Invest surplus in retirement benefits, labour says

Invest surplus in retirement benefits, labour says

‘It’s time we gave the country’s poorest seniors a raise’: CLC president.

Ottawa needs to invest some of next spring’s budget surplus in higher benefits for low-income retirees, the Canadian Labour Congress says.

“It’s time we gave the country’s poorest seniors a raise,” CLC president Hassan Yussuff told a CLC event in Toronto Wednesday.

An increase in the Guaranteed Income Supplement is just one of the planks in a broader campaign the labour group is launching in advance of next year’s federal election.

Instead of giving tax breaks to the richest Canadians through income-splitting schemes, Ottawa needs to address the looming retirement income crisis, Yussuff said.

The Congress also wants Ottawa to double the value of future Canada Pension Plan benefits, in part to offset the decline in employer-sponsored plans and the shift to less secure retirement schemes.

The group is urging its 3.3 million members to call on their local MPs, sign petitions and use social and local media to make it a federal election issue, particularly in the Greater Toronto Area.

“Clearly this has to be a ballot box issue in the next election,” Yussuff said. “We’re headed for a financial crisis for seniors in this country.”

Many members of Stephen Harper’s governing Conservative party, including federal finance minister Joe Oliver, were elected in Greater Toronto Area ridings, Yussuff noted. “We’ve got to hold their feet to the fire,” he said.

The average retiree in Toronto receives just $1,595 a month from federal retirement programs, including the CPP, the congress said. That’s barely enough to cover the rent on a one-bedroom apartment, plus food, transportation and phone service.

Low-income seniors can’t afford TTC tickets, fresh produce or other basics of life, said Helen Liu, who worked for 20 years in the hotel industry in Toronto after emigrating from China.

“We count every penny. We walk everywhere. Some seniors go to food banks,” Liu told the 80 seasoned union organizers attending the gathering in the United Steelworkers hall in Toronto.

The labour meeting took place on the same day the federal finance minister issued his fall fiscal update saying next year’s budget surplus would be smaller than expected due to recently announced tax cuts and the impact of falling oil prices on tax revenues.

Ottawa now expects to run a $2.9 billion deficit this fiscal year, which ends March 31, 2015, and a $1.9 billion surplus next fiscal year, down from a previously forecast $6 billion surplus, Oliver said in a speech in Toronto.

The surplus will be the first since the financial crisis of 2008.

Recently announced tax cuts will allow families with children to lower their overall tax bill through income-splitting, which will cost federal coffers $2.4 billion, Oliver noted. Critics say the measure will mainly benefit higher income earners.

The government has also given small businesses a break on employment premiums.

Improving the CPP will take some time to implement and benefit mainly younger workers, who face an uncertain future in a world as fewer employers offer pension benefits, the labour congress says.

The increase could be phased in over a seven-year period, with both employers and employees seeing their contributions to the CPP rise from the current 4.95 per cent of pay to 7.4 per cent, the labour meeting heard.

But Ottawa could immediately improve the conditions of Canada’s poorest seniors by boosting the GIS benefits in next year’s budget, the congress said.

The labour group didn’t specify how much of a hike is needed. It had previously called for a 15 per cent increase, which would have cost Ottawa $700 million. The maximum GIS benefit is $764.40 a month for a single person.

The federal and provincial finance ministers agreed at a 2010 conference in Charlottetown to enhance CPP benefits.

But Ottawa has repeatedly delayed the implementation, saying the economy is still recovering from the recession of 2008.

Banks, insurance and other financial companies don’t want an enhanced CPP, the labour congress said, because it will take a chunk out of the market for RRSPs and other private savings plans, which are highly profitable for the companies that offer them.

Radical resthomes: Old people should live everywhere

Part of a CBC Sunday Edition exploration of alternative living arrangements

By David Gutnick, CBC News Posted: Nov 02, 2014 5:00 AM ET Last Updated: Nov 02, 2014 5:10 AM ET

How do we want to live as we grow old and need more care? Janet Torge thinks it's time for a discussion about alternatives.

How do we want to live as we grow old and need more care? Janet Torge thinks it’s time for a discussion about alternatives. (Canadian Press)

Radical Resthomes 17:23

(Note: CBC does not endorse and is not responsible for the content of external links.)

It sounds like a bit of an oxymoron: Radical Resthomes.

But that’s the idea that Janet Torge and her website have been expounding. Radically different from the stereotype.

Aren’t seniors’ residences boring places for bingo, movie afternoons and white bread sandwiches with the crusts cut off? Or worse, prisons for the incarcerated elderly?

Not in Torge’s world. For 30 years she has been imagining and re-imagining a different way of growing old.

