The 65-year-old question
Old age security at 67 instead of 65?
Cowichan’s reaction ranges from nonchalance to fear, and from acceptance to denial and even anger.
Everyone has an opinion.
Speculation and discussion the Conservative government will push back the qualifying age for OAS to 67 from 65 has locals talking.
As people are living longer, it's really stretching the (pension) system, says senior Catherine Leger who lives in Duncan's Wedgwood House.
"The money has to be spread among an increasing number of people."
Muriel Toombs, 89, thinks it would be unfair on younger people, as they compete for jobs with seniors who'll be forced to work past Canada's traditional retirement age of 65.
"There's so much debt among younger people now," she muses. "They will probably have to work longer to pay their debts."
She, Leger and Wedgwood manager Linda Fonck all agree on one point: for the most part the generation now in their 70s and 80s didn't buy items they didn't have the money for and didn't go into debt if they could avoid it.
A recent Ipsos Reid survey for Sun Life Financial seems to agree that people will work longer: less than one-third of Canadians expect to be fully retired at 66.
The survey also confirmed that some people believe they'll have to work longer so they'll be able to pay for basic living expenses and deal with their debts.
"We will need the income whether we are still working part time or not," Kate Schneider, 52, says of herself and husband Dean, the parents of three children aged 18, 14 and 11.
"We had children late in life, and it is very difficult to save when raising children and giving them opportunities for sport and education let alone good nutrition," Schneider says. "People are living longer, but kids don't leave home at 18 either."
"I'm not sure that full retirement for me will ever be an option," she says.
"It feels as though yet another contract is being broken between the people of this nation and the government who continue to erode what was once an adequate social safety net."
Says Rhoda Taylor, 56: "OAS is primarily a transfer of people from provincial payments to federal payments, from welfare or disability to OAS."
Raising the age qualification would simply download payments — now made to people between the ages of 65 and 67 by the federal OAS — back to the provinces, says Nanaimo-Cowichan MP Jean Crowder.
For every person on welfare or disability, the province would have to fork out another two years' payment.
Taylor has another solution: decrease the dollar eligibility level, but don't change the starting age.
She is talking about the clawback level for receiving OAS.
Pensioners with an individual net income above $69,562 must repay all or part of the maximum OAS pension amount. The whole OAS pension is eliminated when a pensioner's net income is $112,772 or above.
Crowder has been quick to point out that decreasing income for seniors raises the spectre of increased poverty for some seniors and reduction in employment for boomers.
There'll be a very significant increase in poverty for persons aged 65 to 67 unless they're able to find an alternative source of income," Crowder said in Ottawa's House of Commons last month.
"This is not an immediate problem and obviously not going to affect anyone for about 10 years," said accountant Woody Hayes of Duncan's Hayes Stewart Little & Co.
In Crofton, Patsy Irving recalls that it wasn't too long ago that people nearing senior age were asking for the mandatory retirement age to be moved to 67 or deleted altogether.
"The people who are fast approaching OAS are of a generation that for the most part has enjoyed relative prosperity and long term employment and have therefore steadily contributed to OAS 30 to 40 years or more," she said.
"I have worked my life with the expectation that I would be able to claim OAS at 65," says Mary-Lynne Weberg, 54. "The thought of delaying OAS to 67 fills me with fear and anger.
"Before they play with OAS they need to make amendments to the MP pension plan. That would be fair."
Fifty-two year old Patty McNamara agrees and says the fact that people are living longer shouldn't be used against them.
"For people like me who won't have other pensions to rely on, this move is life-altering. I can't imagine getting to 65 in a workforce that doesn't value older workers."
"The effects of this change on women who are married to older men are that we will have two fewer golden years together to enjoy the fruits of our labour and our grandkids."
McNamara says the "grey tsunami" is not going to go on forever.
"It's blip on the radar and the Conservatives are using it to frighten younger people into supporting it by saying it's not sustainable."
Doyle Childs, 50, says he's fine with the age being raised as people's lifespans are longer.
"If people are expecting to collect OAS for 20 years or more, the government needs to do something about it," he said.
"If we think of 60 being the new 50, people healthier than they used to be and lasting longer, it's not inappropriate to extend the time before people become eligible for the old age security net," says Hayes.
According to Hayes, with the baby boomers now entering the arena, Canadians have to look at what's affordable and what taxpayers can afford.
"I don't believe the change (of eligibility) from 65 to 67 is an attack on seniors. It's a very narrow window," he explained.
"If people are in dire straits there will be a safety net for them."
Crowder meanwhile stressed that when you're talking about income seniors receive, you're talking about their health and well-being as well.
"Therefore, that's why it's really important that we not delay income for seniors by two years, as the trial balloon that was floated by the Prime Minister would," she said.
Crowder told the House seniors who are just getting old age security and GIS are already living below the low-income cutoff.
"If they start pushing those numbers up, what are those seniors between the ages of 65 and 67 going to do? These are seniors who qualify and many of them are at the low end," she said.
Who gets OAS and how much?
The Old Age Security pension is a monthly payment available to most Canadians aged 65 or older. You must apply to receive benefits. If you meet the eligibility requirements explained below, you may be entitled to receive OAS even if you are still working or have never worked.
Eligibility is determined by three factors: your age, your legal status, and the number of years you have lived in Canada.
For people living in Canada, you must be 65 years of age or older. You must live in Canada and be a Canadian citizen or a legal resident at the time your pension application is approved. You must have lived in Canada for at least 10 years after turning 18.
You should apply for the OAS pension six months before you turn 65, or when you receive an Old Age Security Application form. Normally, you must apply on your own behalf.
To get an application kit, you can pick one up at a Service Canada Centre near you, or you can print one from servicecanada.gc.ca
OAS is like a large "pie" that is divided into 40 equal portions. If you qualify for the "full pension," you are entitled to receive all 40 portions of the pie each month. If you qualify for a "partial pension", you will receive some, but not all, of the 40 portions each month.
Whether you qualify for a full or partial pension will depend on how long you've lived in Canada after the age of 18.