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Conservatives Were Prepared to “Drive Seniors into Poverty” by Cancelling GIS

Posted on February 14, 2011

Tory Minister backs down on plan to cancel payments to low-income seniors under “relentless attack” from Liberal MP

“Someone should give the Liberals a big bouquet when they force the government to change its cold heart. Under relentless attack from Newfoundland (Liberal) MP Gerry Byrne, the Conservatives backed down on a senior’s policy change which threatened to reduce or eliminate old age security benefits for any senior withdrawing their registered retirement income funds for emergency health care.”

Don Martin, National Post, Nov 26 2010

In November, the Globe and Mail revealed that the Harper Conservative government had secretly introduced a plan that could punish low-income seniors by cancelling their guaranteed income supplement this summer if they withdrew a lump sum from their RRIF – for a funeral or health care expenses – in 2010.

This is what it said:

“Low-income Canadian Seniors could be driven into poverty next summer when they find out Ottawa has cut their federal income support.

Some are poised to lose a key part of their monthly income because of a new policy approved by the federal government without public notice, according to internal guidelines obtained by The Globe and Mail. The rules change the way lump-sum withdrawals from Registered Retirement Income Funds affect Guaranteed Income Supplement payments.

Low-income seniors across the country will be affected if they withdraw more than the minimum allowed from their RRIF. If a senior with an income of $13,000 withdraws $5,000 for a one-off expenditure, whether to pay for an uninsured health treatment or a family member’s funeral, the new policy would treat his or her income for that year as $18,000. That would place them above the $15,815.99 threshold for receiving GIS payments.”

I want to make this clear – this is not a fearmongering prediction of what Stephen Harper and the Conservatives might do. This is what they delivered – as government policy. There was no public consultation. This is something that the Conservatives put in place secretly.

If it hadn’t been for Liberal MPs like Gerry Byrne, Seniors across Canada who had to withdraw lump sums of money for an emergency could have their GIS supplements cancelled. In some provinces, like Newfoundland and Labrador, the Seniors would have lost prescription drug coverage as well.

How do you explain a policy like this?

Either way, it’s not good.

One possibility is that you have a Conservative government so fixed on cutting programs that it is willing to balance the budget on the backs of low-income seniors.

If that’s not the case, the other scenario isn’t much better: you have a government where the people at the top are asleep at the switch, and are so out of touch they can drive thousands of seniors into poverty – by accident.

IN CONTRAST: The Liberal Family Care Plan

In contrast to the cold-hearted incompetence offered up by the Conservatives, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff has proposed a “Family Care Plan,” an initiative that would allow caregivers to take time off work in order to care for relatives.

The plan would invest $1-billion a year to help reduce the economic pressure on hundreds of thousands of Canadian families struggling balance caring for sick family members with earning a living.
The Family Care Plan will introduce:

  • A new six-month Family Care Employment Insurance Benefit, similar to the EI parental leave benefit, to allow more Canadians to care for gravely ill family members at home without having to quit their jobs.
  • A new Family Care Tax Benefit, modeled on the Child Tax Benefit, to help low- and middle-income family caregivers who provide essential care to a family member at home.

Rarely has the vision of two political leaders been in such sharp contrast when it comes to Canadian families.

E-mail: Anita Neville, MP Winnipeg South Centre