By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - 0 Comments
The Scene. What does it mean to act? What is change? What does one do when one takes something and makes it somehow smaller? How should one describe such action?
For all the regular moaning about the rote thuggery of partisanship, this place is periodically like an undergraduate philosophy class. Or at least a game of charades played by men in suits.
“The Auditor General has just revealed that last spring Conservatives hid the cost of their cuts to Old Age Security pensions. According to the AG, the Department of Finance had in fact internally, and I quote: ‘Estimated the gross of net savings of raising the OAS eligibility age,’ ” Thomas Mulcair posited this afternoon. “The NDP had asked time and again but the Conservatives refused to give an answer. Why did the Prime Minister try to hide this $10 billion cut from Canadian seniors?”
“Woah!” called a voice from the opposition side at this apparent revelation.
The news here though is not entirely new. At least to loyal readers of this space.
On May 18 of this year, the Finance Department disclosed that the cost of Old Age Security for the Government of Canada through 2030 was now projected to be $10.8 billion less than it would have been if the Harper government hadn’t changed the eligibility age. Ten days after that, the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions acknowledged that the Office of the Chief Actuary had provided that estimate to the department of Human Resources and Skills Development before the Finance Minister tabled his budget on March 29.
The problem then was the same as it is now: despite seeming to know what changes to OAS would do, the Harper government seemed not particularly eager to be forthcoming. On May 15, Jim Flaherty told reporters that he’d heard the savings could be something like $10 billion or $12 billion. But a day later, when asked for whence those numbers had been heard, the Finance Minister said he’d heard as much from the media. Two days later, as noted above, Mr. Flaherty’s department acknowledged that the number it had was something like the number the Finance Minister had heard.
And the issue then was perhaps the same as it was today: in asking about the matter, opposition MPs had failed to use the proper combination of words. Continue…
By Peter Nowak - Tuesday, June 12, 2012 at 1:30 PM - 0 Comments
As someone who is deeply intrigued by the prospect of an Apple-produced television set, I was somewhat disappointed by Monday’s kickoff to the company’s annual Worldwide Developer Conference. That’s not to say, however, that a ton of interesting stuff didn’t come out of chief executive Tim Cook’s keynote.
The most important news, I thought, was the official unveiling of Apple’s own Maps app for iOS devices. The new app will be included in the iOS 6 update when it becomes available this fall. It’s not yet clear how good the app is or whether it will completely supplant the existing Google Maps used on iPhones, iPads and iPods, but it’s pretty clear Apple is looking to cut the final strings tying it to its former ally.
As I wrote in an analysis piece for The Globe and Mail, that’s a good move now that the companies are bitter smartphone and tablet enemies. Creating its own core Maps function will allow developers to better integrate their apps with Apple products, which will only increase their reasons to keep creating for Apple as opposed to other smartphone vendors.
Siri was also a big star of the day, with the voice assistant soon expanding onto the iPad, into other countries – including full Canadian functionality – and even into cars. The growing trend of computing control beyond the mouse and keyboard was the subject of another analytical piece I penned for the CBC.
One other observation I’d make is that the new computer operating system, Mountain Lion, and respective mobile software – iOS 6 – may be the last two independent OSes we see from Apple. Many of Mountain Lion’s new functions, including swipe controls but also notifications and alerts, seem borrowed from iOS, to the point where Mac computers are increasingly looking like iPads.
Apple also announced cross-platform support between Macs and iOS devices. In other words, you can play a video game on your iPad, but your opponent may actually be playing on a Mac. It doesn’t matter because it’s the same experience.
This merging makes all sorts of sense since it makes it easier on app developers. If they only have to create software once and then it works on all of Apple’s devices, that’s obviously much better than having to do it twice. It’s the same idea Microsoft is working toward with Windows 8, which looks like it could provide the same experience on computers, tablets and phones. The benefits to end users are also obvious – not only will documents look the same regardless of device, so too will games and other content.