Then, a little while back, she heard a Sunday Edition documentary about the Baba Yaga’s House — a group of aging feminists in Paris who designed a vibrant community where they could grow old together. And that helped focus some of her ideas.

Torge, a freelance documentary film producer, lives in Montreal and wants to see similar experiments take hold in Canada, for men and women; alternatives to the profit-driven, regimented seniors’ residences popping up all over the country.

She has found hungry audiences, many of them women in their 50s, 60s and 70s wherever she goes.

“I am 67 years old,” she says. “I have no registered pension plan, I still work.”

Janet Torge

Montrealer Janet Torge wants us to start talking about new ways of living as we age. (Photo courtesy Janet Torge / CBC)

For Torge, money has always been tight and a couple of years ago she downsized from a 7 ½ room apartment.

She now lives on the first floor of a small duplex she bought with her son, who lives with his family on the second floor.

“It works perfectly for now,” says Torge. But she is not sure it’s going to last

“How will I pay my bills if I get sick and can’t work?” she asks. “Who is going to be my caretaker? Will I have to totally depend on my son and daughter in law?”

Women in the audience in this Ottawa backyard nod their heads in agreement.

‘Not getting it’

Torge has spoken to a number of groups over the last year about her ideas of alternative living arrangements for seniors.

She talks about the effect the growing number of seniors will have on families and on the economy.

Living arrangements

Finding the right architectural and interpersonal design — the right amount of togetherness or solitude — can be a life-long challenge.

Today, many people are experimenting with things like co-housing, tiny portable houses and with radical de-cluttering, not to mention off-the-grid hermitage.

This season, The Sunday Edition is paying special attention to people doing it a little differently.

And so if you know about an original kind of living arrangement — or have put together one yourself— please let us know about it by visiting our website, or emailing the program at:

If you’re really alternative, you can sit down and write a letter to The Sunday Edition, CBC Radio One, P.O. Box 500, Station A Toronto, M5W 1E6.

“There are a whole bunch of businesses that are trying to figure out how to make money off us,” she says. “Cars are being designed so we can get in and out of them. There are cool-looking walkers.”

But Torge says the housing industry has “really got it wrong.”

She recently attended a presentation by federal civil servants on the future of seniors’ housing, and left disappointed “because it is all about quantity of seniors and not about the quality of the lives that we want to live. They are not getting it.”

Torge says she often hears housing experts promoting institutional living, but says “I do not want to lose my decision-making about where I want to live.”

“When I look at what is an alternative,” says Torge, that means “to me you create the rules of your own living. You do not walk into somebody else’s rules.”

Torge says there are all kinds of alternatives to large institutions for seniors. She says there is no problem coming up with ideas, though some of them require having a bit of a nest egg to start things off.

In Montreal, Torge has started Radical Resthome discussion groups, and was surprised when people in their 40s and 50s showed up wanting to participate and start planning alternative living arrangements.

“When do we do this? This is the big question that everybody has,” she says. “I do know that it will happen after you have accepted that you have to downsize and before you get sick. Those are the only parameters I know. You will have to learn to share with others.”

Build a network

Torge’s vision is to build a Radical Resthomes network so that all those with real housing alternatives can share their experiences, resources and solutions to problems.

“We’re going to run up against some real challenges as we age, get ill and need help.

“If a housing project in Saskatoon has figured out how to deal with a housemate who is getting dementia, I want to know what they came up with. We have to help each other if we want to stay in control of our lives.”

Torge says that over time she has finally defined what makes a real “radical resthome.”

They are “run and managed by the people who live there,” she says. “Residents look after each other, and when help is needed resources come to you, you are not shipped out. And we die in our own beds, not in an institution.”

Torge says that years ago someone asked the urban planner Jane Jacobs where old people should live and she said “everywhere.” That’s also one of the parameters.

Seniors increasingly struggling with debt, bankruptcy,-bankruptcy/1

The Canadian Press
Published on October 31, 2014
Ottawa (CP) — A report prepared for the federal government says the country’s growing cohort of senior citizens is carrying more debt into retirement and increasingly declaring bankruptcy.
The need to support dependent adult children who are taking longer to find work contributes to the trend, says the report prepared for the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada.

The study by market research firm The Strategic Council says declining numbers of seniors are in registered pension plans.

There’s also evidence of growing income inequality among those 65 and older, it says.

As well, seniors are struggling with so-called financial literacy, experiencing difficulties staying on top of their financial affairs with advancing age.

The report recommends that financial literacy strategies should take into account ageism, the stigmatization of older people, health status and elder abuse.

Organizations: Financial Consumer Agency of Canada.The, Strategic Council