In reply to Nina George’s open letter to the under-40 crowd, seldom have I seen such an under-researched, misguided rant as this. Let’s start with the signature idea that the parents and grandparents of those under 40 are incredibly affluent and don’t care about the future of the under-40s.
In December 2014, CARP (once known as the Canadian Association of Retired Persons) took note of a just-released Statistics Canada report showing that 12 per cent of Canada’s seniors live in poverty, and that the figure rises to 28.5 per cent for single seniors, most of whom are women. (CARP overlooked another statistic from that same report: the demographic group that experiences the most poverty of all is female single parents, at 44.5 per cent.) Hold the thought of “female” for a moment, will you?
In calling on Canada’s finance ministers to come up with income and structural supports to address financial insecurity, CARP didn’t distinguish between those who are retired or those who will retire long into the future. “On [the ministers’] agenda should be measures to help people struggling to get by now – such as increasing income supports, and measures to remove or mitigate provisions that undermine their efforts, like RRIF withdrawals and increasing the OAS eligibility age … There remains the need to address retirement insecurity and seniors’ poverty with immediate and structural changes to promote greater income equality and stability for all Canadians as they age … Future generations of Canadians face the real prospect of substantial declines in standard of living in retirement if nothing is done now to help.”
A specific complaint that George has is that due to a change in the OAS eligibility age, “the younger generation can only retire at 67, if there is anything left to retire with.” I would note that CARP has called for a restoration of the OAS eligibility age to 65. I would also note that according to past Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page, the attack on Canada’s OAS program was completely unnecessary. Crunching the numbers, he found the program will be financially sustainable over the long term, given projected demographic and economic trends. I would also note that the change to eligibility age was never discussed with Canadians and was never a part of any election platform. No one, including the over-40s that Nina George eviscerates, ever voted for this change. It was imposed by the free-wheeling Conservative Party, setting the stage for the government to retain $10.8 billion of the public’s pension funds every year starting in 2023. Hold the thought that “Conservative” is mentioned nowhere in Nina’s letter, will you?
Statistics show that in 1976, the same year the recently implemented CPP kicked in with full force, the poverty rate for seniors was 36.9 per cent. Poverty steadily declined in the years that followed. The decline was “the major success story of Canadian social policy in the 20th century,” according to one economist. However, in the mid-1990s, the poverty rate began to rise again, in direct relation to a staged reduction of government transfers to seniors from 8.7 per cent to 2.0 per cent. Seniors again fell into poverty — between 2006 and 2010, 160,000 more of them, 60 per cent of them women. Surely George would not celebrate this reversal of social policy or wish for an intensification of it, would she?
George lets corporations off the hook (“I am sorry to inform you that the people who don’t care about your future are not the corporations”) and piles all the blame on baby boomers for ever lower taxes, and for the selling off of government assets and the channeling of fossil fuel royalties and EI revenues into general funds to keep taxes at unprecedented low levels.
She’s onto something, in that reductions in personal income tax, corporate income tax and the GST have resulted in $332 billion less revenue in the last nine years alone. As a consequence, we don’t have (as George notes) the well-funded schools and universities, the job opportunities and healthy infrastructure that we would if taxation had not been slashed. And we haven’t been forward-thinking in terms of putting away some of today’s resource wealth for the next generation. But that hasn’t been entirely the fault of baby boomers. They ranged from toddlers to young adolescents when governments began to slash taxes in the 1960s. It was the parents of baby boomers — those whom George salutes as having sacrificed and paid higher taxes — that elected most of the governments that gradually reduced federal corporate taxes from 41 per cent to a measly 15 per cent, where they are today — one of the lowest tax rates of OECD countries.
As much as George wants to point the finger at baby boomers, it’s actually impossible to point the figure at any single entity, including any one political party. It was Progressive Conservative, Liberal, and Conservative governments that happily slashed taxes across time; it was both Liberal and Conservative governments that raided the EI fund to support program spending and balance budgets; it was both Canadian and Albertan governments that determined and squandered the resource royalties. Probably the only thing we can do, as George implores the under-40s to mobilize, advocate and vote, is realize who the under-40s need to address today as they advocate and who they should vote against.
A person like George – concerned about her generation – should lobby for free education (which is a kind of plan to postpone paying for one’s education until one is educated, employed, and paying taxes). She should advocate for jobs: full-time jobs, well paid jobs, unionized jobs. She should also advocate for affordable, universal childcare and other forward-thinking policies including workplace pension plans and a restoration of the eligibility age for OAS that will lend to equal economic opportunities for the working and retired women and men of her generation and a reduction of the gap between rich and poor. She should advocate for high immigration quotas and equal opportunities for immigrants not only because it’s the right thing to do in this era of Western-wrought foreign wars and devastating climate change, but also because the more workers who contribute to the Canadian economy and pay taxes, the more they will grease the system to keep George’s generation going, as well as her children’s generation and their children’s generation.
Above all, George should recognize that whomever she votes for, it should not be the Conservative Party of Canada, since the Conservatives have no feeling for anyone’s future: not mine, not hers, not the earth’s. They don’t care about anything but their narrow political base. Most of Canada’s corporations are members of that political base, and so, too, are many baby boomers and older seniors. A person like George should be making every effort to lobby corporations on matters of social and environmental responsibility. She should be working to educate Conservative voters as to why the Conservative way is such a bloody terrible idea.
Peace, from one baby boomer.