What do the Harper Conservatives have against seniors?

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You would think that they would love us as a group -- not for our grey hair, but for our votes. In elections, Conservative parties usually gain the plurality of votes from seniors. I make no claim for greater wisdom on the part of the elderly but I would note that we do vote with the highest participation rate of any age group.

Why then were the Harper Conservatives proposing to make it more difficult for some seniors to vote, in the misnamed Fair Elections Act? Before amendments were introduced, one feature of the act was to eliminate the provision for vouching. Elderly seniors whose health has led them to move out of their own home to live with family or in an assisted living facility in the year of an election are not likely to be able to prove their residence for the purpose of voting -- unless a family member is able to vouch for them. They are not going to have a driver's license with their address. Their health card, at least in Ontario, has a picture but no address. They will have no household bills in their name at the new address.

There are others who were affected by this provision, notably indigenous Canadians. Indeed there are other even worse features of this bill that many have decried. Especially troubling is the undermining of the role of Elections Canada. But in this column, I want to focus on the treatment of seniors, which would seem to defy not just common sense but also political sense.

A few years ago, the Conservatives decided that people should not retire at 65, and they are in the process of moving the age of eligibility for Old Age Security (OAS) and the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) to 67. They have increased the discount on the Canada Pension Plan if you take it before 65, as a means to keep people working longer. If you are an immigrant senior whose children brought you to Canada, you used to have to be in Canada 10 years to be eligible for OAS. In the last budget bill, they changed this to 20 years.

If you are a senior veteran, your regional service office may have been shut down. Those who dared to go to Ottawa to protest this discontinuation of service not only didn't get a solution, but the minister of veterans affairs went out of his way to insult them.

The Conservative push to reduce the role of government will affect many people. An important area is the gradual backing away from an active role in health care by the Conservative government, which will have a disproportionate effect on seniors.

Perhaps the Conservatives do not hate seniors, but do understand what they are doing to seniors who are not wealthy -- and see a benefit in having fewer of them vote. 

Retiree Matters is a monthly column written by members of the Congress of Union Retirees of Canada (CURC) that explores issues relevant to retirees, senior citizens, their families and their communities. CURC acts as an advocacy organization to ensure that the concerns of union retirees and senior citizens are heard throughout Canada.

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