Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia sisters who've lived together 38 years want survivor benefits

For 38 years, Betty Wilsack has shared her Caribou Island, N.S., home with her sister Margaret Renouf. The pair are both now in their 70s. But when one of them dies, the other won't be entitled to the survivor's pension.

'You're not entitled to anything from the person you have been sharing your home with'

Betty Wilsack and her sister Margaret Renouf have shared a home for decades. (Dave Irish/CBC)

For 38 years, Betty Wilsack has shared her Caribou Island, N.S., home with her sister Margaret Renouf. They've split all expenses, living as a family while raising Renouf's son.

The pair are now in their 70s. But when one of them dies, the other won't be entitled to the survivor's pension, either from CPP and OAS or their employer pensions.

"You're not entitled to anything from the person you have been sharing your home with," Wilsack told CBC's Maritime Noon.

In Canada, husbands and wives, common-law couples and same-sex couples are entitled to a spousal pension after the death of a partner, typically about 60 per cent of a full pension.

But people who are part of other types of families, for instance siblings living together, are not given the same treatment.

'Many, many' people living in the same situation

Wilsack is a retired registered nurse with an employer pension and Renouf, a retired music teacher, also with an employer pension. Wilsack said their situation is not unique. 

"I know many, many people — sisters living together, parents and an adult healthy child that are sharing expenses. In my career as a nurse I came across this many, many times," she said.

"We worked all our lives and we paid into the economy, we paid taxes, we're active in the community and the church and … I just think it's grossly unfair. I'm hoping that people will come forward that are in a similar situation."

Wilsack said if she died it would not be easy for her sister to pay the bills.

"We'd probably have to sell the home. I or my sister, alone, could not keep up the payments," she said.

'Nothing about blood relatives'

Wilsack has been writing to politicians asking for change to accommodate her family and other families like hers. They also reached out to their local MP, Liberal Sean Fraser, who said he spoke with Renouf Friday afternoon.

One of the things he learned, he said, was that when the sisters started talking about their situation they found a community of people with similar concerns.

"I think when you hit on a new topic you often find people who do experience similar problems and you realize it's not unique to you," Fraser said.

"That's one of the reasons that I think this is worth checking into and make sure we consider seriously before we either take action or decide it's not to be."

Fraser also said he would speak with Jean-Yves Duclos, the minister of families, children and social development to "see whether there is an appetite in Ottawa with legislators to propose some kind of change that would bring in new legislation to see something like that happen."

'We're not going to get married, hello!'

Wilsack feels the only difference between her situation and that of romantic couples is that there is no sexual relationship. 

"We're not going to get married, hello!"

When asked what she thinks will change the rules for people in her situation, Wilsack said talking about it is a good first step.   

"Maybe other people that are like us will write to their politicians, make them aware. I've never heard this talked about publicly before, so I'm hoping this will be a start because we are now in our 70s and time's going by. I'd like to see it changed as it changed for other people," she said.

With files from Maritime Noon

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