The previous Mac OS, Lion, was released last July, while iOS 5 came out in October. Could the next release of both operating systems be combined next year into one unified beast? There are a lot of people who hope so.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, May 28, 2012 at 1:02 PM - 0 Comments
On the Friday before the long weekend, the Harper government finally disclosed—three weeks after the opposition first asked for the figure—how much the proposed changes to Old Age Security were expected to save. As the CBC’s Laura Payton noted at the time, that estimate of $10.8 billion matched what a CBC reporter had been told on budget day.
The government’s figure is drawn from a preliminary estimate provided by the Office of the Chief Actuary. The Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions tells me today that ”the Office of the Chief Actuary provided preliminary estimates to [Human Resources and Skills Development] officials before the Tabling of the Budget.”
The budget, of course, was tabled on March 29.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, May 18, 2012 at 4:25 PM - 0 Comments
In a note received just now, an official with the Finance Department explains how much will be saved by changing the age of eligibility for Old Age Security.
By law, the minister of HRSD has to request a new actuarial report whenever the OAS program is modified. That report will quantify the cost of the program with the increased age eligibility and will be released some time after the new OAS eligibility becomes law. However, the Office of the Chief Actuary has provided preliminary estimate that the Government of Canada would spend $97.9 billion in 2030 on OAS, if these changes are implemented. The government would have spent $108.7 billion if the changes were not implemented. To better inform the discussion, and ensure proper focus on the substance of what and why OAS is being changed, the Government has agreed to release this information.
That means savings of $10.8 billion.
The opposition first asked for this projection three weeks ago. Thomas Mulcair asked the Prime Minister to The Finance Minister allowed this week that he’d heard projections of $10 billion and $12 billion, but he then dismissed those as figures he’d heard from the media.
Laura Payton notes that this matches an estimate that a finance official had provided to a CBC reporter, six weeks ago when the budget was released.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, May 18, 2012 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
While the projected savings from raising the age of eligibility remain unexplained, the Parliamentary Budget Officer again says Old Age Security is currently sustainable and the Harper government is refusing to disclose a 2007 draft report into the policy implications of demographic changes.
In his March 20, 2007 budget, Flaherty promised to release a report later that year that would “provide a broad analysis of current and future demographic changes and the implication of these changes for Canada’s long-run economic and fiscal outlook.” … However, Flaherty did not release the report when he issued his fiscal and economic update on Oct. 30, 2007. Since then, it has never been clear what happened to the report.
Earlier this year, Postmedia News requested a copy of a draft or final version of the report. The department said it has three documents, totalling 211 pages, in its files. But the department refused to release them, citing sections in the Access to Information Act which allow the government to deny public release of information involving “advice or recommendations” to a minister, and materials involving cabinet confidences which are excluded from disclosure under the Act.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, May 16, 2012 at 1:09 PM - 0 Comments
Appearing before the finance committee yesterday, the Finance Minister attempted to clarify what he’d “heard” about the savings created by changing the age of eligibility for Old Age Security.
Peggy Nash: The information for Canadians to be able to have this debate about these major changes is not available to people. You, yourself, yesterday said that you speculated the changes to OAS would mean a change of about $10 billion to $12 billion that seniors would not get. That’s what the savings would be.
Jim Flaherty: No, no, that’s not what I said. There was speculation—
Peggy Nash: You said that’s what the change would mean.
Jim Flaherty: There was speculation about those numbers by the media.
Peggy Nash: What are the numbers, then?
Jim Flaherty: In fact, there are no cuts to OAS in the budget, period.
Peggy Nash: What was the $10 billion to $12 billion?
Jim Flaherty: The media was speculating about later on, would there be any savings? As I told them, there are no cuts to OAS in the budget.
Peggy Nash: You said you had heard the $10 billion to $12 billion figure. What was that figure?
Jim Flaherty: I heard it from the media. That’s the figure they were using. They asked me about it.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, May 15, 2012 at 8:30 AM - 0 Comments
On April 24, Peggy Nash asked Human Resources Minister Diane Finley how much money the government expected to be saved by raising the eligibility age for Old Age Security to 67. The minister did not answer the question. Ms. Nash asked again. Ms. Finley again failed to answer the question.
