Special Guest Columnist - Jack Layton

Spring 2011 CSANews Issue 78  |  Posted date : May 06, 2011.Back to list

The retirement years are something to which we should all look forward. It's a time to spend with grandchildren, to take up hobbies we never had time for during our working years, or to see parts of the world of which we've only dreamed.

After years of contributing to the workforce, a secure retirement is something to which everyone should be entitled. Sadly, a growing number of Canadians are entering their retirement years with far less security than they'd imagined.

Today, many seniors are finding that our country's retirement system needs fixing. Most Canadians aren't able to save enough to cover basic retirement expenses, medication costs are climbing, and many are scrambling to find high-quality, affordable housing.

It doesn't have to be this way.

As leader of the New Democrats, we are working hard to create a more secure retirement for all Canadians - this generation and the next. Retirement savings are meant to provide a cushion in our senior years. But the majority of Canadians have no workplace pensions, and one in three will retire with no savings at all. Feeding an RRSP is difficult when you're struggling to make ends meet. It gets harder still to watch your retirement investment lose a distressing portion of its value when markets take a turn for the worse. We need to make our public-pension system stronger.

One part of our pension system that has never failed us is the Canada Pension Plan (CPP). But, at a maximum annual benefit of only $11,000, CPP is simply not enough to sustain a healthy retirement lifestyle. That's why New Democrats are proposing a phased-in doubling of maximum benefits to $22,000 per year. It's a practical step that builds on this solid foundation.

Next, let's help the quarter-of-a-million seniors who are living below the poverty line. We can do it immediately by injecting $700 million into the Guaranteed Income Supplement - which is part of Old Age Security (OAS). We can certainly afford it. In fact, it's almost the exact same amount that the banks will receive in tax cuts this year alone.

Another public program that has proven invaluable to Canadians is medicare. Like our pension system, we can make it stronger to serve our seniors better. In Parliament, we're working to protect our medicare system from privatization... so that user fees don't become part of your trip to the hospital.

However, it's not enough to simply protect medicare - we need to build on that foundation. When Tommy Douglas created medicare in the 60s, what was implemented was only the first of two phases he envisioned. Phase one was free, universal access to doctors and hospitals. But phase two included services that sustain good health, such as affordable prescription drugs, home care and long-term care.

We believe that people should be able to stay in their homes for as long as possible, with quality public home care such as Tommy envisioned in his second phase of medicare. We also want to make it easier to find accessible, affordable, long-term care spaces for seniors. Our goal is to secure safe, comfortable accommodation for seniors that costs less than 30 per cent of income.

For many seniors, keeping up with prescription medication costs can be a steep uphill battle. But it's a battle that we can win - and save Canadians money at the same time. By introducing a national pharmacare program, a single-buyer could negotiate lower drug prices, in effect saving us billions and reducing strain on the provinces' stretched health-care dollars.

Canada's public health-care system is at a tipping point - our current system has served us well, but it was built for a very different era. Today, we're living longer and, with the baby boom generation entering retirement, we can expect the percentage of Canadians over age 65 to double. We need a sensible plan to ensure that all Canadians can retire with dignity, financial security and access to the medical care which they need. Canada's New Democrats are working hard in Parliament to make sure that those foundations are solid so that this generation... and the next... an enjoy a healthy and fulfilling retirement.