Cullen: cuts to seniors’ benefits could affect affordability of northern retirement

Stephen Harper’s move to balance the Conservative deficit by cutting future Old Age Security (OAS) benefits to seniors could hit northern and rural communities particularly hard, Skeena-Bulkley Valley Member of Parliament Nathan Cullen said today.

“The cost of health-related travel is a fact of life here in the North and is especially felt by older people who have that many more health concerns,” Cullen noted.  “Many seniors are living on tight budgets and an erosion of funds will make it unaffordable for some older people to live any distance from a major medical centre.”

Cullen pointed out that increasing numbers of older people are opting to stay in or move to northern communities for retirement.  Accessibility of health care is carefully weighed in these decisions and he worries changes to OAS benefits may make northern retirement a less desirable option.

“Many of our northern seniors want to retire where they have raised families and established lifelong friendships,” Cullen said.  “Taking money out of the pockets of our seniors will absolutely put many retirement options beyond the reach of many Canadians.”

Two weeks ago in Switzerland, Prime Minister Stephen Harper hinted at possible changes to OAS, including increasing the age of eligibility.  Harper backtracked on those comments last week in Parliament, but earlier this week his Conservative majority defeated an Opposition motion aimed at protecting seniors benefits.

“I’m in Fort McMurray today, a place where the oil industry is making enormous profit,” Cullen said.   “That profit is on the backs of seniors and everyday Canadians, thanks to the $1.3 billion in direct federal subsidies the Harper government has poured into oil and gas companies alone this year.

“If Stephen Harper wants to balance the budget, he should start by cutting these obscene subsidies — and leave Canadian seniors alone.”

The New Democrat Official Opposition today announced it is embarking on a cross-country tour to talk with people about changes to OAS planned by the Conservatives and promote practical options to ensure retirement security for all Canadians.