On May 1, Scott Brison demanded to know how much would be saved. Ms. Finley avoided the question. On May 10, Thomas Mulcair put the question to the Prime Minister. Mr. Harper dodged. Yesterday afternoon, Ms. Nash again asked Ms. Finley. Ms. Finley again failed to offer an estimate.
But outside the House yesterday, Jim Flaherty said he’d “heard” a couple numbers.
Speaking to reporters after question period, Flaherty allowed that he has heard an estimate of $10 billion. ”I’ve heard that number, I’ve heard $12 billion also. Something in that area,” he said.
So is that the answer Ms. Nash, Mr. Brison and Mr. Mulcair were looking for? Maybe. Or maybe not.
Flaherty’s officials also refused to provide the estimate at a briefing to parliamentarians at the end of April, although they did give it to reporters covering the federal budget on March 29.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, April 25, 2012 at 11:01 AM - 0 Comments
Peggy Nash tries to reengage the Old Age Security debate.
Mr. Speaker, scandals are unacceptable to the NDP, just as they should be to the Conservatives. Changes to old age security are also unacceptable. Even though the Conservatives never talked about pension reform during the election campaign, they are now proposing to raise the eligibility age to 67. The Minister of Finance says that this will save money, but he does not specify how much. The question is simple: how much money will they save?
Human Resources Minister Diane Finley offered that “this is not about the how much money will be saved, but about long-term sustainability.”
The House of Commons will spend Thursday debating an NDP motion calling on the House to “reject” the government’s plan to raise the eligibility age for OAS and the Guaranteed Income Supplement to 67.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, April 16, 2012 at 10:30 AM - 0 Comments
“There is increasing doubt about whether we are taking the best approach to doing that, but nobody thinks these transnational networks are good guys, or that changing the law is somehow going to make them good people,” Harper told reporters at a news conference following the close of the Summit of the Americas. ”I think what everyone believes and agrees with, and to be frank myself, is that the current approach is not working, but it is not clear what we should do.”
At the same time, he seems to reject decriminalization or legalization.
“There is a willingness to look at the various measures that can be taken to combat that phenomenon, but just in terms of simple answers like legalization or criminalization, let me remind you of why these drugs are illegal. They’re illegal because they quickly and totally, with many of the drugs, destroy people’s lives and people are willing to make lots of money out of selling those products …,” said Harper.
In his response to the issue, Barack Obama ruled out legalization.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, April 9, 2012 at 4:38 PM - 0 Comments
The Cuban dictator has a few things he would like to say in reference to Canada.
The guayabera shirts to be worn by Obama in Cartagena has become one of the main issues covered by the news agencies: “Edgar Gomez [...] has designed one for the U.S. President, Barack Obama, who will be wearing it during the Summit of the Americas,” said the daughter of the designer, who added: “It is a white, sober guayabera, with a handiwork that is more striking that usual…”
Immediately after that, the news agency added that the Caribbean shirt was first made by the banks of the Yayabo River in Cuba; that is why they were originally called yayaberas. The curious thing about this, dear readers, is that Cuba has been forbidden to attend that meeting, but not the guayaberas. Who could hold back from laughing? We must hurry up and tell Harper.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, March 29, 2012 at 6:34 PM - 0 Comments
The NDP is displeased.
“Stephen Harper promised jobs and growth, but delivered reckless cuts. There’s nothing on jobs, nothing on inequality and nothing to strengthen our front-line health services. ” Mulcair said. “Mr. Harper is once again looking out for his friends, while he ignores growing inequality.”
The Liberals are unimpressed.
