The Harper government is accusing the NDP and Liberals of deliberately stoking fear and confusion among Canada's seniors, as it moves to reassure Canadians that it is not poised to take away pension benefits.
Human Resources Minister Diane Finley made the charges as MPs debated Thursday the NDP's opposition motion calling on the government to cease and desist from trying to reduce its deficit on the backs of seniors. The controversy is over proposed changes to Old Age Security, which the Harper government has hinted at without providing details.
"... They are intentionally misleading Canadians and particularly our seniors about the Old Age Security Program and I would like to put an end to that today," charged Ms. Finley. "Let me confirm right now that our government will ensure the security of retirement benefits for Canadian seniors and for future generations."
The Harper government has repeatedly tried to reassure concerned Canadians that their pension benefits are not in jeopardy. At the same time, it is accusing the oppositions of manufacturing a crisis.
The problem is, however, that neither the Prime Minister nor his ministers have outlined what the reforms may entail. And so the vacuum of information has been filled by speculation from the opposition, which has charged the government is poised to raise the eligibility age to 67 from 65. The Prime Minister has not confirmed this.
In addition, the opposition argues the government wants to reduce its deficit on the backs of Canada's seniors.
Ms. Finley dismissed this argument Thursday.
"This is not a short-term problem, nor does it have anything to do with deficits or deficit reduction," she asserted. "Frankly, the issues with Old Age Security sustainability will come into play long after we've achieved balanced budgets. But they are tomorrow's challenges that need to be addressed today."
Any changes that are made will be made prudently and gradually, she said. And Ms. Finley provided statistics the government has used previously, detailing a demographic shift that will see an increase in seniors and a shrinking tax base that could put in jeopardy the sustainability of social programs, including the OAS.
It is unlikely the NDP motion, which is to be voted Monday, will pass, given the Tory majority. However, the debate does give the New Democrats and Liberals a platform from which to criticize the government over its approach to the country's retirement pension programs.
For example, the NDP chose a 27-year-old rookie Quebec MP, Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe, as its lead speaker. She was able to highlight the fact that it's not just seniors but "future" generations who are concerned over potential changes.
Meanwhile, NDP finance critic Peter Julian told The Globe Thursday that the Prime Minister's speech in Davos last week was part of a "carefully laid plan." He believes that the government is "ideologically" opposed to a public pension system.
"I think that's a fundamental ideological hard line that has been hidden from the Canadian public and that's why they didn't talk about this at all prior to May 2nd ...," Mr. Julian said, referring to the election.
"And I think Canadians have to keep making their voices heard and we have to keep pushing."