Don’t touch re­tire­ment ben­e­fit el­i­gi­bil­ity

The Hamilton Spectator - - OPINION - Howard El­liott

Are we about to see an­other Trudeau gov­ern­ment re­ver­sal with re­tire­ment ben­e­fit el­i­gi­bil­ity mov­ing later? How about a na­tional day­care pro­gram struc­tured some­what like the one in Que­bec? Will the pre-tax in­come of av­er­age Cana­dian house­holds in­crease by $15,000 over the next few years?

These are some of the sug­ges­tions, rec­om­men­da­tions and goals put for­ward by the gov­ern­ment’s hand­picked coun­cil of ex­perts on how to en­cour­age eco­nomic growth. They’re cre­at­ing a buzz, be­cause this coun­cil was hand-picked by Fi­nance Min­is­ter Bill Morneau to ad­vise the gov­ern­ment on how to boost long-term growth. And some of the last set of rec­om­men­da­tions ended up in the gov­ern­ment’s first bud­get, which leads some to spec­u­late the same will hap­pen this time around.

These are some smart folks, no doubt. Some of their ideas make sense. Like ex­pand­ing trade with ma­jor part­ners in­clud­ing China, Ja­pan, India, Mex­ico and the U.S. The coun­cil wants fewer reg­u­la­tory hur­dles in sec­tors like agri­cul­ture and food. It wants the gov­ern­ment to in­vest in a “Fu­tureSkills Lab” that would de­velop a new ap­proach to skills train­ing. (Fair enough, but we don’t have enough skills train­ing op­tions as it is, so let’s have more of what ex­ists now for more im­me­di­ate ben­e­fit.)

The coun­cil wants the gov­ern­ment to come up with ways to in­crease labour-force par­tic­i­pa­tion from lower-in­come earn­ers, in­dige­nous peo­ple, women with kids and older peo­ple. Hence the push to raise the age of re­tire­ment el­i­gi­bil­ity. Here’s where we part com­pany. On child care: Yes, im­prove­ments are needed to im­prove eq­ui­table and af­ford­able ac­cess. But a full­blown na­tional pro­gram? First, the gov­ern­ment cam­paigned against an NDP plat­form that fea­tured that as a cen­tral plank. How would it ex­plain re­vers­ing that? A na­tional pro­gram at this time is too am­bi­tious. Mod­est steps are more af­ford­able and prag­matic.

And rais­ing the age at which Cana­di­ans qual­ify for re­tire­ment ben­e­fits? That’s a big no. The Con­ser­va­tives did ex­actly that, and in a high-handed man­ner with­out con­sul­ta­tion. Trudeau cam­paigned on rolling back that change. It’s not on for the gov­ern­ment to turn its back on an­other elec­tion pledge.

Where would that leave young work­ers, who al­ready suf­fer with a much higher un­em­ploy­ment rate than older work­ers, and who also labour in more pre­car­i­ous jobs, with­out ben­e­fits, with lower pay, no paid va­ca­tions and gen­eral in­sta­bil­ity?

That’s where the gov­ern­ment should fo­cus its in­vest­ment and ef­forts, not in try­ing to black­mail more older work­ers to keep work­ing be­yond age 65 just to qual­ify for al­ready in­ad­e­quate re­tire­ment ben­e­fits. That’s not on.

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