“After Canada experienced zero job growth during the last six months, we expected this budget to have one focus – jobs,” said Liberal Leader Bob Rae. “Unfortunately, this budget has no real measures to grow jobs, and address youth unemployment and Canada’s skills shortage. Moreover, it will worsen income inequality by increasing the qualifying age for the Old Age Security from 65 to 67, and by failing to make tax credits refundable for family caregivers, volunteer firefighters, children’s activities and the disability tax credit.”
By Jonathan Chevreau - Thursday, March 29, 2012 at 5:27 PM - 0 Comments
While the pre-budget hype was that Canadian baby boomers were going to have to delay their retirement after Thursday’s federal budget was unveiled, their Findependence Day has not been severely postponed for anyone who is now 54 years old or older as of March 31, 2012.
As expected, the Old Age Security eligibility age will rise gradually from the current 65 to 67 but this doesn’t start to happen until 2023, according to the just-released budget. When you add the 11-year notification of this change to the six-year phase-in between 2023 and 2029, I’d agree with Finance Minister Jim Flaherty that Canadians [or their financial planners] have “ample time to make adjustments to their retirement plans.”
For younger people born on or after Feb. 1, 1962, OAS eligibility will be age 67. Technically, boomers were born between 1946 and 1964 but in my view, if you were born between 1962 and 1964, you likely didn’t grieve over the JFK assassination and can hardly be considered a true baby boomer.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, March 27, 2012 at 5:57 PM - 0 Comments
The Scene. On the second question of his second day, the new leader of the opposition seemed to find the right key of indignation.
“Mr. Speaker, if the Conservatives are so confident that the F-35s meet the operational requirements, they should be willing to table the full list in the House today,” he ventured. “Even when they are rigging the process, they cannot get a plane that meets Canada’s needs. It is way over budget, and they do not even have any guarantee of proper industrial benefits for Canada, one of the leading aerospace countries in the world.”
The indictment thus read—and today Mr. Mulcair opted to use the House’s small, portable lecterns—the question was then tabled.
“When are the Conservatives going to show some basic competence with public money,” Mr. Mulcair wondered, “and have an open, transparent, public competition to replace the CF-18s?”
The New Democrat members felt strongly enough about this to stand and cheer. Standing in for the Prime Minister, Jason Kenney rose and offered a rambling, somewhat hesitant, series of sentences, a rhetorical smorgasbord of the government’s finest charges and assurances. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, February 22, 2012 at 10:30 AM - 0 Comments
Here is the final third of the prepared text for her remarks, with all the usual caveats about checking against delivery (a full video of the speech hasn’t yet appeared online). Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, February 13, 2012 at 5:43 PM - 0 Comments
The Scene. Peter Julian, head nodding and bobbing for emphasis, began with a harangue for the government’s F-35 fixation. Heritage Minister James Moore, today’s stand-in for the Prime Minister, enjoyed the opportunity to explain the difference between those who Support The Troops and those who do not.
This though was mere prelude to the matter of Old Age Security. “Everything is about choices and priorities, and the choice of F-35 is a bad choice,” Mr. Julian said by way of segue. “Another bad choice, of course, is the reduction of Old Age Security for Canadians.”
And this was mere prelude to Wayne Marston standing and reviewing, in his quiet, folksy way, the story so far. ”Mr. Speaker, first the Conservatives said that OAS was unsustainable and needed to be cut. On Friday, the Finance Minister said that changes to OAS would be delayed until 2020 or 2025. Then a government spokesperson said the finance minister is wrong,” Mr. Marston recounted.
This was merely the short version—leaving out both the Prime Minister’s triumphant speech in Davos at the start of this three-week saga and the Parliamentary Budget Officer’s rebuke this weekend. But, of course, this was mere prelude to the question that still hangs over all of this. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, February 13, 2012 at 8:30 AM - 0 Comments
For his part, Page stands by his findings that the federal government’s current system can sustain additional benefits for seniors. Waving away Flaherty’s disapproval, he suggested the minister was under a lot of stress…
Subtly laying into the Conservatives, Page urged Flaherty to release a similar report to provide parliamentarians with more insight as to why OAS benefits are at risk. “This government in 2006 and (2007) was cutting taxes, increasing spending,” he said, referring to Harper’s first couple of years in office. ”All of a sudden we have a major fiscal crisis potentially headed (our way) because of an increase of recipients in old age security. I think that’s a bit disingenuous.”
