Ageism creeping into Canadian dialogue

Dorothy Dobbie
Issues in the News

The National Pensioners Federation just released a response to the latest federal budget, citing the fact that Canadian seniors, now more numerous than kids under 15, were mentioned only 20 times in the budget as opposed to “women (276 mentions), children (79 mentions) and First Nations (181 mentions)”. Even veterans out-distanced seniors with 90 mentions.

While the Pensioners Federation went on to outline a number of deficiencies in dealing with the needs of low income seniors, the above statistics sharply illuminate a systemic attitude against elders by the youth-first approach of the Trudeau government.

This attitude is rubbing off on the younger population. Last week, I listened to CBC as a 37-year-old rambled on about how “baby boomers” had received more than their fair share of the country’s goodies throughout their lifetimes and that now it was time to claw back some of their “advantages”. Max Fawcett, Walrus and Globe and Mail freelancer writer, thinks baby boomers have had more than their fair share and should now give it back.

“It’s nothing personal – I don’t have anything against individual boomers… but I just think that it’s a generation that has hogged the limelight and taken up too much of the attention for too long, and frankly they had it easy,” Fawcett opined on The 180 with Jim Brown on March 19. Back then “… jobs were plentiful…,” he says. “…they bought houses when they were cheap…” “Unions were still real things…” Fawcett continues, “They’ve had a great run of luck and it’s time to turn up the tables to the rest of us.”

What a whine-y baby. Little does he know or seem to care (or was too lazy to do his homework), what growing up in those times was really like. The “plentiful jobs” are the ones people like him turn up their noses at today. Would he drop little metal bottoms in battery cases for $1.07 an hour, standing on a cement floor for eight hours with no hope of advancement? And those unions? Often to get a 10-cent-an-hour raise, they had to strike and then those “lucky” workers walked the picket line for weeks and sometimes months, wondering how to pay the rent and feed the kids – all so that Mr. Fawcett and his ilk wouldn’t need unions today.

How about those cheap houses? Not so cheap when the average wage for workers in 1972 was $162 a week, up from $89.87, the average in 1964, the year I was married. If we could just make $400 a month, we’d be rich, we thought then. It took many years to get to that point. But we did buy a house eventually in the 1980s – at a mortgage rate of 22 per cent (the former Trudeau era). After paying on that mortgage for 15 years, we had barely touched the principle. And although the rate eventually dropped, most of us had five-year fixed mortgages and paid the 22 per cent for the whole time. Nor did mortgage interest drop below 10 per cent until 1991 – 18 years later!

Nobody could afford two cars. Nobody had two television sets (many were lucky to have one, and these were black and white). Eating out was a really big deal.

Things picked up in the 1980s as wages began to rise, thanks to those unions and the people who had walked the picket line – a high tide, as they say, raises all boats. But by this time we were in the 37-year-old-plus range, having started working in our teens. Homes were needing new roofs, kids needed higher educations, appliances were wearing out – it was no cakewalk and many continued to live from pay cheque to pay cheque.

If you were lucky enough to work for government, you had a decent pension. In Manitoba, where one out of four people work for government, a large segment of the population is protected but the majority is not.

Even those who thought they were safe in higher paying jobs with apparently good pensions were often in for a shock when technology put their once blue-chip companies out of business and the pension plans fell apart.

Today, a large percentage of those “lucky” boomers are working into their 70s – some even longer. It’s not because they want to – it’s because they have to in order to live.

And they are productive – paying taxes to support the younger generation, including school taxes on their houses which are often falling into disrepair as the owners age and can’t afford the fix-ups needed. They not only work full time, they volunteer, adding billions of dollars of productivity to the economy.

So when you hear that the Trudeau government has axed the little transit bus subsidy that meant a lot to subsistence-level seniors, that the Liberals, much-lauded affordable housing strategy doesn’t really begin to kick in until a hoped-for second mandate (and that it isn’t directed at seniors anyway), that there is no national health care strategy for seniors, it’s hard to feel any confidence about our future.

Max Fawcett continues in my head, “…There are some things in the tax code that are a little bit conspicuous. They’re holdovers from a time – the seventies and eighties – when seniors really did suffer from disproportionately high levels of poverty. So there’s a tax credit in there that gives you a pretty sizeable tax break just for being over a certain age. That seems unreasonable to me – we should be means-testing…”

I guess he hasn’t seen the numbers that show the average monthly Canada Pension payment to seniors is $640 a month and that the OAS takes that up to about $1,100. The maximum a senior can take home after paying all his or her life is $1,442.62 per month, but most do not qualify for the maximum. And it’s taxable! If you do receive the maximum, the so-called “survivor’s benefit” in the case of the death of a spouse is clawed back almost completely. Women are in the worst fix and many are struggling to make ends meet.

Our baby-faced prime minister has never confronted any of the above challenges. His idea of what today’s seniors need is very coloured by his own experience. He attributes the golden-spoon life of his mother to the rest of society, little understanding that the Trudeaus represent the minority. While Margaret was rollicking with the Rolling Stones, the rest of us were struggling to keep our jobs, pay our rent and feed our kids.

As for Max Fawcett, he should check his facts before spouting about the “privileged” senior class. He may come to understand that the wonderful, affluent world he lives in today is a direct result of the hard work and determination of his parents and their generation.

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