Monday, January 30, 2012

Harper to Cut Social Programs. Is Austerity the Answer? Not Bloomin' Likely

Once again, seniors are being touted as the villains in the political story. If this was a murder mystery plot, I'd say it was way too trite. I have news for the Conservatives (and the Republicans). Older people are very unlikely to quietly agree to anything that diminishes government benefits. The ruling party would do well to remember that a larger proportion of seniors vote than any other segment of the population.

Are Canadian seniors doing well financially? Between the 1990's and the 2000's the rate of poverty among seniors rose according to the Conference Board of Canada and, it continues to rise. Older single women form the largest group of poor seniors. We should not find that acceptable. At the same time, many work places are eliminating defined benefit pension plans and opting for defined contribution plans, or in many cases no pension plan at all. Oh happiness for companies, but not for their employees.

I hear someone muttering, you need to save and put money in RRSP's. I reply, it's good to remember that not everyone makes a wage that provides them with enough money left over to save significant amounts and furthermore, one crisis; for example, being out of work for more than a few months can wipe out the savings of a low-wage earner in less than a trice.

So is the answer to work longer and retire later? That may be a part of the answer. However; it is not easy to find work if you lose your job when you are over 50, or even worse, between 60 and 65. If you do find work, it will likely pay less and be less reliable. We have not yet reached the point where there are way too many jobs and too few people to fill them (except for a few trades and occupations). That is one among many reasons for maintaining and enhancing the Guaranteed Income Supplement for low income seniors. By the way, low income seniors are consumers too. We buy things, not as many things as before but we do spend and that also puts money into the economy. That brings me to my next question.

What is the role of the federal government? If Mr. Harper has his way, the primary role always will be to support business the most. Damn the torpedoes (and the environmentalists too) and full speed ahead says Captain Queeg. Social programs and health care are drag on the economy and cost too much. We will cut costs by slashing in those areas first. Look, look, we have oil and gas, and water too. Don't worry we'll get rid of pesky regulations. And we'll cut costs. Forget Toys are Us - that was last year when we wanted planes and military toys. Our new slogan will be Austerity is Us. Plus, low low low corporate tax rates and lots of business loans.

If the austerity budget cuts are deep and sharp, is that the right thing to do now? I think that as the world works it's way into another major recession/depression, more austerity is not the answer. Governments that can spend, should spend major amounts on infrastructure . (Note that Mr. Harper has repeatedly said that we are in better shape than other first world countries) This would increase employment and boost the economy. When times improve, and they would, then governments can pay down debt.

A footnote of sorts. Once upon a time, actually, it wasn't all that long ago, many Canadians worried about Western Alienation. We kept hearing, The West wants in. Well, news flash, Eastern Alienation is rising and my Canada which does include Quebec, is not in favour of an American style government - for the rich, by the rich. The social contract is at the heart of Canadian identity. At least I think it is.

What do you think?


Lori Hahnel said...

I think that Harper has finally succeeded in uniting Canadians. He's alienating all of us -- the West, the East, the North and the South. Hear, hear!

Anonymous said...

I don't know why so many Conservatives think a person can raise children, care for parents, put money aside for their retirement--all at minimum or low wage, no pension jobs! But they obviously must, because that is the answer you will hear time and time again. Or they might say you should get two jobs (like raising children and caring for parents doesn't count, somehow)

Susan Barclay said...

Hi Diane -

I've awarded you the "Liebster". Check it out and follow the instructions at

If you're not going to participate, please leave me a note, so I can offer the award to an alternate blogger (though you definitely deserve the recognition)!