Pierre Trudeau gave us the Charter, multiculturalism, official bilingualism, and the Canada Health Act.
Brian Mulroney: the GST and free trade with the
Jean Chrétien's government slew the largest deficit in Canadian history and then recorded five straight budgetary surpluses while paying down federal debt from 70 per cent to 30 per cent, introduced the Clarity Act and signed the Kyoto Protocol.
Stephen Harper's majority government-winning predecessors have set the bar relatively high when it comes to leaving a legacy filled with lasting achievements. So what will Harper's legacy be?
Over the course of his first six years as prime minister, the only lasting achievement on the policy front that seems to come to mind is the rebuilding of
However, Harper's speech to the World Economic Forum in Davos at last provides us with a glimpse of the Prime Minister's vision for
It's easy to criticize Harper regarding this speech, beyond criticizing the content itself: Where are the details? Why has he only started to tackle these issues head-on now as opposed to six years ago? Why did he give this speech in Davos instead of in Parliament? Why was there no consultation with the provinces and with the Canadian people on these important issues beforehand?
But when it comes to the content, one proposal has clearly been attracting more media attention than others: the possibility of increasing the age of eligibility for Old Age Security (OAS).
The need for reducing the cost of OAS is well known: By 2030, if no reforms have been implemented, half as many people will have to support a system that will cost three times as much, simply due to sheer demographics. The share of the country's population above 65 will have doubled by then while the ratio of available workers to retirees will have gone from five to one to merely two to one.
Both Brian Mulroney and Paul Martin tried to reform old-age benefits and failed, so the task in and of itself will not be an easy one for Harper.
But even if Harper's long-term pension reforms are successful, they threaten to be overshadowed by two important facts.
First, the rising cost of health care over the decades to come will dwarf the cost of OAS. Last week, Iwrote about how the Harper government's stance on federalism and on financing the provinces will create both intransigent provinces and a weak federal government when it comes to health care reform.
In other words, Harper's efforts to save money on OAS may be laudable, but as long as he remains inept on the issue of health care reform, federal and provincial spending will be tough to control.
This is particularly notable, seeing as immigration reform and raising the retirement age will not be enough to tackle the demographic problem alone. The Macdonald-Laurier Institute's Brian Lee Crowley estimates that utilizing immigration reform alone to address our demographic shift would require increasing immigration levels from 250,000 per year to 1.4 million.
Second, Harper's pre-recession spending increases coupled with a two-point cut to the GST has left us with a structural deficit. As a consequence, the feds currently don't have the revenue space necessary to help the provinces offset the costs associated with raising the retirement age. (Increasing the age for OAS eligibility means leaving some seniors on welfare for longer.)
In effect, Harper's OAS gambit may well just download debt to the provinces.
Failing to address the demographic challenges and associated costs of the decades to come will have a serious impact on the young people of today. Our country's next generation will be burdened with debt and will lack the fiscal capacity to deal with the even longer-term issues: climate change, economic inequality, and the unpredictability of an increasingly multi-polar world.
Brian Mulroney had a vision for national unity, but it ultimately failed due to provincial intransigence (
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's own and do not necessarily represent those of The Prince Arthur Herald.
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