We are entering a traditional season of giving. It is a time to reflect and to draw lessons to take forward through the year. We often take this space each year to suggest what each of us can do to change, to be more compassionate and more engaged. This week we would like to focus on a broader issue.
We aim our message at our elected officials. It is time that they should reflect on what is the most urgent priority that merits our compassion and attention. That issue is the urgent necessity of giving back to Canadians who have paid into the system their whole lives — at the federal and provincial levels — and seen their trust monies dissipated into general funds. The urgent priority of getting our social security system for seniors right.
And perhaps this is a very good time for this message. We are entering a federal election year. The past few years we have seen one hundred million to the UN refugee agency. Over two billion in commitments on global climate change initiatives. An increase in Canada’s foreign aid budget to over five billion. Almost five billion to buyout the Kinder-Morgan pipeline. And the announcement that our budgetary deficit will reach $19 billion.
We will not comment today on the merits of these various expenditures. What we will point out is the following. Today’s seniors have been deducted at source all their working lives. These funds were supposed to be treated as trust monies. They were supposed to be used to protect them against a vulnerable retirement. Trust monies that were supposed to offer a helping hand — not a handout — if they fell on hard times. Trust monies to ensure proper healthcare and home care. This has not happened.
The OECD — the organization of leading industrial countries — has named Canada has having the worst social security system among major industrial nations. While we spend billions on globally attractive initiatives, diversity programs and green policies, the grassroots priorities of the largest growing group of Canadians — who are also the most frequent voters — are continuously neglected.
Is it not time that seniors pensions be increased so that they are not $9,000 a year beneath our official poverty line when some 40% of seniors have no private pensions or RRSP’s? The reason for this sad state of affairs is the increasingly high taxes we pay. Canada has a whole, but Quebec particularly, are the highest taxed jurisdictions in the industrialized west always vying with France for first place. But in France seniors pensions equal 80% of the average of their last 30 working years. Our federal and provincial governments agree that $23,500 is the poverty line. The best that seniors can expect is $14,300 from BOTH levels of government. Canadians over sixty-five will soon be almost 30% of the population. They vote more regularly than any other demographic. If France can do justice to seniors can we in Canada not at least get pensions to one dollar above the poverty line?
Is it not time for all levels of government to demonstrate the same commitment they do to glossy projects like global conferences and lit bridges here at home for dignity and security for those who have built what we enjoy? We stand on their shoulders. Compassion and justice for them would be the most lasting legacy for any government. We have the money. It’s our priorities of spending that must change.
Our seniors’ social security programs are not giveaways like multicultural grants. They are a manifestation of our decency. And as President Franklin Roosevelt declared, they are “capitalism’s insurance.”
The freedom from fear of economic insecurity is one of the four freedoms set out in the 1930s. We determined as a society, that since each of us contributes in taxes to a system where none of us use all the programs we pay for, there is a social contract of shared wealth and shared help. That when it is the time for someone to receive help, they will get it. Not charity, but help, as a right to maintain the dignity of each human being in the autumn and winter of their lives.
So we suggest today that this is not only a time for personal reflection, but it is also a time for public reflection. Reflect for example that we have the means to bring all seniors in Montreal up to sustainable pensions of $23,500. We just need the will. We need not retreat into splendid isolation. But we do need to start making solutions to Canadians’ needs equal priorities in giving. Let us begin.