[Marxism] Canadian public looks set to fight Harper pension cuts

Marv Gandall marvgand at gmail.com
Sat Mar 17 08:37:26 MDT 2012


Canadians expect bad news in budget 
Voters braced for spending cuts, but if PM moves on pensions, 'it's going to get nasty,' pollster says 
By Mark Kennedy 
Ottawa Citizen
March 17, 2012

Canadians are bracing for a bad news budget from the Conservative government and are firmly opposed to the Tories' plan to slash the public pension system for future senior citizens, a new poll has found.

The national survey by Ipsos Reid, conducted for Postmedia News and Global TV, suggests that while Canadians are ready for a March 29 austerity budget that slashes government spending to reduce the deficit, the public has not yet accepted Prime Minister Stephen Harper's argument for why the pension system needs to be cut.

The poll found that 49 per cent of Canadians are preparing for a "bad news" budget from Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and that 57 per cent do not "trust" Harper and the Conservatives to make the "right choices" to ensure the budget is "fair and reasonable."

As well, more than two thirds of Canadians oppose the view that the country needs to "sacrifice" pensions to keep taxes down or increase the retirement age to control rising pension system costs.

"If he moves on pensions, it's going to get nasty," Ipsos Reid president Darrell Bricker said in an interview Friday.

Bricker said it's clear the government has "conditioned" the public for a tough budget and that Canadians won't be expecting tax cuts or a message of "sunshine and celebration" from Flaherty.

But it has failed to prepare the public for the political time bomb - on pension cutbacks - that seems ready to explode.

"To the extent that there is going to be a controversial and difficult part of this budget that could get the government in some real difficulty, it would be around this issue. It's because they have not made the case," Bricker said. "It's the one that could really blow up."

The issue was unexpectedly catapulted to the top of the country's political agenda in January when Harper announced in a speech in Davos, Switzerland, that the future costs of the pension system would be scaled back to keep it affordable. Without such action, he warned, the future pension system would not be sustainable.

Since then, the government has offered few details, beyond Harper confirming in an interview with Postmedia News that the government was considering increasing the eligibility age for Old Age Security (OAS), which provides benefits for people once they turn 65. The government's plans will be revealed in the budget, and it's expected the OAS eligibility will be increased gradually to 67.

Harper and Flaherty have pledged repeatedly that the cutbacks won't affect today's seniors or those approaching retirement. Flaherty even suggested the cutbacks would not begin to occur until 2020 or 2025, although his officials later insisted the minister was not pinpointing when the changes would take place.

Still, the poll shows Canadians have not been persuaded by Harper.

Bricker said the government risks awakening a sleeping giant among the Canadian electorate, which could turn against the Tories.

"Any time that you see 70 per cent of the population standing up and taking a contrary position to what the government has taken, that's even below their core (vote).

"There's a lot of people out there that are made very nervous by this conversation about pensions, they don't understand what the problem is. And if they don't understand the problem, it's difficult to accept this as a solution," he said.

"The government hasn't found their message or their voice in this debate yet."

Harper has said the country's aging population has become a backdrop for his concern about how to keep the country strong over the long term.

"If not addressed promptly, this has the capacity to undermine Canada's economic position and, for that matter, that of all western nations well beyond the current economic crises," the prime minister said in Davos.

Indeed, Harper said the country's demographics - an aging population and a dwindling workforce - constitute "a threat to the social programs and services that Canadians cherish."

Opposition parties say Harper has created a "manufactured crisis" about the future sustainability of pensions. The government says the cost of the OAS, without reforms, will soar to $108 billion in 2030 from $36.5 billion in 2010.

But critics say that, in fact, when viewed as a ratio of Canada's GDP, the increase in pension costs won't be so stark.

The telephone poll of 1,012 adults occurred Feb. 13-20. It has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

70% of Canadians disagree with the statement that 'social programs, seniors' pensions, and other benefits in Canada are more generous than we can afford to pay for.'

70% also disagree with the statement 'we need to keep taxes down, even if it means we have to sacrifice in terms of seniors' pensions and other social benefits.'

68% of respondents disagree with the statement that 'given the financial pressures on Canada's public pension system, it is necessary to increase the retirement age from 65 to 67.'

60% of those polled believe Canada should 'cut back significantly on its military spending.'

58% believe, if given a choice between two options, that the government should focus on spending less to tackle to the deficit. (The second option, that the government should spend more to stimulate the economy, found favour with 42 per cent of respondents.)



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