By Timothy Schafer, Trail Daily Times
Last week marked the beginning of the toughest and most critical session of Parliament in the last decade, says the region’s MP.
Alex Atamanenko said the issues facing the current session of Parliament are some of the biggest he has witnessed since he assumed office in 2006 for BC Southern Interior.
The pension fund and its reform will likely dominate discussion, as the Conservative government attempts to grapple with sustainability of the Old Age Security fund, knowing that within 20 years, half the number of working people will have to support three times the level of benefit expenditures.
As well, the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline from Alberta to the BC coast is a major environmental issue the Conservatives want to push through for approval this session.
“We are looking at a direct attack on the environment, we are looking at a direct attack on pensions, this is pretty critical right now,” Atamanenko said. “Decisions made today will have far reaching effects into our future.”
Atamanenko pointed out a recent announcement in Davos, Switzerland by Prime Minister Stephen Harper about pension reform was a surprise development, with no mention of the reform in the last election.
However, there will be significant opposition from seniors’ groups and the provinces, said Atamanenko, who will have to pay social assistance for two extra years to support low-income 65 and 66-year-olds, if the new retirement age of 67 comes into effect.
The amount of OAS pension people receive who reach retirement age could also be reduced under the changes, meaning less disposable income for seniors and a hard hit on the small business communities across the nation, said Atamanenko.
But with the Conservatives opting for time allocation on the debate on pension reform the chance to stall or block the changes will be limited.
“Experts have looked at the fund before and they have said there is really no need to tinker with it,” he said. “I think it is important for people right across the political spectrum in Canada to get mobilized, and it’s not just seniors.”
He was disappointed with the pension announcement, especially considering the federal government wants to spend up to $29 billion on new F-35 fighter planes to update its aging air force.
“All sorts of arguments are there that say we shouldn’t be going blindly to purchasing these F-35s, specifically the cost, and at the same time (Harper) is saying we don’t have money for seniors? I think that is morally wrong,” Atamanenko stated.
In addition to pension reform, a new copyright act, changes to environmental assessment reviews, an end to the long-gun registry and tough criminal justice reforms are all on roster for the current session.
Deteriorating conditions on First Nations reserves will also be discussed this session, Atamanenko said, as will Harper’s refusal to call for a new health accord, instead giving the provinces a “take it or leave it policy” on health care transfers.
The Conservatives also need to find around $8 billion to cut from the next budget as Finance Minister Jim Flaherty tries to reign in the deficit and implement deep spending cuts.
But making cuts to the pension fund should not be part of the solution, said Atamanenko.
“Good policy is not made by blindly following some left or right ideology, it’s made by having some compromises, by looking at what’s making sense and building upon what we have rather than changing or destroying what we have.”