It was a forum filled with strong emotions — fear and frustration chief among them.
It was also a meeting filled with strong statements that were heartfelt and genuine.
Such as this one from Jeannie Murphy, a 57-year-old long-term care nurse.
“Every day I go to work and I see my future,” said Murphy. “But I see something more important. I see seniors who don’t have enough money, after their needs are paid for in long-term care, to take their children to lunch — to get their hair done. And we should be fighting damn mad that this is happening. Because it (will be) us.
“If we do not want this to happen then we should not let it happen. It’s up to us. It’s the power of the people.”
Or this one from Muhammed Mazir: “Why is Canada on it’s way to losing its soul?” asked Mazir.
“We tend to give more and more to the rich and less and less to the poor. The income gap between the rich and the poor is increasing, not falling.”
“Same for the people below the poverty line. So why is this happening? What needs to be done? What can we collectively do?”
Anger, fear part of reaction to proposed changes
Or this comment from Marilyn Reid:
“I’m so tired of going to meetings and having the same group of people all the time. So I think the real challenge for us ... is how do we get out to people. How do I go out to church groups and talk about these issues ... that’s what I would really like to think about,” said Reid.
On and on they went for two hours.
People spilling out their heart’s fears and their anger.
It was exactly what Irene Mathyssen was looking for.
Mathyssen, an NDP MP from Ontario, is critic for seniors for Canada’s Official Opposition.
Over the past few weeks she has been travelling across the country holding town-hall type meetings and asking Canadians what they think about some of the changes the federal Conservatives have warned are coming for the Old Age Security program. General comments regarding seniors were also welcomed.
Mathyssen held her Newfoundland and Labrador meeting Sunday in St. John’s. Flanked by her two local NDP MP colleagues, Jack Harris and Ryan Cleary, she spoke to a crowd of about 50 people at the Battery Hotel.
“It’s very important for me to have the perspective from all across the country. Because I want to help create a policy paper, with the help of my caucus, that truly meets the needs of seniors from coast to coast to coast,” said Mathyssen.
“As you saw from today we have incredible wisdom in all of our communities. So I’m so grateful to be here and I’m so grateful for all the input,” she said.
Most of the people who gathered to hear Mathyssen speak were on the home stretch to becoming seniors themselves, if they weren’t already there, but there were also a few people in the their 20s, 30s and 40s dotting the crowd.
The presence of young people is proof positive any changes to the old age safety net that exists in Canada is a concern, not just for people close to retirement, but to all Canadians, she said.
That’s what she’s been hearing throughout her travels, she added.
“I’m hearing basically the same things from coast to coast ... people were saying basically the same things. They’ve made contributions all their lives, they expected that there must be something there to ensure economic security.”
Mathyssen’s countrywide tour is a direct reaction to comments made by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Human Resources Minister Diane Finley.
Finley has confirmed a detailed plan to reform the Old Age Security program, an important part of some retirees’ income, will appear in the upcoming federal budget.
Harper said recently the program is unsustainable in its present form and needs to be changed or risk failing.
In a recent speech, Finley targeted her sales pitch for reorganizing the program to young people.
“We will need to ensure that our government has the fiscal room to meet the various needs of an aging population ... without putting an undue tax burden on younger generations,” said Finley.
While other countries have acted to increase the age of eligibility to keep in line with aging populations, Canada has stood still, she said.
“It’s ticking along as if things haven’t changed demographically in 50 years.
The leading option is to gradually raise the age of eligibility to 67 from today’s 65, beginning in a few years.
Other options could include changes to the clawback rules, which require individuals earning more than $69,000 a year to start paying back their OAS benefits.
There has been no official word from the government on exactly what changes voters can expect in budget.
With files from The Canadian Press