The Graying of Canada.
Prime minister STEPHEN HARPER announced last week while abroad that his government is planning a reform of our old age programs in anticipation of a difficult economic future. He modified that statement already a few days later and ensured us the people close to retirement now will not be affected.
Then the OAS Chief Actuary assured the public that he had already calculated that this is not a concern and the payments will be there in the future, all of the almost $600 per month per person for those who will be eligible. Instead of making political statements not based in facts to make him look good, Harper would do better to talk to his staff first.
My guess is that many of us in Canada will most likely have to work past age 65 anyway, as we are in debt and not ready for retirement. That does not look good for many, but especially not for women who on average already have saved less for retirement and have statistically a thirty percent lower income than men, especially if they interrupted employment for raising babies. Many women were divorced in the last thirty years, more so than any other generation before them, and in many cases were not left with a generous retirement or maintenance package and, let’s face it, were not as apt as their ex in hanging on to the same standard of living after their divorce.
Our social programs include old age security and guaranteed income supplements; health care benefits; increased hospital and home care costs for our aging population; and seniors’ supported living costs when you can’t live alone anymore and exhausted your savings.
Seniors are not the greatest proportion of the nation carrying the tax burden and OAS is clawed back anyway from retirees who earn too much to be (partially) eligible for it. Not even the tax collected from the richest people provides a large income for the government. The business world operates on large tax exemptions when the government wants to ensure their presence in the country. No, most taxes are collected from the income tax of working people.
Our rapidly aging population has now a ratio of working people to seniors (defines as age 65 or over) of 4.6 to 1, which means that 4.6 workers provide the funds for social programs for a senior; this is called the dependency ratio. According to the Globe & Mail of last weekend, in about twenty years (by 2031) that ratio will be 3 in 1 when all baby boomers have retired. Pensioners now are estimated to live 20 more years past retirement age, although we all know that the rich will live longer than the poor, generally speaking. The question then becomes, who will pay for the nation’s social programs?
Certain segments within our nation are now growing faster than any other segment of the population. Those are the child-rich First Nations and the Muslim immigrant communities. Not surprisingly, both groups are notoriously underemployed and undervalued in our nation, although not less able or willing to occupy positions in our society. Their wish to “get ahead”, as the term goes, is likely even greater, considering what they had to go through to survive the first contact with Europeans, or get here, in the case of immigrants. I bet they are more motivated and resilient than the offspring of the mainstream baby boomers who often possess an attitude of entitlement, in my observation.
The education system on First Nations territories is notoriously under funded and the drop out rates are high, and graduation levels low. Voices from the First Nations community are clear: equity of funding and better quality of education is needed, as well as support programs to assist First Nations’ youth to function within the greater community. Clarence Louie of the Osoyoos First Nation in BC was very clear about what needs to be done in the series on CBC The 8th Fire.
Educated immigrants of various immigrant communities currently have trouble becoming fully employed, as the research has indicated. Although on average better educated than the non-immigrant population, due to the stringent Immigration Canada selection rules, they still have lower incomes and their standard of living is lower than comparative, Canadian born and educated people.
Their offspring have trouble seeing in their parents the positive role models that they would needed to get established and develop pride in this country. The result often is that children of immigrants from visible minorities develop feelings of being devalued and even if fully adapted, they still have to fight prejudice. It is well known that if given a choice, a person of mainstream Caucasian origin is hired over an applicant of a visible minority with the same or better qualifications.
In my view, much more support is needed to help immigrants to settle in, adapt and become fully employed in accordance to their education. If that means that a nation-wide campaign is needed to fight prejudice in the mainstream communities, so be it. The federal government has a job to do here, as well as the provincial governments. It would be very much in everybody’s benefit to push our current local and national governments to start focusing on the issue of underemployment of the above two groups of our citizens.
In spite of existing xenophobia, our country needs MORE immigrants than the current maximum of 250,000 a year, to simply replace the vast numbers of people that will be retiring in the next twenty years—the baby boomer generation. We already have been importing groups of foreign laborers on temporary contracts to sustain what we now produce. These workers are vulnerable as they fear being terminated if they assert their rights. They often work long hours under minimal work conditions, work mostly for minimum wage, and do work that locals do not want to do.
As well, if we strive for a growing economy, we would need a permanent, educated and trained labour force. We are losing potential business to countries with a surplus of labour. Or current economic growth is stifled by lack of the appropriate labour force, as the specialists in market and labour conditions are telling us. Is our government even listening?
Our First Nations and our immigrants from Middle Eastern countries will be even more important in the future, as they are the fastest growing, child rich segments of our multicultural society. Their offspring will form a greater proportion of Canada’s population in the future. Their representatives within our governments will co-determine the fate of the pensioners of the future—you!
Our nation is resources rich–in human and mineral potential–but we are wasteful, and often short sighted when it comes to a more global and long-term view of the nation. One way of ensuring a more judicious use of our people is to get the immigrant taxi drivers with medical degrees working in their field of training, whether in the north, or wherever there is a need. The engineers with janitorial jobs need to be employed in the resource industry, you get the picture. Whatever is needed, we need to get on with it: educational services, language training, and relocation subsidies. If a change in attitude is needed, governments will have to put incentives in place for the industry to make that happen.
How could we change all of that, you ask?
– We should elect those people in power according to their views and willingness to start investing in education, immigration and job creation.
– We should test and monitor the advancement of First Nations youth and of the immigrant communities, so they can reach their potential within our society and help us grow our economy.
– Our governments at all levels need to undertake public education initiatives to broaden the views of all Canadian citizens, so they will accept and appreciate the newcomers and do not feel threatened, but will become aware and appreciative of their shared future.
– We should become better neighbours and good, caring citizens. Happy side effects could be that we thus prevent the extreme cases of child abuse and wife killings, just by being there for our neighbours and by helping them adjust.
– We owe it to our First Nations to make right the crimes and neglectful treatments perpetrated by a string of past governments and church authorities, and start appreciating the role First Nations can play as Canadians in our rich and fortunate nation. First Nations need to fully participate and share in our wealth. They are entitled and must take their rightful place as one of the founding peoples of Canada.