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Candidates' Corner: pensions

Dick Tansey has a beef with pensions. Canada has three pension programs for seniors, notes Tansey, the chair of Seniors United Now in St.

Dick Tansey has a beef with pensions.

Canada has three pension programs for seniors, notes Tansey, the chair of Seniors United Now in St. Albert and this week's questioner: Old Age Security, the Guaranteed Income Supplement (given based on income), and the Canadian Pension Plan (CPP).

A couple that earns more than about $20,000 a year doesn't qualify for the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS), Tansey notes. That's below the poverty level, he says, which means few people benefit from it.

His first question for Westlock-St. Paul candidates: "What would they do if they were elected, about increasing the [income] threshold for the Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors?"

His second was on pension reform. "Would you be willing to work towards increasing the Old Age Security and CPP benefits to seniors, and how would you do that?"

Liberal response

None of the parties have proposed changes to income thresholds for the GIS next year, the Gazette found. The Conservatives have proposed a $300-million top-up fund to give the poorest of GIS recipients more money (up to $600 for a senior and $840 for couples). The Liberals and NDP have proposed similar funds worth $700 million.

The GIS is meant for the poorest of the poor, says Liberal candidate Rob Fox — the people who can barely afford to eat. His party's proposal is meant to lift those below the poverty line above it, not to shift the line itself. "It should bring most seniors out of poverty." Money for the fund would come through increased corporate tax rates.

This alone won't solve Canada's pension problems, Fox says. "Seventy-five per cent of people do not have any kind of retirement [plan] to begin with," he says, referring to the percentage of Canadians who do not have registered pension plans.

The Liberals would support a gradual rise in CPP benefits over time, Fox says, and let Canadians contribute up to 10 per cent of their income to a second, voluntary national pension program backed by the CPP called the Secure Retirement Option. "This will allow people who can't afford an RRSP to contribute into something," he says, and should help them avoid the high management fees associated with private funds.

Conservative response

The Conservatives did change the income threshold to the GIS in 2008, notes Conservative candidate Brian Storseth — they raised the earnings exemption to $3,500 from $500, meaning more people qualified for it. "This is obviously something we agree with," he says.

"Since 2006, we've actually gotten $2.3 billion in additional targeted tax relief for seniors," he says. Next year's $300-million GIS top-up will give some 680,000 seniors up to $600 more a year.

The Conservatives are now meeting with the provinces to create a framework for Pooled Registered Pension Plans, Storseth says.

According to the Department of Finance, many small companies lack the expertise to manage their own pension plans. This framework, if approved, would let companies have banks manage and pool many of those plans at once, reducing management costs for employers and giving employees a pension. These plans would also be portable, meaning workers could switch jobs without fear of losing their pensions. This would be of great benefit to small businesses and the self-employed, Storseth notes.

Green response

Joining Candidate's Corner this week for the Green Party in Westlock-St. Paul is Lisa Grant, a 33-year-old stay-at-home mother in Morinville who ran for the Alberta Greens in the 2008 provincial election.

Grant says she's met a lot of residents who feel frustrated with the current election. "They don't want to vote Conservative, don't want to vote Liberal and don't want to vote NDP," she says, with many thinking about not voting altogether.

This is a pretty Conservative riding, Grant says, but she says she hopes she can offer voters an alternative. "It's really [about] providing a message to the other parties that the Green movement is growing."

In response to Tansey's question, she said the Greens would not change the income thresholds for the GIS, but would hike its value by about 25 per cent.

"The overall goal for seniors is to help improve their independence," she says. Her party proposes lumping the GIS, CPP and other pension plans in with Employment Insurance and welfare programs to create a single fund that would provide all Canadians with a guaranteed liveable income. Seniors would initially get about $5,000 a year on top of what they get from the provinces, she says, with more following as the government negotiates with the provinces.

"The current system has a lot of red tape and strings attached," Grant says. Giving all seniors a certain basic level of income would give them more choices as to how to manage their retirement.

NDP candidate Lyndsey Henderson did not reply to Tansey's question.

Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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