The three main parties have all made promises this time around to help seniors, focusing on two main fronts: changes to long-term care homes after the pandemic underscored vulnerabilities in many facilities and changes to retirement savings.
When Albert Smith, 68, goes to the grocery store for vegetables, it’s straight to the frozen food aisle.
“We cannot have fresh produce, it’s too expensive,” he said.
The Saskatchewan man said his rent and bills are paid every month with help from the Old Age Security, but there’s little left afterwards.
“You stay at home and you just do nothing because you don’t have the money to do anything. So it’s not a decent life.”
Across the country in Shelburne, N.S., Jacqueline Goldsmith is watching reports of tropical storm Henri, which could wallop the province next week.
With little money left at the end of the month, she’s worried what will happen if another storm batters her home — she already dipped into her RRIF in 2019 when Hurricane Dorian hit her home.
“I pay everything and there’s nothing left over,” she said. “I’m doing my best, but it’s difficult. It’s becoming more and more difficult.
At 73, she says she feels abandoned by the Liberals’ proposed boost to Old Age Security that is only for those 75 and older.
“In 2021, my property tax went up, my house insurance went up, my TV, my electricity, my food, all of that went up. And because I’m 73 and not 75, I’m not getting any help,” she said.
“I found that a real slap in the face.”
Both Goldsmith and Smith are waiting to hear more from what the federal parties are promising seniors.
Out of the gate, most of the parties have made promises to help seniors, largely focused on fixing the vulnerabilities exposed in long-term care homes by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bill VanGorder, chief operating officer of the seniors advocacy group CARP, said it’s an important issue, but the top concern he hears from members is financial security.
I pay everything and there’s nothing left over.– Senior Jacqueline Goldsmith
“This is the first election where I’ve seen that all of the major parties seem to be saying that issues that are of concern to older Canadians are very high on their list,” he said.
But “all the parties have to understand better what the real seniors issues are.”
What the parties are promising seniors so far
- The Liberals haven’t released their full election platform yet, but leader Justin Trudeau did announce Thursday that a re-elected Liberal government would spend $9 billion to address Canada’s long-term care sector.
- That includes a promise to work with provinces and territories to raise wages for personal support workers, including a guaranteed minimum wage of at least $25 an hour.
- The party also plans to double the Home Accessibility Tax Credit — meant to help make homes more accessible for seniors and people with disabilities — to provide up to an additional $1,500.
- Budget 2021 included a one-time $500 Old Age Security payment that landed in the bank accounts of pensioners 75 and over this week.
- They’ve also committed to increase the OAS pension by 10 per cent for those 75 and over, starting next year.
- The party is promising to double the Canada Workers Benefit up to a maximum of $2,800 for individuals or $5,000 for families and to pay it as a quarterly direct deposit rather than a tax refund at year-end. The party said this will give seniors who choose to continue working past retirement more income.
- A Conservative government said it would change legislation to ensure that pensioners would have priority over executives if a company enters bankruptcy or restructuring.
- To keep seniors in their homes, the party said it would increase the Home Accessibility Tax Credit limit from $10,000 per dwelling to $10,000 per person.
- It would also allow seniors or their caregivers, including their children, to claim the Medical Expense Tax Credit for home care instead of allowing them to claim attendant care only if they live in a group home
- To avoid long-term care homes, the Conservatives are also promising to help those who take care of their parents by introducing the Canada Seniors Care benefit, $200 a month per household to any Canadian who is living with and taking care of a parent over the age of 70.
- The NDP’s commitments, released before the campaign officially launched, includes a National Seniors Strategy to work with provinces, territories and Indigenous communities on isolation and seniors poverty.
- It is also promising to create a pension advisory commission to develop a long-term plan to enhance Old Age Security
- An NDP government would also boost the Guaranteed Income Supplement and strengthen the Canada Pension Plan. The GIS is a monthly payment for seniors with an income below $18,984.
- They’ve also vowed to make automatic enrolment in the OAS and GIS programs retroactive
- The party said its universal pharmacare promise would also improve the lives of seniors.
- The Green Party has not released its 2021 election platform yet, but a spokesperson said they would develop a national seniors strategy “to create an organized and concerted focus on seniors’ well-being across all domains throughout the aging experience with consistent standards across the nation.”
- They would also seek to include long-term care homes in the Canada Health Act and establish national standards
- This spring, the Bloc Québécois introduced a motion calling on the government to include a $110-a-month boost to Old Age Security benefits in its April 22 budget.
- It also says the federal government should bring in automatic registration for the Guaranteed Income Supplement and tax credits for those who wish to continue working in Quebec
The reviews so far
VanGorder said he would have liked to see the OAS increase extended to all recipients, not just those 75 and older.
Alex Laurin, director of research at the CD Howe Institute, questioned the benefit of expanding a universal program like OAS rather than creating targeted programs for seniors living on the poverty line.
“There’s a windfall for people getting OAS who don’t really need it, and it adds to the cost,” he said.
“Those who are paying for this will be future taxpayers, because no political party has promised to balance the budget for a very long time. So all of these increases would be paid by debt.”
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VanGorder said protection for pension plans and home care is also top of mind for many senior voters.
But he isn’t holding his breath.
“More and more, frankly, our members are becoming less interested and believing less in what they’re hearing the leaders say in their platforms, because their perception is that they’re not following through with action,” he said.
“Older Canadians are really going to hold their feet to the fire when it comes to following through on any promises they make.”