Thirty protesters gathered in St. John’s during the lunch hour Thursday to direct their anger at the federal government for considering changes to Old Age Security (OAS).
Prime Minister Stephen Harper confirmed recently Ottawa may implement a gradual hike in the age of OAS eligibility.
The OAS system provides a pension for people age 65 and over in Canada. Such a move will not prove popular for those who showed up for Thursday’s protest, including representatives from several unions and provincial opposition parties.
“We have seen a firestorm of worry that’s been sparked by an unmitigated and unnecessary attack on Old Age Security,” said Karen White, president of the St. John’s and District Labour Council and vice-president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour.
The protesters gathered on the steps of the Baine Johnson Building, where the office for regional minister Peter Penashue is located.
White said OAS only accounts for 2.2 per cent of Canada’s gross domestic product (GDP), and even though the number of people accessing OAS will rise in years ahead, the percentage of GDP devoted to OAS will not change dramatically.
“Stephen Harper has falsely attempted to make us believe that OAS is not fiscally sustainable, that it’s going to bankrupt the country. That is a falsehood.”
The 10th OAS Actuarial Report states the number of OAS beneficiaries in Canada will double from 2010 (4.7 million) to 2030 (9.3 million). While 2.25 per cent of GDP was contributed to OAS in 2010, the report says that figure will jump less than a percentage point to 3.16 by 2030.
She said OAS is, in fact, sustainable, going on to state the notion OAS will bankrupt Canada is absurd.
“Stephen Harper is trying to make us afraid of these baby boomers,” said White.
Pensioner Joan Scott said making people work longer before they can qualify for OAS will hurt poor people the most. She noted the OAS system was introduced in 1952 with an eligibility age of 70 before it was later reduced to 65.
“Those were good changes, right,” she said to the applause of those at the protest. “This approach is not for greater retirement security. It’s for greater retirement insecurity.”
If changes are introduced to OAS, the young people of today will have to prepare for a less prosperous future, according to Jessica McCormick, chair of the Canadian Federation of Students in Newfoundland and Labrador.
“My generation is the first to be worse off than the one that preceeded it,” she said. “Students and youth are already struggling to access our higher education system. We’re concerned about mortgage-sized debt loads that many of us will have when we graduate, and we’re deeply concerned about whether we can even find a job in today’s economy.”
McCormick suggested the federal government should focus less on corporate tax cuts and more on fostering the development of a sustainable and fair economy.
White added the need for seniors to work extra years will limit job prospects for younger people hoping to enter the workforce.
Ralph Morris from the Newfoundland and Labrador Public Sector Pensioners Association said if the current threat to OAS is not handled properly, its affect will affect many.
He paid particular attention to how changes could have an impact on people dependent on disability pensions or a defined benefit plan integrated with the Canada Pension Plan. Morris said both would be looking at significant reductions in earnings at the age of 65 if they were no longer eligible for OAS, as their other sources of income are reduced at that age either through clawbacks or through being moved to other benefit plans.
“That’s going to put a lot of fellas, as they used to say to me, in the poor house.”
As the event wound down, protesters started chanting, “Hands off OAS.”