and older. About 4.4 million people are currently eligible.

The $1,000 proposed increase comes after Harper's minority government increased the senior age credit in the 2007 federal budget, also by $1,000. With all the changes in place, seniors will be able to earn $17,673 tax free.

Lowering tax on U.S. social security benefits

Harper said he would also help Canadian residents who were caught by a decision to increase the amount of tax paid on U.S. social security benefits.

Seniors used to be taxed on 50 per cent of their benefits, but the Liberal government in 1997 upped the amount to 85 per cent. Harper said he would revert back to the 50 per cent rate, but only for those who were receiving benefits before the change occurred.

"Approximately 85,000 seniors had to pay more taxes than usual, at a time when they had planned to take their retirement. This was unfair and this injured a number of seniors who have fixed incomes and limited incomes," Harper said.

Of the 85,000 seniors who were collecting U.S. social security benefits when the tax increase occurred, only about 35,000 to 40,000 of them are still living and would benefit from Harper's policy. The policy will cost the government $20 million. 

In reference to family caregivers, Layton said "a generation of Canadians is burning out, caring for their parents as well as their kids."

The NDP program, based on recommendations made by the royal commission on health care headed by former Saskatchewan Premier Roy Romanow, would cost $250 million in the first year and grow to $1 billion by the fourth year, Layton said.

With files from the Canadian Press