Tax breaks for seniors smack of ageism

Brian Jones
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Some old people probably didn’t hear the news that the City of St. John’s will consider giving them a tax break next year. No worries, though — when the oldsters get back from Florida, they can catch up on all the home news. With any luck, their tax exemption will be enough to enable them to spend an extra week in the sun next year.

For any vacationing members of the grey gang who have just returned to the condo from a game of golf or lawn bowling and are reading this on The Telegram’s website, here’s a recap: Coun. Sheilagh O’Leary wants city council to consider giving property tax breaks to low-income residents and seniors; Mayor Dennis O’Keefe, in his typically condescending fashion, said council will look at tax breaks for “low-income individuals” and seniors next year, as it’s too late to implement this year because the budget is already set.

Notice the reference to “seniors.” This has become part of politicians’ jargon, along with “going forward” and “on the ground.” Hardly anyone refers to “senior citizens” anymore, because it implies advanced age and creeping decrepitude. “Old people,” as per Paragraph 1 above, was last used in the public prints in 1967.

Prime concern

There is great concern these days for seniors — health care for seniors, pensions for seniors, tax breaks for seniors, this for seniors, that for seniors.

Sometimes it seems as if reverse ageism is going on. You seldom hear, for instance, such worried concern about the comfort and living standards of young people burdened by two tonnes of student debt.

But back to the greys. There is no reason to ponder for even one second giving a tax break, or any other extra financial benefit, to someone merely because he or she is a senior.

“Low-income residents” and “seniors” are not necessarily the same. Let’s give O’Leary and O’Keefe the benefit of the doubt, and presume they actually meant “low-income residents and low-income seniors,” but failed to specifically say so because of the modern political penchant that favours inexactitude.

O’Leary suggested that the city’s finance committee look at what the City of Mount Pearl does regarding seniors’ property taxes.

According to the City of Mount Pearl website, seniors in that fine municipality can receive a 20 per cent property tax discount if they receive the Guaranteed Income Supplement from Service Canada.

It sounds fair, at first glance. But according to Service Canada’s website, retired seniors can receive the Guaranteed Income Supplement as long as their pension does not exceed $39,695.

Unequal earnings

Boom town or not, there are still a lot of people in St. John’s — and possibly in Mount Pearl — who are working for less than $39,695 per year.

Anyone working full-time for minimum wage is taking in only $20,800. According to the City of St. John’s “State of the Economy” report, the average salary in St. John’s in 2012 was $47,476.

As always, statistics give bare facts and lie at the same time. For example, for every doctor earning $260,000, there are two dozen people making $10,000 less than the average salary.

O’Leary and O’Keefe are half right. The city should give tax breaks to low-income residents, especially since property taxes — like sales taxes — are an extremely unjust system of taxation.

But age should not be part of the equation. Being a senior does not automatically imply need, even if said senior is living on the dreaded “fixed income.” Here’s another Services Canada fact worth pondering: Old Age Security payments are not “clawed back” until a retiree’s annual pension exceeds $70,954.

In many instances, tax breaks for the young would be more appropriate.

Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached at

Organizations: The Telegram, Service Canada, Service Canada.It

Geographic location: Florida, Mount Pearl

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Recent comments

  • ASMA
    October 15, 2016 - 14:05

    Talking about ageism . your article in it self is joke. Older adults and especially women and disabled after aboriginal are more marginalized people. Not all elders are rich to afford vacation. DO your research properly as these people are on edge of poverty.They cant work cause of ageism against them on employments basis. And many other form of oppression they deserve a break.

  • ginn
    February 04, 2013 - 18:04

    well I guess Jones April(February)fooled us. He deliberately wtites an improperly researched article full of half truths and gets the reaction he wanted. This lazy uninformed CFA needs to educate himself about his written subject but won't bother if people react to his drivel.

  • Working Poor
    February 02, 2013 - 07:05

    Amen! I work full time and take home roughly $20,280 a year. Out of that, try to make payments on a student loan, a mortgage I inheirited, household expenses, expenses to get to/from work, and then try to feed myself. My neighbourhood is becoming popular and inflation consequently taking city taxes with up it. Then the City rises tax rates to make it even worse. I could sell my home, but I already live in a low-end home and rent would drain any profit quickly leaving me broke and out of the only home I ever knew. Meanwhile, my slavery driven property tax bill is subsidizing "seniors" with pensions double (or more) my salary with less expenses and those who refuse to work whlie living in St. John's Housing units. This only adds further insult and injury to my income tax being used to pay for welfare and EI for people who really do not need it. Where is the justice in that???? Time for some serious changes at City Hall.

    • Eli
      February 04, 2013 - 18:39

      Time for some serious changes in somebodys thinking if you think I havn't earned my pension. You might try keeping in mind it hasn't changed in 25 years but my living expenses have gone thru the roof.

