Seniors deserve break, but not at community’s expense

First published:
July 2, 2003

Seniors across Ontario had a little more to celebrate on Canada Day thanks to the provincial Tories.  More than 1.5 million people over 65 will be reimbursed for residential education property tax starting July 1.

While the tax credit for senior is admirable, this one is way out of line.

First, let’s understand what is being given. The average tax credit will provide a net saving of $475 per year. Senior will only be able to claim  half this tax break for the rest of this current year, but get a full year’s claim in 2004.

It is tough to argue against this kind of measure. Premier Ernie Eves made reference to the idea in his spring budget. It was a key plank in his re-election platform when the Conservatives were polling the public back in May, searching for a bounce in popularity.

But when the election failed to materialize, the government when ahead and passed the legislation last week, just prior to going on summer break.

The announcement came with all the rhetorical flourishes.

“Ontario’s seniors have helped build the prosperity that all Ontarians enjoy today and they are entitled to a safe, secure retirement,” the press release declared.

“The ongoing contributions of Ontario’s seniors continue to support the provinces success and prosperity. As a group, however, senior citizens have lower average incomes than the population as a whole and many rely on fixed incomes,” it went on to say.

All this is too true. And it is this mind-numbing speechifying that is suppose to stop anyone from taking a critical look.

This tax break is cynical neo-conservative slam that is driving a deep wedge between parents of school-age children and seniors.

If the main goal of such a move was truly to give a break to seniors, there are already a number of tax-based tools the government can used. The Tories already give $200 million in tax savings in the past year to low and moderate-income seniors. Some seniors also get enriched benefits that provide an additional $300 million a year. That is half-a-billion dollars for those counting.

Then add all the other tax breaks the Conservatives have handed out to all of us over the past eight years. For seniors, those tax breaks add up to $1.6 billion. Grab you calculator and add it all up. Seniors have received more than $2 billion in breaks. Whew!

So this is not a group being hard done by under the current government.

But, if the Tories want to give another tax break, they could have easily jacked up one of the current programs.

But, no. That is not what happened. Instead, the neo-cons said the government would reimburse the education portion of the tax bill.

The logic is simple. Seniors don’t have children in the system anymore, so why should they contribute to the cost. Meanwhile, the rest of us should pick up the tab.

It is another small step towards a user-pay school system. It also isolates us and separates us as a community. It pits those of us who pay for the school system against those who do not.

Seniors in Northumberland care about children. Paying taxes for education is investing in the future of our community. A solid education means a strong economy. It creates good citizens and it builds a better society.

And if seniors aren’t going to pay for education, then by logical extension, parents of children in the school system should consider not paying for health care for the elderly. Those under 44-year of age represent one-quarter of all health care costs in Canada, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information. People over 65 years old account for nearly half of the $97.6 billion spent on health care in Canada in 2001.

Grab the calculator one more time. If that were taken off each person’s tax bill, it would mean more than $1,500 per person. For a family of four that would be approximately $6,000. Hey, that sure beats the tax break seniors are getting for not paying for education in Ontario.

But that is not how a caring, compassionate community works. We all pick up the bills for each other for the greater good.

Sure seniors don’t have kids in the system any more. But they benefited from the system when they did. And they will benefit from the education of the children in our community in the future. The same is true for health care. Young people don’t put a burden on the system now, but we invest in it because it means our parents and grandparents will live longer, more productive lives.

And how could any senior look at a child’s face and think any different. And vice-versa that matter.

If the Tories feel seniors need a break, then give them one. But not at the expense of driving apart communities and families.

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