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Fact check: Harper claims new tax credit will help 'Canada's most vulnerable seniors'

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The claim: Stephen Harper says his new single seniors tax credit is an "affordable and fair commitment that targets Canada's most vulnerable seniors." Is this true?

Stephen Harper announced that if re-elected, his government would give seniors who are single, widowed or divorced an extra $300 per year through the expansion of the Pension Income Credit. This tax credit currently gives married seniors up to $2000 in income that can be sheltered from tax, which equals up to $600 per couple. The Pension Income Credit currently costs $1.1 billion.

None of the money that can be used to access the tax credit can come from the Canadian Pension Plan (CPP) or Old Age Securiity (OAS) payments. Seniors must have an additional source of private pension money to be able to get the extra money.

In 2008, average income for men, aged 65 and older, was $38,100. Women earn just 65 per cent of that: $24,000.

David MacDonald, economist for the CCPA, says that in order for single seniors to benefit from the extended tax credit, they would have to have had an average income of $42,000 in 2010. "This is certainly not going to help the most vulnerable seniors," he said, and added that 3 million seniors have no private pension and will receive nothing. They represent a little under half of all seniors in Canada.

Harper's record for helping seniors has been dismal. Under his leadership, the retirement age was raised from 65 years to 67 and the Canada Health Accord was not renewed. The Conservatives voted against a national dementia strategy. They also refused to open the market to generic pharmaceutical drugs, increasing costs for Canadians to up to $1.6 billion per year.

More and more seniors are living in poverty. And, as provinces seek to balance budgets by cutting healthcare to the bone, user fees are often introduced to pay for services. Like in British Columbia, where some old age homes have announced a new $300 fee for residents to pay if they need to use a wheelchair. Or, ambulance fees, where one trip to the hospital could wipe out any benefit that a senior might gain from such a tax credit. 

$300 doesn't go very far. It can mean an additional six hours of seeing a nurse in your home, or 15 hours of care from a personal service worker.

This tax credit will help some seniors. But if Harper actually cares about helping the most vulnerable, spending nearly $400 million annually to help middle-income seniors is probably not the wisest use of money. 



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