  • Anne
    February 01, 2013 - 18:32

    Strange article. St. John's already has a tax discount for seniors in receipt of GIS. The proposal O'Leary brought up was tabout allowing seniors to defer paying muncipal taxes until they leave their house and it is sold. After all, why give a tax break to somebody who owns a big asset like a house as opposed to those who don't? The rent for an apartment includes muncipal taxes that aren't discounted for low-income seniors who don't own a house.. There are ways to re-jig municipal taxation regime to make it more fair, but discounts aren't it.

  • david
    February 01, 2013 - 17:37

    Tax breaks for seniors smack of ageism...just like the same thing for "status" indians is racism. No one seems to see a problem with that.....

  • R.O.K.
    February 01, 2013 - 15:18

    Mr. Jones, none of us would need tax breaks if governments (read our MHA's, MP's, and Mayors) did the job they promised they'd do more responsibly. I'd hardly credit a town like CBS paying out $120,000.00 in travel expenses merely because the mayor said in order to get the word out you gotta' travel. What irresponsible nonsense, especially when my taxes just increased by 48% and the street deteriorated another 60%.

  • Whaddaya At
    February 01, 2013 - 13:09

    Hey, Mr. Jones, so Denis O'Keefe used the term ' seniors '. So what ?. You say it's a term hardly anyone uses anymore ?. You think the term you used, ' grey gang ', is more appropriate ?. How about ' geezers ', ' pop ', ' skipper ', ' old man ', ' old timer ' ?. You think those terms are more appropriate ?. Ageism is alive and well in today's society, Mr. Jones, as evidenced by a local billboard awhile back, that advertised ' Geezerade ', with the picture of a senior citizen. Complaints forced the advertiser to take it down. By the way, the term' senior ', is in no way a part of the stupid jargon and buzzwords used by politicians.

  • Senior
    February 01, 2013 - 13:06

    There is a big clawback on some work pensions when you receive OAS. My work pension was clawed back nearly half when I got OAS and my total income was about 1/3 or the figure you quote! That hurts the senior population. Yes, there are snow birds sir, but I would suggest to you there are many, many seniors as well as other low income earners who can't afford to ever take a vacation. Young students have many years of earning power whereas seniors do not. Maybe if some students spent their student loans only on what it was intended for, they would not owe so much money!! I have three children who graduated with Masters degrees, paid off their student loans without any breaks, and are now well on their way to great earning ability. Certainly low income and seniors should be entitled to a tax break. Wonder what category you will be in when you reach your senior years!!! Write an article on the same topic then!

    • Student
      February 01, 2013 - 14:13

      I must disagree with you. As a student I can say that graduatin with a degree does not guarantee income in the future. The amount a young person has I spend to be able to gain employment is at its highest ever. Add this to the housing market, and there is a whole generation of people struggling to make end meet in their 20's and beyond. In addition SENIORS are retiring later which means less movement in companies, and less work available to students starting out. Therefore I agree that ageism affects both ends of the spectrum in different but equal ways. There are the lucky and the not so lucky ones on both ends.

  • Herb Morrison
    February 01, 2013 - 13:05

    Mr. Jones. Firstl, you need to learn to practice what you preach. Early in your rant, you accurately point out that not all seniors are poorly off and struggling to "make ends meet." however, later in the aforementioned rant, you have no difficulty portraying all students as being poor struggling, debt-ridden souls. In actual fact, when I returned to MUN, while in my late fifties, between 2004-2006, in order to finish my undergraduate degree, I remember a situation, which came to light at the time. It seems that a considerable of students were up in arms because they were unable to obtain an exemption from writing an exam and, as a result were forced to cancel their trip to,I believe it was Cuba, poor souls. My point, the majority students attending MUN or any other university, do struggle financially; likewise, the majority of we seniors, who are living on a fixed income, also struggle financially. Turning this situation into a contest is not going to benefit either seniors or students. What is needed are solutions which effectively address the financial quaigmire in which both the majority of students, and the majority of seniors find themselves sinking. Turning the situation into a contest between the young and the older may enable the Telegram to sell a few more newspapers, but accomplishes litte else of apositive nature.

  • Ken Collis
    February 01, 2013 - 08:37

    Let's see, just how many of the two dozen went to post secondary institutions for eight years, incuring a large debt, and still make $10,000.00 less than average wage? One thing about most seniors is that they have paid a great deal towards me and the chances I have had to succeed. They toiled hard all their lives and I don't feel bad about them getting a break now. And one more thing, what in the world is ageism?

  • MBC
    February 01, 2013 - 08:34

    Right on all breaks should be for low income earners and low income seniors. If you do no need tge GIS then you need no breaks.