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Income security concerns being addressed, but not fast enough

September, 2010

The looming rise of the 65-plus demographic in the next decades necessitates serious and swift reforms to our pension plans, Judy Sgro, Liberal seniors critic, told members of the Cummings Centre last month.

“Over the next 20 to 30 years, Canadian pension regimes and our health care systems will face a perfect storm of an aging population,” Sgro said.

“Immediate steps must be taken in the short term if pension security, adequacy and coverage are to be attainable in the long term, as the Canadian population continues to age.”

An initiative of the centre’s social action committee, the meeting was convened by MP Irwin Cotler. He said the senior population reflects, like a looking glass, such major issues as health care and income security.

Although these issues are very much on the radar, Cotler acknowledged that change is long in coming.

“I look back on my notes close to a decade ago on these same issues and they’re still with us.”

Income security and concerns regarding pensions have been recurrent issues across the country, first brought to Cotler’s attention by the seniors he met. “Concerns about pensions were almost foretold by this group. They raised concerns about income and vulnerability.”

Sgro is preparing a report compiled by “pension-professionals” that offers recommendations. The paper will be presented to Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff, Sgro said, and described some of the recommendations.

“Canada has long prided itself on the success of its retirement income system. People all over the world talk about the great system we have. If they talked to some of the seniors I’ve met around the country, I’m not so sure they’d say that.”

Sgro said the pillars of the retirement system, Old Age Security, Guaranteed Income Supplement, Canada and Quebec pension plans, and privately administered options must be seamlessly integrated to ensure seniors don’t languish below the poverty line.

FADOQ members last April at a demonstration for GIS reform last April Photo: Kristine Berey

“Consideration must be given to those who have traditionally fallen through the cracks. In particular to women, who statistically endure a greater rate of poverty due largely to factors involving longevity and employment. They must receive far more attention.”

Sgro said when a spouse dies, the surviving spouse receives only 60 per cent of their benefits.

“It’s not enough. When someone dies, you have the same house to maintain, you have the same bills and I’m a great promoter of getting 100 per cent of that pension.”

Sgro is creating a supplementary pension plan that would allow stay-at-home moms a chance to save for their retirement.

In April, Reseau FADOQ (Federation of Quebec Senior Citizens) launched a petition concerning reforms to the guaranteed income supplement, which they plan to take to Ottawa early next month.

Their demands are the following:

Implement an automatic guaranteed income supplement (GIS), allowance and allowance for the survivor registration system.

Increase the GIS by $110 per month for people living alone and increase the monthly allowance for the survivor by $199.

Implement full and unconditional retroactivity

Extend GIS and survivor benefits by six months upon the death of a beneficiary who was married or in a common-law relationship.

Reseau FADOQ president Jean Claude Grondin estimates that 40,000 seniors in Quebec and 160,000 across Canada have a right to receive the GIS but aren’t aware of the program’s existence and so don’t make the initial demand.

“These are people with difficulty with reading and filling out forms. We ask that a person receive benefits automatically based on their income.”

FADOQ wants to see seniors receive retroactively the benefits they are entitled to, even if they apply late. FADOQ has set up an information line to help find those potentially eligible but not receiving benefits at 866-668-0519, in French only.

The increased benefits would bring a person living alone up to the low income cutoff, Grondin said.

The “poverty line” averages $15,000 across the country, about $1,000 over what GIS adds up to, Grondin said.

They ask that the GIS be extended by six months following the death of a beneficiary to allow a grieving spouse to put their affairs in order and seek other forms of support. Presently, the GIS stops the month a person dies.

To sign the petition electronically (French only), visit To have an English copy of the petition emailed or mailed to you (which you can circulate and return) or for more information, contact Vanessa Bevilacqua at 514-252-3017,



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