Similarly, Scott Clark and Peter DeVries challenge Mr. Flaherty to release a fiscal sustainability report, as the Harper government promised it would five years ago.
See previously: What changed?
By Aaron Wherry - Saturday, February 11, 2012 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
But a government spokesman quickly discouraged that kind of math. The official stressed that the comment was simply an effort by Mr. Flaherty to signal that no changes are imminent.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, February 10, 2012 at 3:37 PM - 0 Comments
Jim Flaherty offers another clue in the OAS mystery.
“The timing of what we do will involve more than one budget and we will – we will announce some steps forward, but we certainly need to plan ahead,” he said. “And this is not for tomorrow morning. This is for 2020, 2025 so that people who are middle-age and younger today, like Colin – not me – can be assured that they will have these social programs properly funded, fiscally responsible, that they’ll be there for them in the future.”
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, February 10, 2012 at 11:13 AM - 0 Comments
A sampling of the questions the NDP piled up on Old Age Security over the last two days.
Is the government planning to raise the OAS eligibility to 67, yes or no? Can the minister tell us whether or not the government will increase the retirement age from 65 to 67? Yes or no? Will the government increase the retirement age from 65 to 67 or not? Yes or no? Does this government plan to raise the retirement age from 65 to 67? Yes or no? If the government is going to raise the OAS from 65 to 67, we want to know, yes or no? Rather than causing people anxiety, will the Conservatives finally answer our question? Will they or will they not increase the retirement age? Will the Conservatives stop trying to scare people by pretending OAS is unsustainable and agree to leave OAS alone, yes or no? Will the Conservatives give us a straight answer? Will the retirement age be increased from 65 to 67? Why not tell us clearly whether the Conservative government intends to increase the retirement age from 65 to 67?
The Liberals, meanwhile, have released audio of Stephen Harper promising in 2005 to “fully preserve the Old Age Security, the Guaranteed Income Supplement and the Canada Pension Plan, and all projected future increases to these programs.”
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, February 10, 2012 at 10:54 AM - 0 Comments
Protesters occupied the offices of Conservative MPs in Whitby, Orangeville, Nipissing, Cornwall, Brantford, Brampton, Cambridge and Thunder Bay. Conservative MP Jay Aspin took the opportunity to call for the dismissal of the Parliamentary Budget Officer.
Aspin also attacked the credibility of Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page, who has said public pensions “are both sound and fiscally sustainable, even in light of the coming retirement of the Baby Boom generation.” Aspin said Page “has absolutely no credibility at all,” and he has “released study after study with no facts, no truth to them. “This guy has got to go,” Aspin said. “It’s too bad he’s in the position he’s in.”
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, February 8, 2012 at 12:22 PM - 0 Comments
The Parliamentary Budget Officer suggests Old Age Security is sustainable in the long term (full report here). Meanwhile, the NDP busts the Conservatives for being against raising the retirement age before they were considering being for it.
In the thick of the 2004 election campaign, Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party sent out a “REALITY CHECK” titled: Paul Martin’s hidden seniors agenda. Conservatives claimed that Liberals were hiding a plan to raise the retirement age to 67 for Old Age Security (OAS). They ridiculed the idea of raising the eligibility age for OAS because “Canadians would have to work two years longer only to receive less from their public pension.” …
In 2004, Conservative were ready to stand up for seniors. On Friday, Stephen Harper was asked about the possibility of raising the eligibility age by two years and replied “Absolutely, it’s being considered.” This government was elected on the promise that they would change Ottawa. They’ve become everything they used to oppose.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, February 7, 2012 at 1:33 PM - 0 Comments
Will the Conservatives change the eligibility age for old age security? Will the age increase from 65 to 67, yes or no?
