With the House of Commons returning today we can expect a raucous session. Already the battle lines are forming as the opposition party's line up to take shots at the Prime Minister over pension reform. Not since 1985, when Brian Mulroney stated that he would de-index Old Age Security (OAS), have we seen such a feeding frenzy around pension issues.
The Prime Minister's office is in full damage control mode with talking points that insist there are no immediate plans to make changes and they are pushing back on media reports that the government plans to extend the age from 65-67 (before you can receive the benefits), insisting that no final decision has been made. They even had the Parliamentary Secretary to the Finance Minister, Shelly Glover, on TV discussing the issue, and the Minister of State for Finance Ted Menzies was also giving interviews. All of this points to the fact that they see the potential damage this can do to Conservative prospects down the road.
With so many baby boomers near retirement age (myself included), this issue strikes close to home for many of us. Baby boomers live in those hard fought-for suburban ridings that the Conservatives needed to win to obtain their majority. There are political consequences for this government if they cannot turn this story around to their advantage.
This issue is a gift for the opposition and tailor-made for Question Period. Extending the age from 65 to 67 is the figure that's out there: With the House recessed there was only limited opportunity for the government to shut down attack. Those figures percolated over the weekend, you still see them mentioned in numerous stories, thus it already has legs.
Whether or not that number is accurate and whether or not the Conservatives intended to act quickly on OAS will be buried in the opposition attack. The task facing both the Liberals and the NDP will be to convince the public that the Conservatives really do intend to change the OAS to the detriment of all of those retiring baby boomers. With all of us watching what has been happening to pensions in Europe as governments there fight their fiscal problems, it is not a stretch to think that quite a few Canadians will believe the opposition attacks.
The Conservative platform in the last election did address pension issues, but said nothing about making changes to the OAS. How long do you think it will take for the Liberals to resurrect their old attack points from the 2004, 2005-2006 elections and bring up the well-worn phrase "hidden agenda?"
Adding additional fuel to the fire in Question Period will be Immigration Minister Jason Kenney's comments on revamping the immigration process. His comments will be unsettling news to many of the multicultural communities who supported the Conservatives in the last election. Combine that with the pension issue and the opposition parties will see a golden opportunity to snatch back voters that moved to the Conservatives.
For the NDP it will be an opportunity to entrench their hold on official opposition status; for the Liberals it will provide a chance to resurrect their brand, especially in vote-rich Ontario.
With so much at stake, these two issues combined with pre-budget maneuvering will guarantee that this session will be loud, noisy, and full of over the top rhetoric as the three parties use Question Period to fight for the minds and future votes of Canadians.
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