Elderly woman preparing supper

Blaney: Seniors living below the poverty line, GST rebates & carbon pricing

More than a third of the ‘housing insecure’ respondents to the survey on Quadra Island and 15% on Cortes Island were seniors. The percentage was lower throughout the Strathcona Regional District, but a significant number of residents are paying more for rent or mortgages than they can afford.  In the second half of an interview with North Island-Powell River MP Rachel Blaney, she talks about ways the government can help seniors living below the poverty line.

(As there was room in today’s broadcast and they effect seniors as well as the wider population, she also spoke about GST rebates and carbon pricing.) 

“We know across Canada we’re definitely hearing from a lot more seniors, probably because we have, of course, an aging population. For Cortes, that’s about 27% of people that are over 65 and for Quadra quite a lot higher than that,” Blaney began.

She considers couples earning $30,000 or less to be below the poverty line, ‘because it’s pretty hard to live under that amount.’

One of the things that concerned her was the Government’s decision to only increase Old Age Security (OAS) benefits for people over the age of 75. 

“The Liberal government has brought this forward and said, ‘Okay, we know that seniors 75 and older are struggling.’ They have a lot of statistics to back that up, and I don’t disagree with them,” explained Blaney.

“The problem is it means that they’re assuming that every senior between the age of 65 and 74 is fine and dandy and we know that’s not the case. If you’re a senior who has a severe disability, if you’re a senior who has a very modest income,  life is not getting better for you and you are really struggling.”

“So it’s one of those things where I have to ask the seniors minister, ‘Are you not taking into consideration that if you leave people struggling between the ages of 65 and 74, their health outcomes are going to be a lot worse when they hit 75? So we’re really encouraging them not to have a two-tier system. It doesn’t make any sense. Just give people who are 65 and older the same amount of OAS as everybody else so that we can nip that in the bud.’”

Another one of the problems that Blaney is concerned about is the 25,000 to 35,000 seniors that are cut off from the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) every year and then reinstated after 3 or 4 months. The problem first came to her attention shortly after Blaney was elected. A woman in her 80’s, who did not know where to turn, phoned the constituency office and said she was about to be evicted from her home. She had been ill during tax season, was a few weeks late getting her taxes in and was consequently cut off from the GIS. Blaney’s Office was able to fast track her reinstatement with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) and reassure the woman’s landlord that her rent money was coming. 

Since then, every July when the tax assessments come out, Blaney hears from seniors across North Island-Powell River who have been cut off from the GIS.

So she filed a question on the order paper in parliament and received more information about the Canadian seniors who were being cut off. 

“Most likely what was happening was seniors were getting their taxes in a little bit late for whatever reason. The stories that I’ve heard are: somebody is sick, a loved one passes away, they’re caring for their partner who is very ill, so many different things.”

So Blaney is filing Motion 70, which calls for a year of grace before seniors are cut off from the GIS.

When she did this, stakeholder groups across the country made a special request. When seniors are late filing, the CRA should send them letters more frequently.  

“I was like, ‘Well, I feel like I’m asking CRA to bother seniors, why would I do that?’  They told me this is a way that people are sometimes able to detect the onset of dementia.”

While family members and caregivers might not be aware of a senior’s tax returns, they should notice if letters from the CRA start piling up. This could lead to the right questions being asked and the problem being detected earlier. 

“I know there’s going to be the odd case where somebody won the lottery or somebody came into a big inheritance or for whatever reason that’s why they didn’t do their taxes. They were out having fun. We’re going to find that out, and CRA can deal with that. But I would say that I think that number is so tiny that we shouldn’t even consider it,” she said. 

“The bigger issue is making sure that low income seniors who are receiving the guaranteed income supplements, some of the poorest people in our country, get the support they need.”

Cortes Currents checked the status of this motion on Thursday November 10. Blaney filed the motion on September 20 and Parliament is currently, ‘placed on notice.’

In the first part of this interview which was broadcast on Tuesday, Nov 8,  Blaney also said: 

  1. The NDP are trying to get the Federal government to recognize the need for affordable senior’s housing. 
  2. The Federal government is offering a one time $500 payment to anyone who pays more than 30% of their income for rent. 
  3. Next year Canada’s new Dental Plan should be expanded to include seniors, families with children under the age of 18 and people with disabilities.

There is a point near the end of almost every interview when I ask, “Is there anything you would like to add?”  

“One of the things that the NDP has been really fighting for, has done historically and is now doing again, is to remove the 5% GST for home heating. We know that the costs are getting high. It is something that the government can actually do quite quickly.  There’s a lot of other solutions we could look at that would take awhile because of legislation, because of all the things they would have to work out, but GST is something that they really have the power over,” replied Blaney.

“That is why we also fought for the GST rebate to be doubled. We saw it went through the house, it went through Senate, and money was out the door. It didn’t take long at all because we know that is a way to get money out the door quickly, effectively it’s right in their jurisdiction.”

The Government chose to not remove the GST from heating, but the NDP intend to keep asking.

Another one of Blaney’s a pet peeves is the way the Conservatives keep saying everybody would be so much better off if the government removed the carbon tax.

“I want to remind Canadians, in BC the federal government has nothing to do with the provincial carbon tax. The reason the federal government put in a carbon tax is because there were provinces and territories that were not doing that, it applies only in those places,” said Blaney. 

“So if we remove the carbon tax as they call it – I would call it carbon pricing but that’s another issue — it would do nothing for British Columbians, whereas the GST would have an impact. It wouldn’t be a huge impact, but at this point, every little bit helps and it’s not the only solution.”

Top image credit: Preparing supper Photo by CDC on Unsplash 

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