Will the eligibility age for OAS benefits increase from 65 to 67? Yes or no? When will this measure go into effect?
Bob Rae then added one of his own.
I would like to ask the government today if it could at least make a commitment that none of these changes that it is talking about will take place until after 2015, so, at the very least, Canadians will have an opportunity to vote on the changes being imposed on them by the government.
In response, Diane Finley offered only that “anyone who is young enough, like myself, or people younger than I, will have time to adjust their plans for their own retirement.” Ms. Finley is presently 54 years old. She turns 55 in October.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, February 6, 2012 at 11:11 AM - 0 Comments
Late last week, John Geddes talked to Scott Clark.
Why would a Prime Minister go to Davos and even think about saying what he said? If you’re thinking about all the issues of an aging demographic situation—which is what the Parliamentary Budget Officer has been talking about for years—then good policy would be to put out a document on it last fall with the economic update. Say, ‘Here are a lot of demographic issues that we have to deal with,’ and then everybody starts thinking intelligently.
By John Geddes - Monday, February 6, 2012 at 10:50 AM - 0 Comments
The PM could be looking for trouble—especially on pensions
Among Stephen Harper’s defining political traits, his standout skill has long been a knack for presenting himself as a pragmatist who would never overreach. In opposition, Harper succeeded in softening the image of his restored Conservative party to squelch fears he might be cooking up a sweeping right-wing overhaul of the federal government. He won the 2006 election with a platform of narrowly defined policies, like trimming the GST and paying parents a monthly $100-per-kid bonus. As a minority Prime Minister, he had to draft policies unthreatening enough to attract sufficient opposition votes to pass. But now, as he begins his first full calendar year with a House majority, Harper’s customary caution has evaporated. “In the months to come,” he declared in Davos, Switzerland, last week, “our government will undertake major transformations to position Canada for growth over the next generation.”
Major transformations? Plural? And this from a Prime Minister who, only days earlier, had sounded much his old self, pleading for a “practical, incremental” approach, rather than bold measures, for First Nations. It was a different Harper at the World Economic Forum, touting decisive fixes on daunting issues. He zeroed in on at least four big files, though offering frustratingly few details. On pensions, he vowed to make underfunded parts of the system sustainable “for the next generation.” On immigration, he promised “significant reform” to match newcomers to labour force needs. On exports, he pledged both to finalize new trade deals and to end regulatory delays on oil and mining ventures. On industry, he committed his government to finally tackling the perennial problem of lagging Canadian business innovation.
This ambitious agenda was scarcely hinted at in the Prime Minister’s re-election platform just last spring. Looking over his Davos list, it’s not hard to see why Conservative strategists might have deemed some of these ideas too risky for the campaign trail. Sure enough, soon after Harper’s speech, the formidable Canadian Association of Retired Persons served notice of its intention to fight any future curtailing of the Old Age Security or Guaranteed Income Supplement programs, even though the Tories stressed the coming cuts won’t affect seniors already collecting benefits. Harper’s plan to streamline environmental assessments for pipelines and other resource megaprojects is also bound to meet with angry opposition, and shifting the emphasis on immigration to workers with more in-demand skills also risks raising concerns among some of the Tories’ hard-won ethnic community supporters.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, February 3, 2012 at 6:28 PM - 0 Comments
The Prime Minister talks to Postmedia about OAS, China and Iran.
Postmedia: There are Canadians who are wondering, ‘What does it mean to me?’ So that’s why I asked the question. Are you in a position to tell us whether or not the OAS eligibility is being considered as an option?
Harper: Absolutely, it’s being considered. But what we have to be clear on is that we are not looking at changes that are going to affect people that are currently in retirement or approaching retirement. We’ve been very clear on that.
Postmedia: Should anybody over the age of 50 be concerned?
Harper: I’ve just said we’re examining these things. The government hasn’t taken final decisions, so I don’t want to speculate on particulars. But I think we have been very clear in our electoral mandate that we’re not going to make any changes to seniors or to pensions in any way that deals with the current deficit.