Opinion Column


Time for seniors to stand up to governments

 Randall Denley



There is probably never a good time to be old, but right now is shaping up as a pretty bad one. Retirement incomes, living expenses and health care are all important concerns for seniors. Unfortunately, both federal and provincial governments are busy implementing policies that do nothing to help seniors and sometimes make their situation worse.

Boomers, this message is for you. I know few of us want to admit we are old, much less be the geezer crabbing about everything, but if we don't wake up, we will continue to get the short end of the stick from governments that are busy chasing middle class votes and ignoring what is becoming increasingly important to us.

Impending income tax changes from the federal government will help the wealthiest seniors, not those who really need it. Taxes are being cut for income over $45,000, but seniors have an average income of $30,100 for men and $20,000 for women.

The reduction in tax free savings account contributions will hurt seniors trying to shelter their retirement savings. They have to start withdrawing money from their registered retirement savings at 71. They will pay tax on that, but the more generous TFSA limit of the Conservatives allowed them to protect more future income from what's left. Does the government really need to tax the interest people earn on their little retirement accounts?

The TFSA change was called a boon to the rich, but do the rich care whether they can shelter $4,500 more? It's a much bigger deal for those with limited retirement savings.

The planned Ontario pension plan and enhanced CPP are intended to help those who retire decades from now, but they won't help the seniors of today. Instead, the raise they get is the annual CPP inflationary increase of 1.8 per cent, or at $20 a month for those who get the maximum benefit.

Meanwhile the cost of basics keeps rising faster than seniors' incomes, affecting even those with frugal lifestyles. Food has gone up 4.1 per cent over the last year. Electricity costs continue to rise, as do property taxes. The coming carbon taxes will take more money from seniors' pockets as companies pass on the higher cost of doing business.

While governments have money to spend on things such as electric car-charging stations and light rail transit, that spending will do little to benefit seniors. Older people are disproportionate users of health care and that sector is being squeezed. Hospitals in Ontario have had their budgets frozen for years. The amount of money the government pays to doctors has been set at an unrealistically low level, something that is bound to reduce access.

Two reports this month said wait times for medical care are far too long, despite years of government pretending to tackle this issue. Ontario's auditor general has criticized the delivery of both home care and long-term care.

The influx of boomers into their senior years has been predictable for decades, but the provincial government has done little to be ready for the coming demand. While stories of a "grey tsunami" overwhelming the health care system are exaggerated, that doesn't mean we can ignore increasing demand.

Do you find any of this troubling, Mr. and Mrs. Boomer?

If so, it's time to speak up and demand action. It's understandable that people who have worked hard all their lives are looking forward to taking it easy and disengaging from the troubles of the world. The problem is, politicians are now working on the premise that they can make life worse for seniors and there will be no political consequences.

There was a time when collective action was part of what defined our generation. Either we get back to that, or we pay the price for silence.

Randall Denley is an Ottawa commentator, novelist and former Ontario PC candidate